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Customer service?

27 Jul

Almost all big stores, especially with chains, are going to have a customer service desk.

Well, that’s what they call it anyhow.  They really should call it the customer annoyance counter.

Why is customer service so hard?  Why is it so hard for companies to find employees that will honestly try to do their jobs to the best of their abilities while remaining courteous to customers?

I have a few ideas on the subject.

The first is that good old bottom line.  Most companies are not particularly concerned about the quality of employee they hire and retain, but rather how cheaply they can hire and retain someone that does what they are told.  Even retention of employees isn’t a huge concern for most companies anymore–it’s cheaper to rehire than retain, especially if there is a possibility of having to pay for benefits or retirement somewhere down the road.

Employees who really try to do their job are even apt to be penalized for doing so.  We’ve all seen articles about employees who did a good deed of some kind while at work, ones that didn’t cost their employers a penny, and yet they were terminated for some technicality.  Many of us have been the employee who was taken advantage of repeatedly by unethical co-workers and employers because we did try to do our jobs well, only to end up missing out on promotions, overworked to the point of burn out, failed to get promised raises, or had some other less-than-wonderful result from our hard work.  Immediate supervisors will often even deliver disciplinary action or termination as a result of trying too hard, simply because it makes other employees or the supervisor themselves look bad.

Corporations may have a lot of power in the political world, but they are also incredibly powerful in everyday life.  Everyone either works for one or is forced to do business with these large corporations because of the monopolies they have in many areas of our live in America.  Telephone, natural gas, cable television & internet providers, and electric companies are all privileged to have monopolies in most communities.    Other companies have apparently coordinated their needs with their so-called competitors, resulting in contracts that prevent customers from terminating service with them for a prescribed length of time, typically from 12-36 months.  In these situations, the corporations have very little motivation to try and please their current customers.  After all, if they don’t like the service or the customer service, what can the customer do about it?

Manufacturing companies have moved many of their production facilities overseas for cheaper labor and fewer regulations, and quality control seems to have become random in how stringent it is.  Companies that were once known for high quality products no longer can boast of that same quality.  Unfortunately, they have also often moved their customer service centers overseas too.

Then, the American consumer is inflicted with a customer service representative that may not understand their particular dialect of American English, and it is just as likely that the customer is going to have a great deal of difficulty understanding the representative’s  version of English.  A number of people have claimed (unverified by me) that these representatives are judged by how often they have “successfully resolved” the customer complaints, and that disconnecting the call is one way to successfully resolve the issue.  I don’t know if this is true, but I do know that with certain companies, disconnections are frequent as soon as it is apparent that the issue is not going to be resolved easily or if the customer asks to speak with a supervisor.

Even with American based customer service call centers, there is the “wrong department” issue.  It’s always that you have called the wrong department and then you will have to be transferred.  These transfers usually occur after an extended wait time for a human to begin with.  (I’ve waited as long as an hour.)  Then, without a number to skip the wrong department and go to where you are supposed to call, you end up disconnected.  How many hours do you want to spend on the telephone to get a warranty replacement of a $50 small appliance?

For businesses, the latest buzz has all been how to use social media to engage their customer base.  It’s gotten to the point of more annoyance than engagement, however, as they follow some plan dreamed up by a guy who didn’t shop there to begin with.  Do you really want to “like” that company or follow them on Pinterest to enter that contest or get that coupon?  The end result is that customers feel like they are being coerced, and it does little to endear the company or product with their potential customers, especially if they are using the current customer disservice model that most seem to be using.

So what is the real reason that companies no longer bother with good quality customer service?

It still boils down to that bottom line, folks.  It’s the fault of the consumer.

Accepting crappy customer service from any company, whether they have a monopoly  or not is allowing their bottom line to show that they don’t have to supply customer service.

So what can you do?

Complain.  Loudly.  Repeatedly.

  • Use the normal channels, whether it is a call to their call center or via their website.  Don’t scream or use profanity-that’s always counter productive and provides a good reason for your call to not be taken seriously.  Don’t use threats either.
  • Use promises.  Promise that you will never, ever shut up about how unhappy you are!
  • Record the calls.  If you get an exceptionally bad one, post it to YouTube. Keep the calls on file–you may need them later.
  • Write down names, phone numbers, dates and times.  It’s a great reference as your complaining becomes more prolific too.
  • If you are a blogger, blog about it.  Even years after I tossed my Tassimo machine, I still get hits daily on my experience with their crappy customer service.  It’s a great way to spread the word.
  • Review the product everywhere you can, including the customer service experience.  Many retailers will accept reviews on products even if you did not purchase it from them, such as Amazon and Walmart.  If you are reviewing the retailer or service provider, post those reviews anywhere and everywhere you can find as well.  Sure, it takes time, but what else do you have to do while you are sitting on hold?  I actually put my phone on speaker and then I can type with both hands.
  • Got Face Book? Twitter? Pinterest?  Speak up.  Tell everyone about your experience.  They may not be shopping for that item or service or company now, but they will remember what you said about them later too.  You may be surprised at how quickly someone from the company in question makes contact with you as well.  They may try and resolve the situation, which will make you happier than if you are ignored.  Some corporations often ignore social media complaints (yes, I’m talking about you,  Tassimo, Microsoft & Comcast!)  Smarter companies do monitor social media to engage dissatisfied customers and attempt to improve the customer service experience.
  • Post reviews to review sites such as Viewpoints.com as well.  For local companies and services, there are sites such as Yelp, Angie’s List (they require membership with a substantial fee,) Yahoo, etc.   Even lawyers, dentists, doctors, and medical facilities are reviewed!
  • Write the company an email.  Often, the corporate office is separated enough from customer service that they may not be aware of the type of experience you have endured.  Typically, the corporate website will have a “contact” tab at the bottom of the page.  Some have it in a bar at the top as well.  Be polite and explain the problem(s) clearly, along with your customer service experience, using dates, times, and names when possible.  Don’t forget to add what you expect the company to do to resolve your complaint as part of the letter.  Be reasonable with your expectations!

On the flip side of that coin is the excellent customer service experience.  When you have one of these, be just as vocal about your compliments, and use the same venues that you would use for complaints to voice your positive experience.   I had a terrible experience with Overstock.com once, and complained about it via Twitter.  Their representative on Twitter contacted me, we resolved the situation, and since then, I have enjoyed great customer service as usual with Overstock and would not hesitate to purchase from them again.  I also love shopping with Zappos.com and Penderys.com for the same reason–they provide good, dependable customer service.  I wish my representative and senators to Washington were as responsive to me as they are!

