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Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Your Time--Part 2


I did finally get off the phone with Direct TV. Here’s the final part of what I wrote while on hold or talking to them.  And they did solve the problems to my satisfaction. But it sure took a long time--It felt like I had enough time to write "War and Peace" instead of just two blog posts.

But don’t think this is just Direct TV. Many large companies seem to engage in this kind of practice: find ways to rip off their customers. They just call it revenue-generating strategies.

In the course of a month of bill-paying, I inevitably find one or more inappropriate, or what I call “rip-off” charges, in bank statements and/or bills. For example, our bank recently charged us a fee because the bank failed to recognize our checking account as "associated” with our saving account.

First, I don’t understand why any bank should charge us for holding our money and paying virtually no interest—unless you count .03% interest as real money these days. After a long phone call, the bank admitted its mistake and agreed to take off the charge. 

My health savings bank recently charged me $15 after I paid online a doctor’s bill who had happened to double-bill me.  The doctor was good enough to send the overpayment back to my health saving bank before I even realized I had overpaid. But that bank charged me $15 to essentially tear up their check. Another long phone call and the charge was removed as a “one-time courtesy”.

By the way, as I write this, I’m still on the phone with Direct TV. At least I found something to do--write--while waiting. Two service reps in different departments have now agreed with me that there is no logical explanation for the additional charges on my Direct TV bill. I'm at 1 hour and 5 minutes and still trying to get the bill corrected.

Customers are no longer right. Instead we are suspect. And if we hope to be treated fairly we need to spend hours explaining and repeating the explanation in the effort to get merchants, banks and other companies to fix their mistakes. If I catch the "mistakes", that always are in the favor of the biller, I eventually get the amounts credited back.

But I have to wonder how many customers do not catch the mistakes? And how many people don’t have time to spend hours on the phone with all the companies that add these kinds of extra charges? Those customers who can't or don’t spend the time checking their bills and making the phone calls to get them corrected are the ones who are ripped off. And the businesses are unjustly profiting from those rip-offs.

I could compile a long list of large corporations that treat their customers this way. Most of the billing mistakes or rips-offs are $50 or less, not worth suing them or reporting them to the Better Business Bureau or some consumer advocate.

If you are willing to spend the time you usually can get the company to correct the problem. The companies may have calculated most people won’t spend their time the way I have this morning. 

I'm now at 1 hour, 12 minutes. The service rep agrees this is an error but her system does not allow her to change it. I suggested she just give me a credit for the overcharge. And she says OK.

Let’s see--I’ll get my $11 back after spending 72 minutes of my time. Of course, the $11 was mine to begin with. So I will wrap up this phone call--and wonder why I did not become a class action lawyer. I guess it has to do with most of these companies have added arbitration clauses to their adhesion contracts with customers. That means you and I can’t sue them because of the "boilerplate" legal terms they put in the so-called agreements with their customers.

For the rest of the day I hope to spend my time on something more productive and fun.  And I wish you the same. But don’t forget to check your bills before paying them

Friday, August 23, 2013

A Staycation Day

Rather than give you the second half of “Rip Off’s” right now, I thought I’d share some thoughts on a more upbeat topic—a delightful day we recently spent.

The temperature was 61 degrees when we woke, with a high predicted in the low 70’s. The sky was crystal blue with big fluffy-“The Simpsons” cartoon-clouds dotting the sky. Too nice to be believable.

This is August in Louisville.  When you expect triple-digit highs and sticky humidity that makes the heat index climb to an official category of “Miserable”.  If this is what climate change foretells for Kentucky all I can say is we have really lucked out. The only downside for us seems to be that the tomato plants are not as productive, nor are they as sweet as when the heat is miserable. But that’s a small trade off for perfect weather.

To celebrate this gorgeous weather we drove to a neighboring county to wander through Yew Dell Botanical Gardens. Yew Dell started as 33 acres of farmland and now is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a Preservation Project of the Garden Conservancy. You can see more online at http://www.yewdellgardens.org.

The vistas were beautiful in the Garden and the flowering plants were in glorious, riotous bloom. We did not confine ourselves to the paths but hiked a mile-and-a-half trail that was described as relatively easy with occasional rough and wet spots. Spotting Queen’s Anne Lace and other flowers on the trail and a variety of trees, the trail lived up to its billing.

