Friday, January 19, 2007

The People-Last Movement

I seem to be experiencing some sort of repeated pattern lately. It has to do with how businesses and bureaucracies treat people. Dead last, it seems to me. Permit me to share some examples most of which are trivial, but it's the pattern and the message that I don't much care for.

Exhibit A: we're in the local hardware store where we have made a fair number of purchases since we arrived in this town. We pass by a rack with kitchen mats – 33% off. We need one, so we look and find a suitable one and take it to the cashier. It rings in at an non-sale price. After considerable consultation among staff, we are told that the sign did not refer to these mats but to others that they no longer have in stock. They take down the sale sticker, and we go on our way.

Of course, I am mumbling a bit as I exit the sttore. If it's their error, they should sell at the advertised price. It is their error too. A sign by a shelf of mats saying there's 33% off mats is pretty darn straightforward and not a matter for interpretation. We don't complain. It's not that big a purchase to get in a kafuffle.

Exhibit B: we're in the local grocery store and pass by those plastic clips that you use to seal plastic bags with: two bucks for two packages. They ring up at a higher price. A call ensues, and we discover that there are two manner of packages of clips there. We didn't see two kinds, but nevertheless there were – apparently. Silly us; we picked up the wrong package. We leave it; this purchase really is much too piddling to bother with, but it's the same principle as above. They should sell at the advertised price, or the seemingly advertised price.

Exhibit C: a few months ago I paid $160 for a service plan for my hearing aids. With it, I can get free hearing tests as well as free labour on maintenance. Since a hearing test is priced at $70, I figured it was a good deal as I can pretty well guarantee requiring two tests in the next two years. In fact, I was there to get tested that very day.

Here's the rub. Hearing tests are covered by my medical plan – up to 80% anyway. But all they can do at the audiologist's is to itemize the bill. In other words, it will show that I bought a service plan and that it included a hearing test valued at $70. I figured right then and there that the insurance company would use that as a reason not to cover the hearing test. The mail came today; I was right.

Exhibit D: our backyard backs on to a street with a fair amount of traffic. It gets noisy back there. They have a plan to widen the street. That will increase the noise. They made a big study, an environmental impact study. Apparently, however, people are not part of the environment, and they have no plan to construct a sound barrier. I knew it, but I'd hoped for better.

What is common in these four examples: the first two being somewhat trivial and the last one being pretty darn important? Well, it's that people come last, last after computers, business convenience, policies, and plans. It doesn’t matter than a reasonably intelligent customer believes that a for sale sign means what it says, the intent of the company is all that matters. It doesn't matter that your hearing test is valued at $70; if it's rolled into a service plan, the insurance company jumps enthusiastically at a chance to deny your claim. It doesn't matter that traffic noise will be a problem because they find a rule saying that it will only increase by x decibels and it is against policy to build noise-reduction fences for that amount.

It's all about hard-edged economic decisions where companies and governments make it their priority to do as little as possible for the people that they are supposed to care about and service. I'd like to think that people matter more than a few cents or a few bucks, and it saddens me that we have these kinds of attitudes to and about others. Frankly, although these matters are of little importance in the grand scheme of things – they pale against the genuine problems that face humankind after all – I'm disappointed in my fellow humans and their inconsiderate attitudes. I'm a bit of an idealist and tend to expect the best of people, and these kinds of things bring me down and sadden me. All of these organizations should be working for their clients, should be putting their interests first. Unfortunately, none are.


Anonymous said...

They are important, regardless of the packaging. At the root, it is still sneakiness and dishonesty. That's very important!

The problem comes in when this becomes acceptable, simply because it is status quo.



Anonymous said...

The fact the all mighty buck appears to rule supreme is very disheartening. I suppose all that we can do is to try and rise above this attitude in our personal encounters and exchanges and refuse to except it as the norm.

Anonymous said...

Hey, my friend, I would comment on your post but I am still stunned about the winter-wonderland backdrop to your blog and I now really need some snow, man!!!

Gina said...

It seems to be the general thing, that most people are out to make a few bucks, and customer service, being expensive, is thrown right out the door.

It is sad that when I DO get a very nice salesperson, I am shocked. It should be the other way around.

Ginnie said...

I am convinced that businesses today rely on these underhanded techniques. During my husband's long illness I had to fight with BCBS over EVERY bill and they would eventually back down and adjust the bill. What about the poor schmuck who wouldn't fight for his rights?
Recently a friend (down on his luck) got a job with one of those concerns that make phone calls for sales. I couldn't believe what they were taught concerning how to word things and how to pull the wool over the callers eyes. All for the almighty buck !

Anonymous said...

Sad, but true. I wish it weren't, but underhanded dealings and shoddy customer service seems to be the norm these days.

Anonymous said...