Expect reasonable and efficient customer service to be delivered with courtesy, and when you don’t get it–do something about it.  Do not ever accept it as just the price of doing business because it is not.  Make companies accountable!  That’s your job as a consumer!

Obamacare?

10 Nov

Everybody seems to be up in arms about it, either defending it or trying to destroy it.

Ideally, it would have provided something called universal health care. A basic level of health care for everyone, regardless of income. It doesn’t do that. But, that’s what conservatives were afraid it was going to deliver, since that smacks of “socialism” and they drag up old Cold War phobias to make us fear the concept.

So, what we really got was federally mandated health insurance.

Sort of.

From what I can find out, it isn’t universal. If you are low income, you are likely to still not have any health care coverage, so you are still regarded as one of the “leeches” on the system and the reason that health care costs keep rising.

From where I’m sitting, in Mississippi, it looks like business as usual, but great for insurance companies.

Okay, I went through the enrollment process.  The website everyone makes fun of worked just fine for me, and this was a couple of weeks ago when it was all new.  We were offered very limited choices to start off.  One company, that’s it, folks.  Reminds me of the electric company, we’ve got another monopoly going on.  Maybe we’d have had more options if we lived on the coast or in Jackson, but even so, we’re only 30 minutes from Hattiesburg now, and that’s one of the larger cities in Mississippi.  So it’s one company with two plans, and they don’t include the highest coverage, the platinum level.  (Not that it mattered, we couldn’t afford either one we were offered anyhow.)

The two lowest plans did not offer very good coverage, and it included a large deductible.  To add to the injury, the crappy plans cost roughly $850-950 per month for a couple.

The state of Mississippi, like a number of other states that have vocalized their dislike of the “Obamacare” Affordable Health Care Act, has refused to consider expanding their Medicaid program.  Likely it’s due to the impoverished state of the Mississippi economy to begin with.  After all, where would the money come from?

They are being generous.  They will not fine those below the income threshold, which I assume is the poverty line.  Whatever that line is, we’re below it.  So, it is status quo.  No fine, no health care, and nothing has changed at all for us.

But let’s do some math.  Let’s assume that a couple who is working 40 hours a week at minimum wage ($7.25 per hour).  That would mean that they got an annual gross income of $30,160.  They are paying an average of 26% of their income to taxes, Social Security, etc.  That’s $7841.60 leaving them with $22,318.40.   Let’s say that they select the lowest cost plan at $850 per month.  Their annual costs will be $10,200.  That leaves them with $12,118.40.

That sounds reasonable, right?  Surely they can live on that, right?

Well, let’s experiment.  The average rent is about $600 per month, totaling $7200.  Their annual income is now down to just $4918.40.

But, they have to get to work, and most of Mississippi doesn’t have mass transportation of any kind.  They don’t live close to work, but they are careful with managing their lone vehicle so they are both able to get to and from work.  Even so, they average 25 miles round trip each day, their vehicle is older so the annual cost of license and tags, combined with the inspection, totals to just $45 per year.  They carry the minimum insurance, but it still costs $90 per month.  Being an older  vehicle, it also does not get good gas mileage, coming in at only 20 mpg, at an average cost of $3.15 per gallon.  It also requires two annual oil changes, which cost $35 each, for another $70 per year.  On average, they have to buy tires every fourth year, which cost $400, adding another $100 to their annual expenses.  They pray it does not break down, as they are already spending a lot on their transportation, a grand total of $2732.19.  That leaves them with $2186.21.

But, remember, they are still left with bills to pay for utilities, clothing expenses, and their grocery bill.  The real problem is that after getting their affordable insurance, paying their rent, and getting to and from work, they are left to figure out how to survive on $182.18 per month.

That won’t even cover their utilities, let alone let them cover their deductible, pay a co-pay, or buy a prescription.  They won’t be able to eat either.

But, a couple earning minimum wage, in the eyes of many, is not below poverty level.

I’m not seeing anything affordable in this.  I’m not seeing anything resembling universal health care either.  I damn sure don’t see anything resembling socialism in it. The only ones who are actually going to have health insurance are the same ones that have it now, barring the ones who can afford it but are too cheap to pay their portion of the premium for their families through the plan offered by their employer.

I can remember those people well.  Back in the “good old days” when I had an employer that offered health insurance and treated their employees as though they were a company asset (like good companies do), we had a giant hike in our health insurance premiums.  They had a meeting with all of us, explained what was happening and why, as well as what their options were in terms of offering us health insurance plans.  They listened to us, then came back with an option.  The costs of extending insurance coverage to our families was going to have to be deducted from our paychecks, and we could elect to have coverage if we so desired.  I desired–I had a kid with a chronic health problem (she was a type 1 diabetic who was often in the hospital).  My co-workers, knowing that I paid about half of my paycheck to health insurance, asked me how I could afford it.  For me it was simple.  I could not afford to NOT have it.  There is a vast difference in the kind of health care one receives with health insurance versus without it, and I had witnessed it first hand.

I also had pretty good insurance.  I didn’t have a lot of out-of-pocket expenses.  Sure, I had a co-pay at the doctor’s office, as well as for prescriptions, but it was reasonable and affordable.  I didn’t have big bills for the hospital stays, and I had both dental and vision coverage as well.

Even if I could afford the insurance plans offered via the so-called Obamacare plan, neither of them included dental or vision insurance.  The co-pays were reasonable, but the deductible was a serious issue.  So was the percentage of coverage on procedures and hospitalization.  With only 60% coverage on these things, how is someone with $182.18 per month to pay utilities and groceries out of, going to pay even a $1000 procedure (far less than a single emergency room visit) which is going to cost $400 out-of-pocket.

The Affordable Health Care Act may have had some great intentions, but some how, along the way, it got left with loopholes and giant black holes that once again put insurance corporations into the drivers’ seat leaving the rest of us clinging to the bumper and terrified.  The worst part is, it hasn’t even gone into effect yet.  We have sticker shock, as well as discovering that we’re ordered to choose from models X, Y and maybe model Z for health insurance, but we’re standing here realizing that the other shoe hasn’t dropped yet.  What kind of problems are waiting to appear?

We, as a population, has little faith in the government in general and even less in the federal government.  It’s notorious for favoring those with mega-money and tromping on the little guy without regard for the welfare of the masses.  It’s all about special interest groups, with an ample seasoning of mismanagement and bureaucratic red tape.