After a few hours of hiking as well as moseying around, I felt the peace and seclusion you sometimes find in nature. We could have traveled a long distance to experience this much solitude and delight for a short ride and the modest admission fee ($7 for adults; $5 for seniors over 55). 

Note if you choose a similar excursion, a little planning can make it even better. If you want to hike the trails, hiking boots or at least sneakers and insect repellent would be wise to pack along. Thinking we were staying on the paths I had worn walking sandals which at one point became mired in a mud patch. Cleaning my feet and sandals later in a restroom, and then cleaning the restroom of all the mud I spread around, was a bit of a chore. And my husband acquired a few chigger bites. But the mud and “itchies” were well worth the taste of peace and tranquility.

We then ate lunch outside at the Village Anchor. The food was good, the service friendly and the atmosphere perfect. If I’d had a glass of wine I could have stayed all afternoon. But I didn't  so we came home feeling relaxed and rejuvenated. And that’s what a vacation is all about. Even if you don’t go far from home.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Your Time--What's It Worth?

Lawyers bill their time at hundreds of dollars an hour. Plumbers and auto mechanics get about $85 an hour in Louisville.

McDonald’s employees and many similar workers who earn federal minimum wage get $7.25 an hour. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/16/business/six-faces-of-the-minimum-wage.html

CEO’s of top companies, considering their annual pay with stock options and perks, can get more for an hour of their time than you or I earn in a year.

If you as a consumer are paying your bills and trying to find answers for why that top company has charged you for services or items you don’t want-- your time is worth what you can save by catching their mistakes—or “add-ons”. But then that was your money to start with. So I suppose you could say your time is worth less than zero to those large companies.

This morning so far I've been on the phone for 56 minutes and 56 seconds with Direct TV. I'm trying to get an explanation for why my bill jumped up $11 even though the only change I had made was to add a free three-month trial for an additional channel. I guess it’s good thing my time isn't worth anything.

An explanation is necessary to understand this Direct TV free offer. A few months ago I signed up for a free trial offer that included a $50 cash back in the form of a debit card. When my $50 gift card did not come in the mail I called Direct TV.

On that occasion I spent more than an hour trying to figure out how to get the free gift card I'd been promised. The Direct TV service rep at that time helped me find the obscure web site necessary to print the mail-in rebate form.

As the form directed, I made copies of three months of my bills to prove I had taken the offer. Of course, Direct TV can look at its own billing records and see I had complied with all the terms of the offer. So I’m not sure why this rebate form and copies of bills were necessary--unless Direct TV just wanted to add obstacles to its customers getting the free gift card.

Nevertheless, I mailed all of that info: the rebate form and the three months of receipts.  However, instead of a $50 gift card I received a post card saying no $50 card would be sent to me because I had not sent the right receipts.

You have to ask yourself: is someone sitting in a sweat shop somewhere who has the job of mailing out post cards saying “forget about the free gift card”? Or do you think they have a computerized system to automatically send out these denial post cards? I’m guessing it’s an automated operation.


Note to my readers: this call went on so long that I broke what I wrote during the call into two posts. I’ll post the second half soon.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Afterglow of Grandkids


Once again I haven’t written for awhile. Instead of going to concerts that I could tell you about, I had the pleasure of a long visit with my grandkids. We spent some lovely hours playing board games, making cookies, going to Bernheim forest, and watching kids’ movies.  And swimming, playing at the playground and walking the dog.

I’m still enjoying a little post-grandkids-glow and also suffering a little from the sadness that follows when they return home. But it was more than worth with it for the enjoyment.

My next post will be a more serious article that I wrote not too long ago while stuck on the phone with a “service representative” for a large company trying to straighten out a bill where we had been overcharged. I know overcharges by large companies are not on the order of importance as peace in the Middle East, getting food and medicine to the poor, or even getting through the deadlock in D.C.

But the topic is something most of us don’t think about too often as we are ripped off regularly by the large corporations with which we deal. And despite the legal fiction that a corporation is a person I refuse to use personal pronouns for them.

So I will ask you to think about this topic. And whether we should expect the companies that provide goods and services to us regularly should be held to a little higher standard of accountability.

In the meantime I plan to continue to pick up toys and such left behind by our young visitors and bask in the afterglow of their visit. Maybe I’ll even get to a concert or two in the near future that I also can write about.

All good wishes to you my readers.