Food for thought, from the other side of the coin. Speaking as a business owner, I agree whole-heartedly that the people should be thought of as important - especially over a few dollars. It's been my discovery that there are those people who will take advantage of such situations to extreme - causing the business owner grief beyond reasonable expectation. I have a friend who works directly in the service industry. Seeing the "signs of a bad customer", he has turned individuals away, saying,

"The sign out front is an INVITATION to do business, not an OBLIGATION."

Anonymous said...

I live with a customer service junky. Since he has taught many classes on customer service, he sees EVERY flaw.

In Michigan there is a law that if you are charged more than the displayed price, the store must give you the difference plus five dollars.

How hard is it to be nice? I just don't understand.

Is the Golden Rule no longer taught?

Judy -

Valerie - Still Riding Forward said...

All we can do, I guess, is strive to continue to set an example of courtesy and honesty and teach it to our children.

And stand up for ourselves.

White pine grows quickly and makes a good noise barrier as well as sheltering birds and being lovely to look at.


Bonita said...

I've been reading "One Man's Wilderness" by Richard Proenneke. It feels like an antidote, refreshing and enobling. He freed himself of all this fraud when he spent those 30 years living alone in the Alaska wilderness. There was nobody to blame but himself if things went wrong. Most of us wouldn't be able to sustain the rigor of that kind of lifestyle, though.

Kila said...

Customer service is a pet peeve of mine, since I've done it in the majority of jobs I've held. I was trained well by strict managers--we need more managers like they were. Too many folks lack proper training and guidance. And goood ol' common sense.

Anonymous said...

The human factor has become irrelevant in the world of business. In everthing, it would seem. It's the bottom line, greed and power with no thought to the consumer. I so miss those old fashioned stores where they are happy to see you and happy to help.

Dale said...

And so it goes with my employer, AC. Yes, you're quite right. People are just an inconvenience today, it seems.

karla said...

I hear you loud and clear AC. We just got stuck with a $1200 hospital bill because Mark's company apparently didnt realize they do not have semi-private coverage through their insurance. It was news to them when we told them we were billed. (insert many curse words here). Also, we have to fight tooth and nails for his expense checks when he travels to the US and he pays for his flight and hotels. Grrrr. The worst though, was when Ava died. His company had insurance for a child that dies, but his boss refused to help him sort it out and poor Mark had to deal with it all on his own - even when all the official stuff had to come from higher up, and they kept "forgetting" to take care of it, even when Mark begged for them to help out so we could pay for a funeral.

Phew...bitch fest done! It felt good to get that out.

Love the new templates by the way!

Granny said...

I hear you on both the big and the small.

I had a card from Tracphone to give me 20 more minutes each time I purchased 100 minutes. I took it to an unnamed store. Their "minute" cards included a 20 minute bonus. I spent ten minutes I'll never get back trying to explain that they were two entirely different promotions and that nowhere did it say I couldn't use both.

I gave up.

As you say, that's minor but symptomatic. I won't treat you to our medical horror stories; you've seen most of them on the blog.

Anonymous said...

Sorry about all that business. Nothing surprises me anymore, but don't lose faith, AC. I guess I'm more surprised about the hardware store experience than the larger bureaucratic disappointments. To turn away local customers when the mistake was clearly theirs - huge lack of commonsense business practice.

(I like Valerie's suggestion for planting white pines.)

PBS said...

Let see, this month I've fought with the insurance company-I won, fought with the dentist bill-lost, am currenting disputing a hospital bill that I already paid a long time ago but now it got sent to a collection agency, yikes! Last year I had to pay two bills that I didn't even owe to clear my credit to buy this house. It's a racket to rip us off by both big and little means, for sure.

Leann said...

store owners years ago use to value the people who came in their they could care less,that is unless people start going else where.and that is wha I use to be able to get the price it said if you complan,but now they just look at you and say Im sorry thatsale is off and the sign was not taken down do you still want it at this price?I say no Im sorry it was a good deal at the lower price but not at this one.I figure if they cant be more on the ball to take down the sign then I wont buy their stuff.there are to many stores and to many places to buy from to buy from places that try to skam you.I do know a food store that will give you the price and money back if you catch a pricing error.but its been a while since I been there so they may have stopped to.your blessed to get those reuseable containers with your light bulbs.we still get the others that have to be cut and thrown away.God bless.

Anonymous said...

sadly this does seem to be the case in the western world (not sure if it is the same everywhere. A few years ago I lived in a house in the countryside that was near a large road. There were plans to make the road into a dual carriageway that would bring it to within a few yards of our house. The council looked at how the road would affect businesses, house prices, access - but never once did anyone take into account how our quality of life would have suffered as a consequence of the road being so close.

It sometimes seems like all that matters these days is money and that is very sad.

Norma said...

I agree with you on all points, and the reasons behind them. I hope you will send a note to each business/party, particularly the agency responsible for the street noise. I think you should ask to see that environmental impact statement, and point out the noise will stress your cats, since obviously stressing a person doesn't count. Or find an endangered species, a rat or snail, that lives in your backyard. That works in the U.S.