It seems that there is only one escape from the tyranny of the Affordable Health Care Act.

Get elected to Congress.

Yep, they were smart.  They made sure none of them would ever have to deal with this monstrosity that is neither affordable nor healthy.

People Watching

7 Sep

I am a people watcher.  I notice a lot of things about people, and some of them are very subtle cues about their psyche given away by their body language.  When I worked in fields such as corrections and law enforcement, it was very useful.  When I was younger and lacked knowledge about the frequency of people having less than honorable intentions, it was what saved my silly butt when my brain failed to use what is called “common sense”.  People watching is a lifelong habit.

As time as moved forward, the internet was not only born, but grew up and out, swallowing our world.  It has given us access to the thoughts and comments from people from all over the world.  In many cases, it has removed the economic barriers that had previously isolated certain sectors of society from each other.

So what does that mean?

It means that I have the ability to regularly observe the public behavior and comments of those people born into a life of privilege.  You know the sort–their vacations cost more than my house’s total purchase price.  They have never experienced actual hunger, been homeless, or been worried about whether their utilities were going to be shut off before they could scrape together the money to pay the bill.  They have no idea what robbing Peter to pay Paul even means in terms of daily life.  They can have personal trainers, multiple cars, multiple vacations each year, etc.  They also have the ability to go “find” themselves and put their principles ahead of survival.  

When they were graduating (or their children) from high school, their biggest worry was not trying to find a way to pay for college, but rather whether they would be accepted into their first choice college.

But that’s okay.  It is nice that some people can enjoy a life of privilege, and if they inherited it from their grandparents or great-grandparents, well, lucky for them.  It’s hard to not envy that financial state when you are struggling, but I really don’t bear them animosity.  What does torque my psyche is that these people with  a life of privilege feel that they not only have the right, but the obligation, to pass judgement on the rest of the world.

People usually do not choose to be poor or financially struggling.  No one enjoys being hungry, homeless, sick, etc.  Our natures encourage us to try to avoid those states.  They, which in this case, includes me, may have made some poor choices or been the recipient of an unfortunate series of events that lead them to that state.  From there, circumstances can snowball to other issues, with a wide range of observable results.  These things can happen to people who are intelligent, moral, hard-working, and considerate of others.  They may even have a very good education to go with it.

It’s sad but true, money talks in this country.  Without money, if you are sick, you will die, the same as anyone who is poor and sick in a third world country.  Some areas have better indigent health care than others.  In Mississippi, if you do not have children at home, you are unlikely to receive any assistance with any medical needs, from medication to hospitalizations. The state does not consider keeping their population healthy to be financially feasible or a good investment, apparently. It means lower costs for the elderly too–Mississippians tend to die younger than most Americans, reducing the number of years that the elderly receive Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, SSI, SNAP, etc.  Sounds great on paper, if you are one of the privileged category that can afford good housing, good nutrition,  lifelong insurance and private elderly care.  Poor people tend to believe that they are “lucky” to have minimal health care for their children.  The new national health care plan is painted to be the tool of the devil himself, an affront to the very fabric of American society.

Why do these people of privilege believe that they are responsible for passing judgement on every overweight person they see, everyone who is struggling to make a life for themselves, everyone who asks for help, and everyone else that they may observe in the course of a day?  Who gave them that right?

Somewhere along the way, the capitalism that we all treasure became a corporate based economy that has little to do with the concept of “free enterprise” and a whole lot to do with monopoly and control.  It’s not really capitalism anymore, more like corporatism.  Now we are told that corporations even enjoy many of the rights of a person.

Wonderful, right?

Not until a corporation dies on the battlefield or in a hospital bed of a curable disease.

In most cases, those with a life of privilege have acquired it via the corporatism society we live in today, not due to extraordinary efforts or great inventions. The sad thing is that with the rise of corporatism, we’ve lost compassion.  We illustrated it with the reality show industry featuring Donald Trump pointing his finger and stating “You are fired!”

There is no compassion from corporations.  It’s nothing more than the cogs of a wheel that bring the downsizing from the board of directors to the employee being laid off, all pre-planned like a paint by number painting and never seasoned by compassion, to give the dreaded pink slip to someone who is going home to his or her family with the worst news imaginable.

Even the safety net of the extended family is gone, also courtesy of corporatism and its demise rushed by the corporatism that fuels Hollywood’s representation of society in films and television.  We are now like a nation of three year olds grabbing everything they can reach and shouting “MINE!” at the top of their lungs.

Corporatism has convinced us that we need those “toys” and that he who dies with the most toys wins.  Too many people are working too many hours to buy toys so that they look as though they are living the life of privilege, when instead they could be enjoying the luxury of a real life with enough.  It’s made us a nation of people who trample over other people just to grab one more toy too.

Did you think Hunger Games was a depressing book?  It’s not that much different than the corporate career many face.  Most “die” early on, doomed to a life in the mail room, secretarial pool, or being fired.  A few climb to the next level, if they are greedy enough and willing to stomp on enough other people to do so.  At each level, more die and fewer rise to the next level.  Then, finally, there is a handful of “winners” who get the prize.

I think we need a whole lot more compassion, respect, and consideration for others and to stop entertaining those in positions of privilege with our envy and efforts to rise to their positions.  We need to learn what enough really means.  We need to remove the concept of false shortages and monopoly from our economy and create an air of plenty and competence.  We need to reward excellence and despise greed.

I can dream, right?

Sometimes, I wonder how Gene Roddenberry’s world came into being, what kinds of growing pains it experienced before money went away.  What measure did they use to bargain with others then?

Solution is advertising!

23 Aug

I’ve made some posts lately about the struggles of keeping an internet radio program up and running, as well as free for listeners by pleading for donations.  I really hate doing that, and while I greatly appreciate the handful of people that have responded, we felt we needed a better solution, especially since we’ve had some equipment failures lately too.

So what did we come up with?

Advertising.  But, it’s still advertising with a difference, as well as with a look back to old time (pre-television) radio programs.  Remember how the old time hosts would say something about their sponsor’s products during the program?  It’s the same concept.

We’ve just modernized it.  It’s low cost, we’re debuting the concept at just $20 per “mention”, making it affordable for everyone from new independent authors that want to get the word out about a book launch to someone sponsoring a program segment in lieu of a traditional (and somewhat mundane) birthday card.  It’s also a bargain, considering that the Dawn of Shades has over 250,000 logged in listeners each week, with the numbers steadily increasing.

