Archive for the 'Rants' Category

Customer Service is an Art

As a modern consumer addicted to convenience, there are times it is good to work with large corporations and times that it is not so good. Mostly it’s good – I can order things over the internet and either download them right away or get free overnight shipping – but I recently had an experience that highlighted some of the more negative features of dealing with large companies and the overhead of rules and restrictions and policies that come with them.

I ordered a gift from Apple.com and had it shipped to a mailing address does not feature a street number. It’s the only house on the street in question; hence no numeric signifier is needed to differentiate it The US Mail gets there without trouble, and I am told that all o the major shipping companies regularly carry packages there without incident. Apple’s website allowed me to enter the shipping address without a street number (some sites don’t), so I didn’t think there would be a problem.

Of course, there was a problem. Apple shipped the package via UPS, and it moved right along at first. The package left China, passed through South Korea and hit Alaska all on January 10th. It then traveled through Louisville, KY and East Boston before landing in Shrewsbury, MA the morning of January 11th. That is where all progress halted (insert sound effect of tires screeching).

On, January 11th, the UPS tracking site had a message about a correct house number being required, but then a more recent entry said, “Out for Delivery.” It was exciting, and a bit amazing that a package could make such a journey in such a short period of time. I all too well remember the days of ordering an old-school Batman utility belt and waiting 6 to 8 weeks for delivery.

However, the package was not delivered on the 11th. Nor was it delivered on the 12th. I checked the site again and found another message: “A correct street number is needed for delivery. UPS is attempting to obtain this information. / UPS was unable to contact the receiver.”

I called the person who was scheduled to receive the package (thankfully it was not a surprise gift) and confirmed that no calls had been made to that person by UPS (I had provided the phone number as part of the delivery information) – so much for “attempting to obtain” the information.

This prompted me to call UPS. After shouting “OPERATOR” at their answering system several times, I eventually got in touch with someone in International Shipments. That person told me that there was a policy problem: UPS was not allowed by Apple to change the shipping address, and that I would have to call Apple to generate the address change. She also told me that the package was scheduled to be shipped back to the Apple location in California. I asked her a few times if there was a way to put a hold on the package, given the situation, but she didn’t make me any promises. “Hopefully the address change will make it in time,” she said.

Great, thanks for all of the help. I have to think if UPS can drag a package across two continents in a day, they can send a message to hold it for an address change and save the cost of shipping it back to California.

Next up was Apple. After I answered about 12 questions to confirm my identity, the man at Apple was very sorry for the trouble (I suggested that they require street numbers on their site if they are going to ship with companies that require them, and he said he would instantly forget about it – I mean, look into it). The man promised to send in the address change request; however, he explained that it would take a day for the request to be sent over to UPS from Apple through official channels. This was a Thursday, so UPS should receive the notice on Friday. “Hopefully that will be in time,” he said.

At no time during this process did anyone from either company offer to pick up the phone and call the other company to straighten things out for me. I guess that type of behavior would be frowned upon – although it would have helped me out, it would likely break some policy or other. Maybe their phones aren’t allowed to dial out?

The next day, Friday, I checked the tracking site. Nothing. Days passed, and I admit that I got caught up in other areas of my life while I waited to see if the address change went through and if the package had been delivered. Finally, on January 22nd (the following Thursday) the status was updated: “A correct street number is needed for delivery. UPS is attempting to obtain this information. / Returned to the sender. The package was not picked up as arranged.”

That status angered me. UPS had made no such attempt, and no pickup had been arranged. In fact, I am the only one who had made any sort of attempt, and that had apparently been ignored. I called UPS and asked about the status of the package, and I was informed that it had been shipped back to California. I asked why the address change had not been processed, and the woman on the phone informed me that UPS had never received an address change. She said it quickly, and I didn’t completely believe her (it was a convenient out for her), but what was I to do? Yelling at her wasn’t going to solve anything. The package was headed west.

