Customer service that's way up there in irk factor

The Baltimore Sun

Manning a complaint line requires a certain amount of patience and je ne sais quoi to listen to both sides of a story without succumbing to the urge to throttle the party that is clearly in the wrong.

During the day, I do my best to control my opinions and frustration when facing obstinacy, or as I'm researching all available facts. The paper pays me to be compassionate, kind and nonjudgmental.

On my own time, though, all bets are off. Certain consumer issues make me name-call, blaspheme and yell loudly in spasms of English and Vietnamese (not at actual people, though, since that's rude).

So to start 2008 off right, I thought I'd share my eight favorite customer service rants with you (minus the salty language since my boss and the paper would frown on that):

1. Mail-in rebates

Here's my story. Girl buys a laptop. Girl needs Internet connection. Girl finds pricey PC card with a $50 rebate. Smart Girl buys it and hangs on to receipt. In the excitement of owning a laptop for the first time and joining the rest of the Web-surfing free world, Dumb Girl tosses away the box. Angry Girl loses her mind, stomps around searching for the box to mail in the rebate, only to groan in agony when she recalls dumping the box with its UPC bar code.

Poof. Fifty dollars gone.

If businesses really want to give us savings, why not just give us the rebate at the register? Or are they counting on us to lose the receipt, trash the box or forget to follow all the ridiculous steps just so they can reject our claim and keep our money?

Enough with the mail-in madness already.

2. Customer service contacts

If I am upset because your product malfunctioned, hiding the number to call for help is never a good idea. My blood will boil as I click fruitlessly through your Web site searching for a number.

If there's no number and you only provide me with an online complaint form, please be advised that I will have a fit of rage if I must type my question over and over again just to fit it into a ludicrously limited number of lines, characters and space. I will tell everyone and their mother to never ever do business with you. (Ahem, I'm talking to you, mega-video rental company!)

3. Service wait times

When I purchased the sofa, appliance, or doodad from you, I didn't ask you to stick around between 7 p.m. and midnight to take my money. So if you're going to ask me to take time off and wait for delivery between the hours of 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., please show up. If you can't, at least call so I can go back to work and earn a living. If you don't, I will hunt you down, strap you to a chair and make you listen to all the outlandish stories I hear about service people who didn't show up for appointments.

4. Hidden fees and taxes

Girl wants to go to Paris. Girl finds tickets averaging $700 per person. Girl finds Web site selling round-trip tickets for $420 each. Girl does a happy dance. Girl plans to buy tickets. All the blood vessels in Girl's head explode when the total is tallied, adding more than $300 worth of incomprehensible taxes and fees. Very Angry Girl yells lots of very bad things and deletes the purchase.

Do us a favor and list the taxes and fees upfront.

5. Retailer charity requests

I try to set aside some money to donate to one or two good charities every year. I like to do that because I feel like I'm giving back. What I don't like is standing in a long line at the grocery store, gas station, or some similar place and have the cashier ask me loudly if I'll donate money to help poor children, a cancer fund or Charity XYZ.

Why? One, I don't have time to inquire if your cancer fund, poor children's group or imperiled cause is a legitimate group. The people behind me are waiting. Two, I don't like to be shamed into giving. When I tell you no, I feel like a heartless bozo and imagine that people think I kick puppies for fun. I love puppies. I don't love aggressive altruism.

6. Restaurant bill change

If the bill was $21 and I give you a $50, please don't ask me if I need some change. YES, consarnit, gimme my money back! I'm a generous tipper, but I'm pretty certain I don't want to tip you almost $30. If the bill was $15 and I gave you a $20, I still want my money back. Why? Because I might give you all of it, I might give you less, or I might give you more. But that's for me to decide.

Here's an easy solution. I hand you the money. You say: "I'll be right back with your change." I say: "Great, thanks." Or, I say: "No, please keep the change."

7. Junk mail loopholes

I've opted out of a lot of junk snail mail, yet still get loads of mail trying to entice me with "check enclosed" come-ons, balance transfer checks and warranty renewal threats. It comes from exempted companies I already have a business relationship with. Apparently, choosing to do business with you made you think it was OK to flood me with mail.

Be warned, I am not amused, and the more garbage you send, the more I will want to un-choose my way out of any dealings with you.

8. Personal data leaks and demands

Do you really need my Social Security number to sign me up for electricity? What does my mother's maiden name have to do with exercising in your gym? Please, for the love of Jiminy Christmas, stop asking me for my personal data that you obviously don't need.

Businesses, there will be heck to pay if I get one more receipt that includes my full credit card number and expiration date. Need I remind you that the Fair and Accurate Transactions Act of 2003 requires that credit and debit card numbers must be truncated to the last five digits of the card? They gave you three years to comply. Get with it already. It's 2008! Sheesh.

Visit the Consuming Interests blog at /consuminginterests/blog/

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