This way, instead of just getting a thank  you for donating, it becomes a totally different beast as an actual purchase of advertising.  For businesses, it then becomes an actual business expense too.

It’s just a short piece that will be read by the host (almost always me!) on the air, and there are only four slots per program available, so once they are gone…they are gone.  There is also only one discount available, and to receive that, you would have to be a member of the group on Facebook.  (It’s a closed group, but all legitimate appearing accounts are granted membership.)  The group is found here, if you are interested.

The same program is available for Greg’s show, the Voice of the People, on Saturdays too.

There are a few rules.  We won’t lie and say we use/endorse something if we really don’t have a clue.  We can’t advertise illegal items. We also cannot advertise porn websites or shady commercial ventures with offshore businesses.  You can only advertise a website if you own the domain too, except for a few exceptions such as Amazon & other familiar retailers selling books, audio recordings, videos, etc.  (Indie authors & artists, as well as more traditional writers/musicians, all use these sellers.)  You can promote a cause, but we also will not accept one that advocates illegal actions, such as overthrow of the government, etc.

We will only accept payment via PayPal.  It’s easy and secure for both parties, as well as a minimally difficult process for everyone.  There are deadlines too–we can’t arrange for an ad during the last hour before we go on the air!  We have to agree on the message, vet the website, etc. before the advertisement is accepted.  A particular slot is never guaranteed before payment is received either.

Want more information or to buy a slot for yourself?  It’s easy–just email me at giascott at exogenynetwork.com!

Cell phones

23 Feb

Cell phones, those amazing little gadgets we’ve all become so dependent on, to the point that many of us no longer have a traditional land-line based telephone in our homes.

They are also something we’ve begun to get increasingly aggravated with, as carriers lock us into long term contracts with high financial penalties if we attempt to cancel the contracts for any reason.  Those contracts can look very attractive initially, but as time moves forward, and our lives change, they often become increasingly unwieldy monkeys riding on our backs.

Especially in the economy that has plagued us the last five years.

Faced with shifting fortunes, rising costs, and shrinking incomes, many people are desperate to reduce their monthly expenses, to get them to the point that their outgoing bills are less than their income.  That’s something our government isn’t very good at, not only for themselves, but for their constituents.  Corporations, however, seemed to have perfected the art of extracting blood from turnips.

With your cell phone carrier, they often have you over a barrel.  You can’t afford the monthly expense, but you certainly can’t afford the cancellation fee, or the negative notation on your credit history.  There aren’t a lot of options available, especially when you desperately need that cell phone, whether because it’s your sole connection with the outside world, or because you are searching for a job.

There are a few things, especially when faced with a temporary financial crunch, as well as some other things you can do to prevent being caught in the contract bind, while not causing undue financial hardship.

First, resist the urge to “upgrade” your phone at a reduced initial cost and renewing your contract.  This is where the cell phone companies are dangling a carrot out there, intending to keep you on THEIR treadmill.  Resist the temptation, and either continue using your old cell phone or buy another outright.  To keep costs down, you can often buy a used phone via Ebay or other outlets.  Do your research, make sure that the make and model is compatible with your carrier, as well as has some kind of guarantee from the seller that it will arrive in good condition.  You’ll still have to pay an activation fee.

If you don’t actually need a smart phone, skip the trend, stick with a basic function phone, which often can be used on a smaller data package.  These smaller plans without large data packages can save $10 or more per month, which can quickly add up.

Don’t add lines.  Each line comes with an additional contract, usually 24 months long.  If you have a need for additional phones, consider a prepaid option instead.  Then, if it turns out that it’s not needed anymore, you aren’t faced with an unnecessary bill.

If you are locked into a contract situation, and desperately need to cut your bills, there are a few options available.  Check to see if you can change the plan itself without altering your contract.  This option exists with many cell phone companies, and by switching to a basic phone with fewer bells and whistles, you can often cut your plan as much as a hundred dollars a  month.  Don’t cut it so short that you end up going over your limits however, overages are very expensive with many companies.

There is also the option of “suspending” your contract temporarily, usually up to 3 months.  This may have a monthly service charge, but it will allow you time to get your finances under control.

If you are not locked into a contract, you may want to explore other options, even if your finances and job situation looks bright and cheery.  By avoiding the contracts, you are free to explore other options as they become available, without having to wait.  That means everything from the latest iPhone to the different packages available.  It also means that if you are suddenly offered the perfect job in some exotic location, you won’t be biting off a chunk of that “early termination fee.”  Numerous companies offer prepaid plans, some even have iPhones and other smart phones available, complete with unlimited data and minute plans.  Straight Talk, available through Walmart, is one of them.  It is also serviced by the Big Three in cell phone providers: AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon, depending on your location.  If you move and your old phone isn’t served in the new area, the problem is solved by simply purchasing another phone, and you are never stuck with a two year contract that leaves all of the cards in the cell phone company’s hands.

Contracts, ranging from one to three years, have become the bane of the consumer’s life.  They are everywhere, increasingly restrictive, designed to reduce competition for our dollars for years at a time, and ultimately reducing the level of service we manage to choke out of the various corporations.  Once you are locked into their services, its virtually impossible to change suppliers, no matter how terrible their service becomes.  It’s not a good trend, especially in a world that has increasing numbers of monopolies to which the consumers are becoming enslaved.

We don’t really have a choice about our electric, natural gas, water, cable, or land based telephone service, yet these companies want to often lock us into contracts to continue receiving their services, and leave the consumer with early termination fees if they decide to move out of their service area.  Cell phone companies do the same thing, using the carrot of reduced cost cell phones to entice customers to their two year enslavement.

To make it even worse, a cell phone is locked to a specific carrier, preventing the consumer from going to another carrier and acquiring service for that phone.  That means even if you aren’t locked into a contract and have a $500 cell phone, you have to buy their service, or buy another cell phone.  Is this really fair?  After all, you bought the cell phone, not leased it.  The cost was not subsidized by the cell phone company.

Something has to be done about all of these corporate monopolies with their abilities to turn us into their indentured serfs for years at a time.  In the meantime, the only way we can avoid that trap ourselves is to carefully read the fine print, avoid contracts with penalties for early termination, and learn to pay as we go.  Prepaid cell phones are one option, and unlike the early days when their fees were outrageously high, they have become increasingly competitive.  Today, Straight Talk, one of the larger prepaid companies, is part of TracFone, and it is marketed through Walmart.  Their unlimited voice and data plans are $45 per month, with no contract and no penalties if you don’t like it, but you do have to purchase the phone, which range in cost from about $19 to nearly $500, depending on features, models, and brands.  Their customers seem to be about equally as satisfied as those who are paying $110 or more for the same service with a contract.

