The Customer As Curmudgeon.



Can this Product Be as Bad as the Company Makes it Seem?

We have all been annoyed by telemarketers who call during dinner, or worse, when we are asleep: on Sundays during a favorite TV show, when we are making love: well, they have no manners for the most part, and it is very hard to explain to them that we have already tried their Septic Tank Cleaner and discovered that it doesn't work worth (poop?). (For about fifteen years now the Septic Tank people have been calling me, restating their claims, and last week it came down to: "What part of NO don't you understand?")

Sometimes those of us on the net invite this invasion. (It is worth remembering that Alexander Graham Bell had cotton stuffed in the ringing mechanism of his telephone, and said he would not have had one of the things in his house had he not owned stock in the company; that it was the greatest invasion of privacy ever invented, and he was sorry he had done it.) We see one of those annoying ads that keep popping up and think, well, maybe I could use that, so go ahead and send me the info, or call and make an appointment.

As it happens, the Lodge does need new windows. Before one buys windows, however, one needs an estimate. And it is prudent to shop around to discover just which windows one wants installed. So, when a telemarketer called, and I answered, I was pleased to make an appointment to find out about the product and the cost. I put it on my calendar and made sure that I would be home.


I cannot remember the name of the company that last year left me waiting all day and never showed, but this year's company was something with 'pace' in the name. (I didn't write it down because I assumed I would get the name on the estimate.) Maybe Pacesetter? Whatever, I once again waited all day and got a no-show.

They had called more than once about the appointment, once it was made. The last time they asked if my wife would be home. I explained that she does most of her living at our house in Berkeley, whereas I am mostly hiding, trying to work, here at the Lodge. The way we work it is: I do the leg work, the estimates, etc., then I submit the choices to her and we decide, and she writes the cheques.

That did not seem to phase the telemarketer: but nobody showed. And I got to thinking about it, and how that was pretty much the pattern the first time I was stood up.

One does not think of a window company as being similar to those 'Win a Free Vacation' companies that insist you and your mate both be present to listen to the spiel on buying a timeshare in Rural Nowhere, Nevada. A window is something practical, and if you are having it installed it is a very respectable thing. It will be with you, letting you look out, for a long time, possibly the life of the house.

Or will it?

As I puttered around the garden, waiting for three hours, I got to thinking: why do they insist on both people being there? In the case of the the timeshare it is clearly because they want to stampede you both into signing on the dotted line without having time ot think about the wisdom of the purchase. There are lots of marginal products which look good until you think about them, and may continue to look good, but only for somebody else.

Or, at a second glance, after some time to think, they may not look good at all.

But windows? Double-paned windows designed to save you money and replace the faulty ones? (Somebody fifty years ago sold the builder of the Lodge on a 'new, improved' kind of window that now doesn't open right, doesn't close right, and is sagging in its sockets. A more traditional window, with weights in the frames, can be expected to last a hundred years without the ropes needing to be replaced.)

Suppose the reason for stampeding you into signing is that if you shop around, and check the prices of competitors in the same line of business, you will discover that the product is not very good, or that the price is not very good, or worse, that the company has a rotten reputation? Bad guarantees, faulty product, etc., etc., etc.? The sales strategy began to look more and more suspicious.

So, as it got cold and dark, and the garden no longer beckoned as a pleasant place to wait, I formulated a sort of test to determine the respectability of a product, and it is simply this: if the company asks that both you and your mate be there for the sales presentation, Be Very Suspicious. The company does not have enough faith in it's product to believe that you will buy it without a stampede. The company is afraid that if you shop around you will surely find a better deal.

If the company stands you up for an appointment, and doesn't even bother to call and apologize, then the company is undoubtedly some sort of corporate crook. (That is only most times a redundancy: there actually are honest people in business, and in corporate business: they are just rare. If you find one, treasure him or her.) Said company has been dishonest, and a company that starts with lies or deceptions is to be shunned like a politician whose lips are moving.

Please don't hesitate to warn your friends or neighbors if you come across these sorts of crooks, because your friends and neighbors may not have yet been victims; and warning the unwary is a nice thing to do.

--The Head Rhino, 2 April 2003



If you have to pay for it, it ain't free!

If you have been on the net, you have encountered it. If you have listened to the radio or watched television, it is there. The misapproriation of the language by the folks on Madison Avenue.