Frustrated, I called Apple and explained that situation. The man on the phone promised to have the package turned around and mailed back to me as soon as it was received in California. He explained that the process would take between 7 and 10 business days. I didn’t mention that this very package had gone from China to South Korea to Alaska in 1 day. Instead, I gritted my teeth and tried to forget about the whole thing.

The next morning, I received an unexpected phone call from Apple. The man on the phone explained that the package had been received by their California office. He apologized for the mix up, gave me his contact information, and promised that the package would be delivered the very next day. He gave me the tracking information and followed up with an email. This made me happy. Even though mistakes had been made, at least someone from Apple was good enough own the problem and follow through in a professional manner.

Miracle of miracles, the package was delivered the very next day. Via FedEx.

Rants Tim 04 Mar 2013 No Comments

Warning: Grumpy Political Rant

Our state government recently took a proactive step in the economic struggle by detailing a number of generous cuts that would be made to wasteful government spending. A prominent member of the Massachusetts Senate stood on the floor and said, “We refuse to raise taxes until all unnecessary spending is eliminated. The burden to taxpayers who face unemployment and reduced retirement funds is high enough. We must look in the mirror first, before considering any kind of tax increase, when dealing with budget shortfalls.” She was then given a 10-minute standing ovation and carried from the hall on the shoulders of her fellow Senators.

Ha. Please excuse me and my pipe dreams. That’s very obviously not how our government works. Instead, the Massachusetts Senate recently voted overwhelmingly to raise the state sales tax by 25% – a move that the Retailers Association of Massachusetts (quoted in The Boston Globe) says will cost the state 12,600 jobs. Those who lose their jobs clearly should be grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the greater good – our benevolent government just needs that money more than they do.

The lesson is clear: Given a choice between reducing the size of the government and squeezing the taxpayer, the people who run the government will always opt for the second option. This includes my local Senators, none of whom stood against the tax hikes. Also, this same group has stood idly by year after year and allowed commuters from Central Massachusetts to pay the freight for the Big Dig via the Turnpike – clearly, these are true advocates for their constituents.

But none of this really matters, since all of the Senators who voted for the tax are virtually assured of keeping their seats in the next election – thanks to a huge bloc of Massachusetts voters who just blindly vote to re-elect everyone. These are the same voters who decided overwhelmingly in favor of keeping the income tax, so the chances are that these increases will not only be understood, but welcomed. Joe Biden said that paying taxes is patriotic, and who is more patriotic than we are?

If any of the voters did object, and bothered to ask, the Senators might explain that the state needs this money. After all, they can’t be expected to make cuts first. And, when cuts are made, they’ll certainly have to be in local aid (which, the Boston papers report, will not be helped by these tax increases) before reducing the bureaucracy.

Also, kindly refrain from asking how the money is being spent. The Boston Herald asked about the salaries of the aides and other staff members for these Senators but was denied by a law that exempts the House and Senate from public records laws. The lawmakers will gladly spend your money, but please, don’t ask to see an itemized bill. Everything is being very carefully supervised; just ask them (some Representatives and a couple of Senators did reveal their payrolls voluntarily, but most chose not to cooperate, saying that they were “following the law.”).

Now, in the spirit of fairness, the Senate did vote against two proposed gas tax hikes, and didn’t raise the income tax; but they did vote to repeal the tax exemption for alcohol purchased in package stores. The reason for the exemption was that alcohol is already assigned an excise tax. For alcohol, there will now be a tax on the excise tax. To break it down, the current price I pay for beer is the cost of the beer plus the cost of the excise tax. That total will now be taxed. A tax on a tax, if you will. It’s enough to make any legislator look up from the trough and squeal with glee.