So what does a person really get with the additional $65?

You get a two  year contract, and a reduced price on your phone, plus a $35 activation fee.  That means that at $110 per month, you will pay an extra $1595 for that cell phone in lieu of just purchasing it and going with a cheaper prepaid plan.  Outside of that, there is little difference between companies.  Sure, there is “tech support” with your contract phone, but have you ever used it?  Did it offer you any help?

There’s another reason to consider the no-contract phone.  In the case of a Straight Talk phone, Walmart offers a protection plan that includes water & humidity damage, and costs from $6 on up, depending on the initial cost of your phone.  With most companies, the “insurance” on your phone is about $7 per month, and in the event of water or humidity damage, the replacement can cost you $100 or more, as well as has to be mailed to you anyhow.  With Walmart’s protection plan, there is apparently no deductible on the phone, which means that the difference (in 2 years) can be over $160 per month for better coverage.

Then there are the hidden charges on contract cell phone service, all of those mysterious taxes and service fees that really will surprise you, as they approach increasing the price 20-25% per month.  Without the contract, the fees are included, providing you with a manageable price per month that can be adapted to  your budget.

Sure, there are no “discounts” on the phones initially.  They have to be paid for, along with shipping (if you don’t pick it up in the store) and taxes.  But…in the first two years alone, assuming you don’t damage the phone or get a huge desire to have the latest iPhone or smart phone, you will save $1757, minus the cost of your phone.  Even the phone’s cost may not be as high as you think–it isn’t uncommon for the phone from the carrier to cost $100-300 more than your “discount”, leaving you with a big bill.  The same phone or a similar phone with similar features, may be available from a no-contract program at roughly the same price.

The no contract phones are also an excellent idea for parents with a child acquiring their first cell phone, a teen with a new cell phone, or even a college student’s cell phone needs.  It means no surprise overages resulting in bill shock.  An inexpensive phone for calls and simple texting can be a solution for a child, who is more likely to lose or damage a phone.  (Loss is not part of the coverage from Walmart’s protection plan.)  If a cell phone is lost, there are also no worries that there will be calls to Dubai and Hong Kong suddenly appearing on your bill either.  These cheap cell phones can also be considered a temporary or “throw away” solution to a short term cell phone need–if an additional phone is needed during an emergency or travel.  They also offer international plans, handy if calling out of the country, as well as plans for 3 months, 6 months, or a full  year.  Imagine trying to pay a year in advance on your contract phone!

I’ve talked to customers that have used Straight Talk, and they are generally happy with the service they have received, whether it was their first cell phone or a replacement for the contract cell phone.  I also know people with a number of other carriers, including Sprint, AT&T, Verizon, and C-Spire.  The ones with other carriers are usually not as happy, and often are chafing at the bit for their contract to end, whether for financial reasons or because another company offers a desirable service or phone that is not available with their current carrier.  Sometimes it is due to relocation, and the service available in their new area is not as good as it was in the old area, leaving them paying for substandard reception or perks such as a local store that repairs their phone.

With a no-contract service, you are still free to choose to use a traditional contracted service at any time, if it turns out that you aren’t happy with it.  The sole complaint that I have noticed with no-contract services is number portability–it can be expensive, not available, or a pain.  If this is not an issue, one way to test the waters is to buy an inexpensive phone from one of the companies and try it before terminating your contract.

The phones can be served by one of three carriers, and not all carriers are available in all areas, and even in the areas that they are available, they may not offer the same type of reception.  There are also many issues with both 3G and 4G service, especially in small towns and rural areas.  Read reviews, find out which phones are served by the company that offers the best service for your area, as well as the areas in which you frequently travel.  In my case, I know that Verizon does not service the area in which my daughter lives, and therefore, I would not consider using Verizon as a contract carrier OR via a prepaid program.  Unfortunately, both AT&T and Sprint have spotty coverage throughout the rural areas of my home state, so either one could also leave me without a signal while traveling elsewhere.  That problem is true for most of us in the United States–no carrier provides complete coverage anywhere.

In addition to prepaid plans from companies like TracFone, the cell phone companies often offer a prepaid plan.  Unfortunately, they often don’t let you use the same phone that you may have used with their contract service, requiring you to purchase a different phone (at full price, with limited choices.)  Even with that, for many people, their services may be a better option.

Avoid the contracts when possible, and keep your independence and freedom of choice–it’s the best choice for your financial future as well.  Never set yourself up to end up with a big bill by adding friends or relatives to  your contract service unless you truly are independently wealthy.  Instead, opt for the no-contract version, even if you purchase the phone and plan, you will protect yourself from unexpectedly large bills in the future.

Write your representatives and senators, asking them to offer the consumer relief from these unwieldy contracts that favor the corporations, as well as to legally unlock cell phones and make them able to work with any carrier, and removing the monopolies that plague us all.  It’s high time that corporations began being accountable for their services, rather than able to rape the consumer with high rates, poor service, and long contracts with large penalties.

How to deal with Tassimo customer service

19 Feb

It may come as a huge surprise, but I am often curious about those who read my blog, including those who find it via a search engine.  So, with that at the forefront of my mind, I checked the stats on this blog.  Most of them weren’t a surprise, but the really big surprise is how often people read it because of their Tassimo machine and its accompanying woes.

I can really relate to that.

I loved the machine, and despised the company and their utter lack of effective customer service.  I despised it so much that the machine was discarded.  Today, I get my coffee with a cheap $10 drip coffee maker, a stove top expresso pot or via my Melitta little plastic filter holder that sits on top of my mug and drips the boiling water through the grounds and into my waiting mug below.  If I want hot milk added, it is heated either on the stove or in the microwave, and then frothed with a little battery operated frother.

I’m certain that a huge chunk of the reason I ended up with high blood pressure was dealing with Tassimo’s customer service.

It really IS that bad.

It also made me think very hard about my priorities.

If customer service for a product is so bad that it causes me that much stress, does it really matter how well the machine performs?

In my case, I decided that the Tassimo machine was nearly the devil incarnate.  Yes, when the machine worked, I loved the coffee it produced.  I loved the convenience of having a hot latte, plain coffee, or expresso on demand, with no more preparation than plopping a disk into the machine.  That part was great.  It was attempting to order disks from Tassimo, as well as trying to deal with a malfunctioning machine, that drove me to the point of screaming fury.