While it may seem harmless on the surface, it is not. How you talk governs to a very great degree what you are able to think. The meanings of words are important; if you use a word to mean one thing, and someone else uses it to mean another, then you cannot communicate with that word. It is only by agreement on the meanings of words that we are able to accomplish anything at all in our already chaotic lives.

I'm a Wordsmith Star Class, and believe me, folks, Adspeak is downright evil! Just when did you stop being a 'customer' and become a 'consumer?' Consumers just buy stuff; consume it, use it up, act as cogs in the great wheel of the economy. It is important to Adsellers to wean you away from the idea of being a Customer, because 'the customer is always right.' --That's because the Customer can always take his or her 'custom' to another place of business if the service is poor or the merchandise is crap. A Consumer, on the other hand, is expected to just buy some more crap and take the crap which the Seller dishes out.

In the world of Tradition, a Customer who got bad service or bad merchandise simply did not return to the merchant; and was quick to let her or his acquaintances know about it. A business establishment therefore worried about its reputation, and treated its Customers with respect. It could quickly cost a bad Merchant everything if people let the word get around. And people used to do that, back when they were customers instead of cogs in the wheel of commerce.

The word so completely corrupted by Adspeak for today is 'Free!"

Free is a simple concept when used in this context. It means that you don't have to pay for it. There is no charge. No money changes hands. You do not deliver any services. It is related to 'gift.' A gift is something that is 'given,' not charged for; a thing for which there is no indemnification.

But Adspeak would have you believe that you can get a 'free gift with a any $50 purchase.' That you can visit a website where things are 'free with membership.'

And that is nonsense: the missappropriation of a word to use as a label, solely for the purpose of attracting attention. It is false advertising, and it has become prevalent. And, if you give credence to it by not making a fuss, it will lead to other corruptions.

Anybody remember Orwell's "War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery... etc.?"

Orwell's Newspeak is Adspeak.

There is a traditional usage for a thing which you get as a bonus when you buy something. It is called a 'premium.' A couple of companies have gone back to that usage of late, and deserve some respect for returning not only to good grammar but correct and honest usage. Others continue to tell us that we can get a free gift worth $150 with any $50 purchase. (Never mind that the '$150 value' is two lipsticks and a tiny cake of makup that will eventually cause the very wrinkles it is meant to cover; somebody might actually be dumb enough to pay $150 for two lipsticks and a cake of pore-clogging paste.)

Base line here is: if you have to pay for it, it is not free!

And never mind the sophistry that says "Oh, but you are paying for the membership, not the naked pictures. Those are free after membership." --That is just another way of saying: "You dinner is completely free after you have paid for it."


Hey, but what can you do, huh?

Ah, the wonders of the Internet.

You've already paid for your access, so the only cost to you (no, it is not free) is the time and trouble it takes to concoct a really nasty e-mail to any company which lies to you. And face it: when somebody deliberately tells you that they are going to give you something for free, with no intention of doing so, then that person or company is lying to you. The mere fact of its prevalence does not make it any more moral, nor any more fun to be on the receiving end thereof.

A good place to start is the Net itself. There actually are things out there that approach being 'free.' You have to suffer the little ad at the top, but you can ignore them: you aren't required to buy something just because it is advertised. If, however, the ad offers something 'free,' and because of that promise you take the time and trouble (and time and trouble can't also be translated as 'work') to follow up on it, and you get there and discover that it was not free at all... Well then, fire off a nasty missive, and mention the Bad Merchant by name and address in a website review.

I remember a character in a novel once commenting: "A Nation ruled by merchants is a nation up for sale to the highest bidder." Look around, folks, and ask whether you can afford to let them change the meanings of your words. And if you have to be a flame thrower, then flame in a direction that will do some good.

--Mason Powell




Wells Fargo's ATM:
We were in The City last week and we needed to get some cash out of our credit card. The machine would only give the money out in increments of 20, 40, 60, 80, 100, 200 and up. We wanted 160. This known we decided to do two transactions to get the correct amount without carrying around extra money. The first Transaction went well, no problems. However on the second go round the machine decided to tell us no. We then had to go inside and go to a teller to get the additional 60. This took some time, frustrating us greatly. Not only did it take us 30-40 minutes to get the money, we were charged for two transactions; the charge being 1.50 each time.

Other banks do have this charge, but they let the user of the ATM choose the lump sum.

Our final thought on Wells Fargo: don't use their ATMs (That is unless you bank with them; in that case we feel sorry that you have to deal with this stupidity.)
--Mr. Bagel

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