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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!

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Common decency?

29 Jun

When did things like kindness, courtesy, being polite, patience, and virtues in general go out of style?

I’m sort of lost here…in case you hadn’t noticed.  I’m also curious.

When did cruelty, viciousness, rudeness, foul language, selfishness, greed, and avarice become desirable traits?

Seriously.  I still see posts where women brag about being bitches.  Yes, I know a bitch is a female dog, but there is a reason why the word bitch is used to describe a woman.  It’s because she is selfish, rude, vicious, cruel, and/or greedy.  While I own three bitches myself, and I love those dogs to death…it is the attitude of a bitch in heat, if you had sexual promiscuity to the list of characteristics of a bitch.

It’s sure not something you’d want your daughter to grow up to exemplify.

Ok, I’ll admit it…I have, on numerous occasions, responded with “Thank you, that’s the nicest thing anybody has said today” when I was called a bitch by a man.  That’s because I was working as a guard in a men’s prison and it likely WAS the nicest thing I’d been called that day.  You will never get anywhere if you think a prison guard has popularity on their mind–they don’t.  They tend to be oriented on policies, procedures, and getting the job done.  Being called a bitch kind of went with the general lack of popularity thing I had going on then anyhow.

But that was just a job, and that was a very long time ago now.  I don’t like being called a bitch.  I don’t call people bitches either, unless provoked greatly.  When I do, it is NEVER a compliment, in case you were wondering.  I’ve never had respect for someone that chose to act in that manner either.  I certainly don’t envy them.  In general, I feel sorry for them, for surely something terrible has happened to make them so miserable.

I still try to be kind, considerate, and polite with others.  Even bad customer service reps don’t get sworn at by me–the worst I say is to ask to speak to a supervisor.  Bad customer service happens to be something that makes me very irate too.  Rude clerks make an impression on me in stores as well.  I tend to not want to shop there again.  Rudeness is bad for business, it does not attract future customers.  It drives away previously loyal customers too.

So why are all of these companies, from your local hospital to the utility company to the corner coffeeshop, still employing rude and unpleasant people?  Why are we beginning to accept rudeness and worse as our lot in life?  Why aren’t people more considerate of their co-workers, neighbors, customers, employees, friends, and even family?  How did society become so “me, it’s all mine, I deserve this” about everything?

Paula Deen is being crucified for decades old comments, and yet we forgive people like Mel Gibson and Charlie Sheen.  We hear the same words in music from a variety of artists, and that’s okay too.  We’re devoting hours and hours of debate to whether or not gay people should marry.  We send money overseas to promote “freedom” and “democracy” while our own freedoms are being eroded away and our democracy becomes a corporate lapdog.  We scream about human rights, and right here in the USA, they are violated continually, without even minimal access to health care for the millions of working poor families.  That’s okay, we’re sending rice and vaccines to Africa.  Never mind that the seeds we export are GMOs and “Terminator” seed…leaving farmers starving and unable to grow anything.

We can’t change the world.  We can’t even force change in our own country in anything resembling a speedy change.  We can’t make people learn to think independently and quit worrying about whether or not Britney Spears was wearing underwear when she went to the club last week.  We can’t make them demand their freedom is protected or that Congress actually works to better the lives of the majority of citizens in this country.

So what can we do?

Start in your own little corner of the world.  Demand that corporations deliver what they promise, from the product they sold you to the customer service that ensures it works right.   Smile at your neighbor and ask how they are doing.  Quit surfing on the surface of life, worrying about paying that too-high mortgage or that new car payment so you can replace your four year old car.  Quit caring about who’s name is on the butt of  your jeans and spend more time paying attention to how those jeans makeyou feel.

For crying out loud, quit being a whining bitch and bragging about it.

Grow up.  Participate in life, contribute something along the way.  Make a friend and keep them as a friend, even when its not convenient.  Friendship is about more than mere networking.

Learn the virtues and think about them.

Common decency…ask someone like your grandmother to tell you about that.  It isn’t weakness to be kind and considerate.  It’s a virtue.

Try a few of them on for size.  It’s not about anti-feminism or religion or wanting to go back in time.  It’s about how  you treat people.  It’s about how you treat yourself too.  How can anyone be happy if everyone cringes when they see you coming?  Fear doesn’t come with respect, in case you hadn’t noticed.  It’s more apt to deliver disgust, repulsion, and rejection.

 

People

24 Apr

We went to Lowe’s today.  Greg needed some supplies, and that was where they were to be found, so off we went.

We parked near the garden center, as I wanted to explore what they had available there, as well as search their prices.  As we walked in, a young man asked us how we were and whether he could help us.  Greg was his usual smart alec self.

He asked if they sold sanity by the box.

I kept walking, but part of me regrets that now.  I should have either stood there or ran away, so I either had no clue about the rest of the conversation, or got to watch these rocket scientists in action.

I will NEVER again ask any Lowe’s employee for any help with making a decision, because I know that they also came from the same hiring process.  Sit down, but go to the bathroom first, before you read another word, if  you are prone to springing a leak when laughing hard.

The young man proceeds to tell Greg where the boxes of sanity were found.  Greg, assuming he had not heard him correctly, says no, boxes of sanity.  (emphasis on sanity)

The guy says he’s not sure what that is, so Greg, with far more patience than I would have, tells him its the opposite of insane.  He nodded sagely, and calls his companion for advice.  His companion comes up with the answer.

“We are all sold out.  It’s been on back order for two weeks.”

Now, for most people, we’d assume they were joking, right?  Just like Greg was joking.  The first guy tells the other guy that there might be some left on aisle six.  I’m starting to get very worried.  This pair might have a box cutter or something on them.