Even worse, it wasn’t just once.  It was over and over as I tried to resolve issues and problems.

By the time the replacement machine arrived, there was such a bad taste in my mouth at even the mere thought of “Tassimo” that the coffee tasted like crap.  I still had several unopened packages of the coffees for the machine when I realized that until I got rid of it, it would be like some mechanical demon haunting my life, disrupting my personal pool of tranquility, and generally introducing chaos and conflict into it.

There was no other answer.

That machine had to go.  It had become my own version of “Christine” as a coffeemaker, with its own life and agenda, and they were in direct conflict with mine.  Judging from the sheer number of people searching for information on how to deal with Tassimo customer service, I wasn’t alone.  For those who want a summary of the blow by blow experience in 2010 with Tassimo customer service (and that term is used VERY loosely here!) I’ve listed the blog entries from that period of time.  The final chapter, the disposal of the machine, isn’t given its own entry.  I just wanted to get it out of my life without further incident.

  1. September 1, 2010 blog entry: Consumer anger and my Tassimo coffee maker
  2. September 10, 2010 blog entry: Quitting smoking and the Tassimo Fiasco update
  3. September 22, 2010 blog entry: Tassimo customer service round 2 plus Slovenia, China, Asia, Mexico and more!
  4. October 14, 2010 blog entry: Tassimo Customer (cough inserted here) Service–Round 3
  5. October 22, 2010 blog entry: Tassimo saga continues…
  6. October 26, 2010 blog entry: The Tassimo saga continues…and still no machine!
  7. October 28, 2010 blog entry: Tassimo Customer Service Saga continues-the first 24 hours
  8. October 29, 2010 blog entry: Tassimo does it again!!!!!!!
  9. October 29, 2010 blog entry: Tassimo does it again! Part 2
  10. October 31, 2010 blog entry: Tassimo miracle? IT ARRIVED
  11. November 3, 2010 blog entry: To be or not to be: the Tassimo

For those who are still dealing with Tassimo and their customer service, here are some suggestions.

  1. Call daily, even though it is inconvenient and aggravating.  Return the favor.
  2. Write down the representative’s name, the date and time of the call, and what you are told by that representative about your problem.
  3. If you get conflicting information or a non-responsive representative (almost guaranteed that this will happen) ask to speak to a supervisor.
  4. Write down the supervisor’s name, as well as the date and time and a summary of what you are told.
  5. Tell others about your experience, and maybe someone will be spared the indignities and aggravation that you are experiencing.  Post your reviews everywhere you can.  Some suggested locations are the retail website of the store from which you purchased the machine, Viewpoints, and Pissed Consumer.   Don’t forget Tassimo’s own website.
  6. Always stay polite, even when you really wish you could climb through the phone line and strangle the representative…slowly.
  7. Don’t give up.  For me, it took about two months to resolve the problem, at least “sort of” resolve the problem. Tassimo does not move quickly to give satisfaction to the consumer.
  8. Above all, don’t let the experience ruin your life.  It’s aggravating, but letting companies get by with crappy customer service is also not acceptable.

With all of that said, good luck with YOUR Tassimo.  I hope your experience is better than mine was.

Profits and employee morale have a direct connection

3 Feb

Recently, I read a long winded article talking about the worst rated companies in the United States.  The writer often drew a parallel between decreasing profits and employee morale.  There are some solid reasons behind this, and it is something that is often overlooked by company CEOs looking to restore a company’s market share and image.

I really think these CEOs must live in a glass bubble.  Surely they don’t ever talk with the lowly employees, or even do much shopping themselves.  This is a concept that should be immediately apparent.

Unhappy employees do not perform well.

Threats of termination or disciplinary action aren’t going to do much to make them happy, either.  That type of reaction to their lack of stellar performance will undoubtedly have the reverse effect, and the increasingly poor performance aren’t going to increase the bottom line either.

Employees as a whole are not incredibly complicated creatures.  They have a few basic needs, and by addressing these, the overall morale improves, along with job performance and efficiency.  It doesn’t take a rocket scientist or a PhD to figure it out either.

Employees want to feel valued.

Employees want to feel as though their opinions and ideas matter.

Employees want to be treated fairly.

Employees want reasonable job security.

Employees want good health care because it shows that the company values its employees and their families.

Employees want reasonable hours, shifts, overtime, vacations, and off days.

Employees want opportunities for advancement.

Employees want to feel safe at their job.

Employees do not want to work with people that are not performing their job or are taking risks/liberties that put other workers at risk.

Okay, so “employees” isn’t a separate sub-species of human.  It can’t be entirely generalized, but the concepts are generalized enough to fit most situations and most people.  It really all comes down to whether or not the company is showing that they do value their workers, really.  Everything from vacation, family  leave, health care policies, advancement, pay raises, safety, etc. are part of that overall concept.  A truly good employer is capable of recognizing that one of their workers is a member of an ethnic minority/religious group that has a particular holiday of great importance and then attempting to accommodate that employee’s desires to observe this holiday.  It’s capable of recognizing that an employee has a sick child/parent/spouse and needs some extra time off and flexibility with their job temporarily and works to make the situation reasonable.

Sure, these situations are capable of becoming quite sticky.  They may cost a bit.  In the long run, the employee being accommodated is happier and feels a sense of connection with the company, and the other employees are also feeling the same positive things.  These aren’t huge things, and aren’t incredibly expensive either.

The same with fair treatment.  Seeing employees being rewarded or disciplined fairly sends a message to other employees, encouraging them to perform better.  Knowing that raises and other concrete rewards exist for positive reinforcement enhance that performance too, the same as fair disciplinary action against those who fail to perform properly does.

Firing employees for minor infractions, threatening to fire, and making statements about how a new hire is waiting on the street sends a very clear message to the employee. The company doesn’t care whether or not they stay or perform well while they are there, since obviously their position could be filled by anyone.  Why bother trying to do anything other than find a better job at any cost when in that situation?

Employee loyalty doesn’t come cheap, and it’s not easy to acquire either.  It requires consistent effort from the company to cultivate, and it can be lost in the blink of an eye and one slip by an incompetent manager.  However, when a company has that employee loyalty, it’s worth millions, often quite literally, in terms of performance.  Companies that treat their employees very well are seldom advertising for new hires, if ever.  They don’t struggle to find warm bodies to fill those slots, because word-of-mouth has already filled the applications needed to find the perfect new employee.  Without a continual turn over of employees, there is stability in the company and a consistent performance that everyone can count on, from customers to shareholders.

