The Elbert Files: Bad service is everywhere
Friday, November 01, 2013 7:00 AM
The failed launch of the government’s Affordable Care Act website was a public relations disaster of Hurricane Katrina proportions.
It was, in three words that are increasingly overused, bad customer service.
Customer service is on my mind, because my wife and I have been renewing magazine subscriptions and circulation departments are notorious for their bad service.
It used to be that once you sent in payment, magazines would stop sending renewal notices.
But not anymore. Many now send notices year-round.
There no longer appears to be any connection between payments and renewal notices.
Worse yet, some notices are becoming downright nasty.
Last year, my wife subscribed to The New Yorker in her name, because she was offered a “professional rate” that was $30 a year lower than the “professional rate” I was paying.
But rather than let my subscription end, when my 12 months were up, the publisher continued sending me issues. For several months, we received two copies.
When they finally stopped sending my copy, I began receiving letters demanding payment for the issues I’d received after my subscription had ended.
It’s not just magazines that don’t respect their customers. A lot of businesses, even nonprofits, seem to believe it’s OK to occasionally insult supporters.
Here’s another personal example: I’ve been a charter member of public radio since WOI in Ames began raising money from listeners in 1996. Every year since then, I send a check in December.
Last summer following the spring fundraising drive, I received a letter telling me how disappointed Iowa Pubic Radio was that I had not participated. Unless I responded soon, the letter said, they would have to cancel my membership.
Bad service takes many forms. Sprint Corp., my cell service provider, apparently wants people to pay online. So, it began sending out monthly bills in a reusable envelope that is nearly impossible to reuse.
Sprint’s uni-envelope is complicated to open and use. There are five steps to the opening process. Then, you have to turn the envelope upside down and backwards to insert the bill and payment.
Sprint said the uni-envelope was created to save paper. I wrote on several bills that if they really wanted to save paper, they should stop including two pages of self-promotion with every bill. That would more than cover the cost of a real envelope, I told them.
One final example, and this isn’t bad customer service as much as it is just scary.
Citibank has a TV commercial for its ThankYou credit card that shows a father telling a neighbor that he’ll gladly take his own daughter and her friends to a Katy Perry concert. In fact, he’ll even take the neighbor. Dad says he gets “two times the ThankYou points” when he uses the Citibank card for entertainment or at restaurants.
OK, Dumb Dad, here’s the math on that: The cost of six tickets to the concert at $75 each is $450.
Two times the points is 900 points, which according to the fine print is $9 of value. That won’t even cover the cost of a concert T-shirt.
Also, according to the fine print, if you are late making a payment, it will cost you up to 29 percent APR, which for one month on a $450 bill, figures out to about $11.
Also, your interest rate will be 13-23 percent APR, depending on your credit rating, after a free introductory period of 15 months.
So go ahead, Dad, buy all the Katy Perry tickets you want.
Then go to the Affordable Care website and sign up. I’m sure you’ll get right in.
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