Greg starts to finally understand that they aren’t going to understand, and he tells them nevermind, it was just a joke.

Junior rocket scientist assures him that they’ll surely have it back in stock next week.

About this point, I decided that moving indoors to the seeds was appropriate.  This pair scared me, because if it turned out that they had a third brain cell between the two of them, all sorts of things might occur.

Get a book, read there how to fix things.  Do not depend on a store clerk to have a clue!

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.

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.

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?

Investment or expense?

1 Feb

Once upon a time, a good employee was regarded as an asset.  Training, stability, pay, and benefits were all considered to be investments in a company’s future, for no company is any better than its poorest employee.  A solid team of workers ensured that a business ran smoothly and accomplished its goals.  A worker was expected to be loyal, and companies preferred workers that stayed for their entire career.  In return, companies were loyal, and worked to ensure that their employees were well compensated for their labor and loyalty.  That’s also how they attracted and held those desirable employees too.

Then there was a change in the business world.  Employees became mere expenses.  No longer were they regarded as an investment, but rather a necessary evil.  They were replaced like paper cups, and regarded to have about as much importance.  Employees no longer felt loyalty to their employers either.

We saw a lot of other changes happen too.  Product quality deteriorated, customer service became a joke, and jobs were outsourced to foreign countries.  Not only were the people employed now disposable, so were the products and services they were paid to deliver.

How many companies have any real customer loyalty these days?  How many have CEOs who make many hundreds times the wages and benefits paid to workers?  How does this compare to past eras worker wages versus executive wages?

Once, it was common for a worker to spend twenty or more years working for the same employer.  Today, the average worker has three different CAREERS during their working life.  That’s not just changing employers, that’s leaving a field entirely!  Many companies have a long established policy to discourage workers from staying beyond the ten year mark and even more discourage/prevent employees from staying long enough to retire.  Few employers are actually concerned about employee well being beyond the bottom line in the accounting office either.

It seems that Scrooge has taken over the business world, and maybe the recent economic woes are the visits of the ghosts of the past, present, and future.  It might be time for all of the “Bob Cratchetts” of the world to take notice and start voting with their dollars too, few they may be.

There ARE a few companies out there who try to attract, hold, and even retire the best employees.  Granted, not many of them are major manufacturers of anything.  Some are mom and pop shops, some are small retailers and distributors, but whatever they are…it’s a quarter past time to start supporting the businesses that deliver, both in terms of their employees and in terms of services/products.

It’s simple.  Happy, contented workers deliver better work.  That means that they care about their jobs, they care about the tasks they are assigned to do, and want to do the best job possible, each and every day.  Yes, it’s partly about the money, but it is also more than that.  It’s about knowing that your efforts are appreciated, that your needs are considered, and that at the end of the day, you have a name.  It’s about silly things like a birthday cake in the lunch room on your birthday, about the  boss dropping by when you have an open house when you buy your first home, it’s about someone playing Santa Claus for the kids at the company Christmas party.  It’s about realizing that those employees are not automated machines that deliver on demand, but people with real lives, problems, joys, and sorrows…and accepting them.

It’s also about employees being encouraged to give their best each and every day too, about how to improve their job performance with training and education, about how much more valuable an employee is after a decade of work.  It’s about not calling in sick because you drank too much over the weekend or want to go skiing with your buddies too, because not showing up means  your coworker has to do your job for the day.  It’s about caring about your job performance, because it’s more than just a job to get a paycheck because you get a lot more than just the paycheck from the job.  You get appreciation, respect, consideration, camaraderie, satisfaction, health care, dental care, vision care, child care, education, training, physical fitness…and you like it.

We hear all the fussing about Obamacare, about the health care industry crisis, about the economy, about our lack of a manufacturing base, about how everything is being outsourced, but what are we doing about it?

When I was a child, vacations were a big deal.  Most employers offered health insurance.  There were sick days.  And, you could buy American made products.  Yeah, we didn’t have as much “stuff” and it cost more to buy what we had, but it lasted…a long time.  It worked.  When it broke, it could be fixed.  Warranties were worth more than merely being a piece of paper.

Today, if it breaks, we throw it out.  Warranties require consumers to jump through hoops and beg and plead with some foreign customer service agent.  Our products are made in countries we can’t even find on a globe half the time.  Technical support, even from American based companies, requires us to be able to decipher thick accents and dense mindsets to understand what we are trying to convey to them…as they sit in a foreign country that doesn’t have the same worker protection as American laws provide.

We have products we don’t want shoved down our throats, and can’t buy things we want to and used to be able to legally purchase.  The economy is going down the tubes, unemployment plagues most regions, and consumers are pinching each and every penny.  We’re looking at an election year, and the candidates are causing national disgust and aggravation at the choices between rocks and hard places.  The Occupy Movement is losing steam, due to a lack of leadership and centralized spokesman.

We know there is a growing problem with the so-called middle class.  It’s poorer than ever, and increasingly unable to maintain the status quo.  Owning a home is a dream that has been shattered for many people.  The richer have grown richer but the middle class is sliding further towards poverty than ever before.  We look at our politicians and realize that they are coming from the uppermost reaches of economic class in the United States.  How can we honestly expect any of them to actually represent Middle America?

It’s time to start voting with  your dollars.  Buy from companies that support their employees and communities, and boycott those who merely skim off the cream to pay their CEOs and shareholders, with no regard for the environment, the economy, the community, or their employees.  Demand customer service, and don’t stop demanding it when it becomes a bit inconvenient.  Start demanding better representation for Middle America from the politicians who have made representing us their career too, and vote out of office those who fail to hear their constituents.  Change doesn’t happen by merely waiting for it to happen unless you want the weather to change!