So wake up, company CEOs, and smell the coffee.  Happy, healthy, and efficient employees can mean that you are still collecting those bonuses ten years from now, instead of being asked to step down, and it doesn’t matter if you are selling a necessity or luxury.  Your employees are an important cog in your company’s bottom line and it’s long past time to recognize that.

Sears, housing, and our economy

10 Jan

Sears & Roebuck…remember them?  If you do, you are probably in the same age group as me.

I’m no huge historian of Sears trivia, but when I was a kid, we had two fat catalogs that were staples in our house.  The Sears catalog and the “Monkey Wards” (Montgomery Wards) catalog.  At Christmas time, as children, we’d pour through the Christmas catalog, wishing and dreaming.

I think it was the same for my mother’s generation, and probably her mother’s as well.  Those catalogs had everything from underwear to roller skates and appliances in them.  I remember hearing stories from days gone by how the black & white pages were the best during the recycling process.  That’s when they became toilet paper in the outhouse, and I have to admit…I’m not sorry to have missed THOSE days.

I do know that long before I was born, Sears used to sell houses too.  Not like a real estate agent, but rather as kits that the proud new owner could assemble himself.  The kits came complete with plans and all of the lumber, siding, nails, windows, floors, etc.  They had a number of plans available, and once ordered, the complete house kit would be shipped to the nearest railroad station, where the new owner would pick it up in their wagon and bring home to assemble.  I guess it would be considered the ancestor of what is today regarded as “pre-fab”, manufactured, or modular housing.

Wouldn’t it be cool if such a thing was still available?  The novelty of having your house arrive in some crates, with pre-cut lumber and all of the other bits you needed to finish your house, right down to the paint?  Oh, and that it was made to conform to building codes too.

Yeah, dream on, right?

Still, with the new leaning towards smaller-is-better in terms of actual footprints, I think it’s an idea that could do with some revisiting.  The kits, built to UBC’s standards, would have a set of plans that you purchased prior to purchasing the house kit itself, to allow  you to get your permit to erect it.  Then, when you had your approval for the house to be built on your site, the kit would arrive.  Maybe there would be pre-assembled panels that bolted together, maybe it would be mostly cut-to-length lumber and other parts, but it could be done.  The directions would include which points you stop for the various inspections along the way too.  It could be done, I’m certain of it.

But Sears doesn’t sell house kits anymore.  I’m not sure if they even have a catalog anymore.  I don’t bother shopping there anymore either, and it seems that a lot of America has quit shopping there.  Have you stopped to think of why that has happened?

Even when my kids were young, Sears still did the catalog thing.  Sure, you could go into the local store and there were some things in stock to buy, but most of what I bought was ordered out of the catalog.  It arrived in the store for pickup a week or two after I ordered it.  I’d go in, pay cash for my order, and take the treasured item home with me. I ordered a number of things from Sears back then, from my boots for work to my daughter’s canopy bed.  It was easy, economical, and accessible.

Then, they closed down those Mom & Pop franchises, after they nationalized or whatever their repair process too.

Remember how reliable the Sears repair people used to be?  You called, you got a repairman out in a day or two at the latest.  Then, they did their standardizing thing, and the repairman wasn’t local and you had to call some distant call center to get a repairman, who wasn’t coming to fix that broken washer/refrigerator/dryer/whatever for at least a week.  In addition, try explaining where you are located when you live in a remote rural area to someone who has never visited your state.

They told me my address didn’t exist.  Repeatedly.

Then, when I finally DID get a repairman…he was late, rude, and generally made me very uncomfortable with being alone in the house with him.  That was the last Sears appliance I ever bought.  Catalog shopping and appliances were out with Sears, and with the nearest store suddenly over an hour away, in a much larger town, they now were competing solely with other department stores in the mall, in terms of availability, location, and prices.

For me, they didn’t make the cut.  Other department stores seemed to offer more, with more courteous service, for the same or less in terms of dollars.  I already disliked Sears, and they weren’t doing anything to win me back.

As the years went by, there were fewer and fewer reasons to go to Sears.   Then, the internet exploded onto the scene, and suddenly, catalog shopping was back, with new interactive online versions.  Payment was instant, shipping was faster, and companies could let us know within minutes if an item was in stock or not.  Who needed Sears anymore?

Well, it seems that Sears is reaping the benefits of their actions of the past.  Crappy customer service, shoddy imported goods, poor repair service habits, and boom…about all they had going for their company was the credit card.  With the economic bust we’ve had, credit wasn’t a very good business all of a sudden, as more and more people began defaulting on credit lines they could no longer afford.  Sears is in trouble, and now they are bringing in a new CEO.

Will it work?

I am not a financial expert, but I am a very experienced consumer.  Unless Sears begins to give the customer a reason to continue shopping with them, there won’t be much for repeat business.   Crappy customer service and shoddy imported goods are a dime a dozen these days–it’s everywhere.  America is about up to its gills in outsourced customer service and manufacturing too.

If Sears wants to survive, let alone thrive, in the modern times, maybe it better think about covering the basics and standing out from the crowd.  Sure, it’s cheaper to hire a call center in some foreign country, just like it is to have your goods manufactured in countries that have lower pay rates and fewer safety regulations to protect the workers, but that doesn’t mean that cheaper is better.

So what are the basics?  It starts with  your employees, that’s the ones that do customer service.  It’s the ones that make the difference in the stores and on the phone and online too.  Then, it’s what you are selling.  America wants decent goods.  It really does help if they are actually made in America.

What works for Sears is what made Mom & Pop stores across America thrive before the advent of cheap imported goods and massive discount corporations.  We’re struggling, we’re uncertain, and we want security and familiarity.  I’d rather go buy a vacuum cleaner from my neighbor than to go to a store where there are thousands of them lined up in a row and I may as well be receiving assistance from a robot as I make my choice.  I want someone who can answer my questions.  I want a company that promises and delivers service, whether it is during the purchase or when I need the item repaired.  I want to be treated fairly.

I am American.  I am a consumer.  I am their customer.

I would like to be treated with courtesy and respect.  Wouldn’t you?

I think it is long past time for these struggling stores and chains to begin recognizing that basic desire in their prospective and current customers.  There is a reason why a few companies are surviving and thriving, while others are not.  It’s not just about the lowest bottom line, despite the fact that most of us have a lot less to spend than we used to.  It’s about being treated fairly and decently too.  Going shopping should not make us feel like we’re “girding our loins” for a battle.  We shouldn’t be made to feel inferior.  When we have a complaint about something, we shouldn’t ever have a store manager claim we are an “uneducated consumer”.  (I have actually had that happen with one big box electronic store–she called me to chew me out for giving the store a poor rating after a negative experience with an ignorant clerk and very limited stock in the item I was looking for.)