With the government putting so many hands in the pockets of the taxpayer, it’s no small wonder that a recent member of the Senate is accused of increasing her efficiency by skipping the middle man and taking money directly from her constituents and stuffing it into her bra. She was such a respected member of the Senate that Governor Deval Patrick actively campaigned for her re-election, and recorded a message for voter answering machines that called her an “experienced leader on Beacon Hill.” Imagine her surprise when she was arrested by the FBI. I mean, finding new ways to take money from the people is what Senators do, isn’t it?

The fact is that the government is facing budget shortfalls. The money has to come from somewhere. Hard decisions have to be made, and the Senate is stepping up and making those decisions. This type of steely determination was also demonstrated when, despite a failing economy, these same Senators accepted a pay raise in January (again, just “following the law”). Courage is not free, after all.

Rants Tim 21 May 2009 7 Comments

Ranting in the Supermarket

I was standing in the grocery store, trying to decide on a brand of canned tomatoes, when out of the corner of my eye I noticed someone making off with my grocery cart. I turned to pursue the thief, and then noticed it was my old friend Rick O’Shea. He looked into the cart with a look of disgust.

“Why do you buy so much fruit? It just ends up rotting on your counter.”

I’m trying to be healthy. Plus, I want to wean myself off of junk food before it starts being taxed at a higher rate.

“Well, maybe you should consider a bunch of canned foods, instead. You know, in case the government collapses and there is anarchy – you don’t want to be without baby peas in a situation like that.”

I don’t think things are exactly to that point.

“That’s fair, but when they do get to that point, do you think there will be any canned goods left on the shelves? Plan ahead, I always say!”

I’m trying to remain positive. Hopefully, the economic stimulus plan will help to rebuild things.

“It might. I’m curious, though, if the billions of dollars in the plan that are earmarked for ‘neighborhood stabilization’ will just end up in the pocket of ACORN. I mean, I guess they expect to get paid for helping with the election, but I don’t see how that is going to help the economy more than, say, tax cuts that might create jobs.”

Rick, you’re being too negative. I mean, just look at Massachusetts. The governor ran on a campaign based on doing things differently – changing the status quo and fighting the traditional bureaucracy while lowering our property taxes. Now, in two short years, look at all he has accomplished.

“Oh yes. Looks like both the gas tax and the tolls are going up. It’s interesting how making serious cuts to the bureaucracy, or taking down the tolls, is never really on the table. Business as usual on Beacon Hill. Together we can!”

And just think, in a few years you might have the privilege of being tracked with a GPS device on your inspection sticker. That’s more than a little frightening. Although, I’m sure that the people who have told me that they want to move out of the state are just being paranoid. Our benevolent government would never use a power like that for ill gains. Big Brother is just a fictional idea…right?

“Don’t you trust your government? After all, when the economy was booming, all of the Democrats said that it wasn’t the right time to honor their promise to lower the state income tax to 5 percent. Is now the time? I know I could use a little extra dough in my pocket.”

(At this point I began to laugh until I choked a little bit). It’s interesting that the Turnpike Authority actually has the gall to suggest that these toll increases are just temporary, maybe until the end of the year. Honestly, what evidence do we have that any tax or other source of income for the state government will ever be just temporary? Why do they think that people will buy that?

“Maybe because only 32% of the people voted to eliminate the state income tax? And because the same people continue to get re-elected as senators and reps, no matter how they vote? If the people cared about this stuff, would the central and western Mass reps really be able to go along with their constituents footing the bill for the Big Dig at the toll booths, while everyone else gets a pass?”

Well, people voted against cutting the income tax because they thought that the other taxes would go up. Now, we still have the income tax, and the other taxes are going up anyway. I’d maybe even agree with a gas tax to pay for all of this stuff, but only if the toll booths come down. That seems like a fair and equitable solution. Of course, that would eliminate too many patronage jobs, so I’m sure that we’ll get both the tolls and the tax. When times are tough, soak the people.

“Yes we can!”

We certainly can. Now give me back my cart.

Rants Tim 26 Feb 2009 No Comments

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