Wake up, corporations.  The natives are getting restless.

Morality, the masses, and reality

23 Nov

Watching the news regarding Black Friday sales, it’s dawned on me that most people absolutely do not give a shit about what they do to get what they want.

Morality seems to be non-existent.  So does humanity.

Oh don’t get me wrong, I am a very prudent shopper, often waiting as long as a year to get what I want at an appropriate price.  I’m picky, but I care more than just about the price.

I want quality and customer service too.  I certainly don’t think it’s appropriate to duke it out over a bin of cell phones or iPods or whatever.  I don’t need anything bad enough to act like a starving hyena.  I also don’t need anything bad enough to deal with rude retail staff.  I refuse to buy a second product, no matter how attractive the price is, if I receive crappy customer service.

Yeah, that means that I refuse to buy certain items because of customer service.  I’ll never own another Tassimo and wouldn’t purchase one if it was $5, at a Black Friday sale or otherwise, because I’ve had such horrible experience, both with their online retail operation and with customer support for the coffee maker itself.  Yes, I loved the coffee maker, but it didn’t make such good coffee when I had the bitter taste of THAT experience in my mouth.

I’m just like everyone else, I have to stretch my dollars as far as possible.  Sometimes, we do without.  Sometimes, the sole deciding factor in purchase decisions is the almighty dollar…and sometimes the decision is we-can’t-afford-it.  But to duke it out over a bin of…cellphones?  C’mon!

Why not turn the whole thing into a treasure hunt instead?  Make it fun and a case of getting lucky rather than who can throw the best left hook.  Drawings for the opportunity to purchase one of the limited number items at the special price, with additional entries for every $XX amount spent or something.  Hidden coupons for $XX off a single item, maybe?

Something more civilized.  Something less lethal too.

Anything but this horrible Black Friday national fight.

Black Friday Sales

22 Nov

Black Friday.

It’s starting on Thanksgiving Day today.  I have some pretty mixed feelings about it.  There’s a lot going on with the whole thing.

First of all, whether you want to call it a recession or depression or merely a downturn in the economy, most families are struggling.  Encouraging mass consumerism is just ridiculous.  Many people are worried about paying for the basics, forget mass holiday spending.

Walmart is the hot spot for a lot of people and Black Friday shopping.  They get a little bit crazed over it too.  We’ve seen years where people at Walmart, innocent workers who are not even making enough to live on, end up killed or injured.  Customers have also been injured in the fray for a cheap toaster or waffle iron or some electronic gizmo that will undoubtedly die before the next Black Friday arrives.

The whole name is taking on a more ominous meaning than the original one.  Originally, this was the day that retailers moved into the black with holiday shopping beginning.  Now, it implies grief and mourning and strife and disaster.

For the average family, there are a lot of dilemmas.  First, they have to stretch their budget.  Maybe their toaster died or they don’t have one and really want one even if they can’t afford it.  Buying it at an ultra cheap price means the difference between buying it or not.  Maybe they have four kids, and buying gifts on this mad day means the difference between having equivalent gifts for each child instead of being able to only afford gifts for 2.5 children.  They are motivated by their economic issues to fight the crowds and craziness to try and score that limited buy item.  I understand their motivation.

What I don’t understand is a company that has switched from selling American products to selling mostly cheap imported goods still being welcomed into more and more communities, where it kills the mom & pop and local businesses, then starts reducing the number of items that they carry.  Sure, they’ve ventured into mail order, and from personal experience, they haven’t learned anything about customer service either.  Sometimes, I wonder if it isn’t outsourced to some foreign country where proficiency in English is minimal.

Then, there are the employees.  Too many times, I’ve walked into a store with a manager ranting at the employees about something, haranguing them, and being less-than-managerial in their demeanor.  I’ve known employees of this multi-billion dollar corporation too.  They didn’t make enough to live on, instead depending on help from family, as well as government subsidies such as low income housing and food stamps.  They didn’t have insurance, and their schedules kept them working few enough hours that they just never quite were able to get insurance.  This wasn’t one store, or one town either.  This was many stores in many towns in many states.  This company doesn’t bring prosperity to a town, it sucks the very blood out of a town and smiles while it does it, happy to have been given tax credits and numerous government incentives in many cases to build in that town and destroy its economy.  The government continues subsidizing it by aiding the workers, bringing them from starvation to almost making enough to actually stay alive on.  In these cases, free school lunches, medical assistance, rent assistance, food stamps…it’s all part of the package, folks!

Maybe they should use that as part of their recruitment spiel.

So this very successful company continues sucking the blood of America.  The workers, not represented by a union, attempt to plan a strike to hit at the most critical time for this blood sucker…Black Friday.  It’s also the time when they are most vulnerable, with higher bills, holiday pressures, job fears, and job risks are all coming into play.

Will enough of them walk out and actually strike on Black Friday to make a difference?  Will this vampirish big brother of retail be forced to address their issues?

I have to admit, I don’t think they will be successful.  Too many of the workers depend too much on a paycheck that is too small for what they do.  Their spouses and children need them to go to that job and work every minute they can between now and the end of the year.

For them, Black Friday isn’t about iPods and iPads, laptops and toasters, televisions and shiny trinkets.  It’s about survival and swallowing the bitter pill of the reality of their lives.

Think about where you are spending your money and what you are therefore supporting.  Do you honestly appreciate cheap foreign goods, poor customer service, long lines, chaos, and poorly treated employees suffering through what is not much different than sweat shop treatment?  (We won’t talk about goods made under even worse conditions in foreign countries, which is how they can ship you that cheap item to begin with.)

You are voting with your dollars.  Think about where you are casting that vote.

Fair Trade, reasonable working conditions, human rights, consumer rights…all of these things are actually determined by where and how you choose to spend your dollars.

So when you go to that Black Market sale, look not only at the harried workers forced to give up their Thanksgiving holiday for your shopping experience, but at the labels that tell you where an item was made.  It tells you if it’s a fair trade item.  Think about those working conditions in foreign countries.

If you aren’t one of those harried workers who was left with no choice but to show up to work on Thanksgiving Day….I’m sorry.  I won’t be standing in line to make your day any worse.  I’ll be at home taking a nap.

What will you be doing?

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