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Chapped Hide Olympics: The worst business and customer service stories of 2006

Some days I am the carpenter, but today? I am the oyster. (If you need a reference, it's Lewis Carroll's The Walrus and The Carpenter.)

I have been led a not-so-merry dance down the tulip path, my friends.

There are some American businesses that have pissed me off recently. I am doubly pissed off because I strongly suspect they are following what I consider standard US business operating procedure, which, in my opinion is chockfull of morally bankrupt and malicious deliberately misleading tactics.

Where do US business CEOs learn this stuff? Is there a class at universities called, "US Business 101: Tactics in Caginess---Hedge, Stall, Redirect Blame, Prevaricate, and Lie?"

My hide is royally chapped purple.

So welcome to The Ravin’ Picture Maven’s Olympic Games for Worst Customer Service Thus Far This Year Award Ceremony.


What they did: Had a major breakdown of service for my entire town for a full seven days---for me this affected my phone and Internet service. This isn’t the first case of long service failure. It’s happened at least every other week. It’s been terribly unreliable. This last week was the longest service drop, though.

How they handled it:
Badly. Poor customer service, lack of information, hedging, stalling and redirecting blame. No apologies. No offers. No explanations. No attempts to mollify me for the major inconvenience (what an understatement).

They use a two-part tactic

Tactic part 1: Ask customer to run the gerbil wheel----get customer to state the same information over. Keep asking them red herring questions, preferably about their equipment and setup, in an attempt to frustrate them into hanging up or to try to redirect blame to them and their equipment rather than tell the truth that the technical problem is on the company’s end.

Tactic part 2: Kill them softly with the hold button. The plan here is to make the customer service call last so long that you are unable or unwilling stay on the line, and are even less motivated to call back because you know you will be wasting your valuable time and will get nowhere.

Specifically, it went like this:

Hedge x 4---ah yes, there has a been a technical difficulty but crews are working on it and we expect service up and running within a couple of hours (day 1, day 2, twice)

Hedge---oh, well, this wasn’t a technical difficulty, it was scheduled maintenance. When did we notify customers about this scheduled maintenance that would keep customers down for over a week? Err, I don’t have access to that information. You were told it was a technical difficulty with our router? Err, no, I see it is scheduled maintenance. (In other words…now we are making shit up so we don’t have to refund your money for our screw-up.) (day 3)

Stall---I’m not aware of any problems in your area…can you hold while I research? (day 4)

Redirect blame---our maintenance is concluded, it must a problem on your end. What sort of modem do you have? How many lights are flashing? Do you have filters on your phone line? Oh…you do. (Massive disappointment evident in tone.) Nevertheless, I need to open a trouble ticket. There is probably something wrong with your equipment. You might be charged. (day 5)

Prevaricate and lie---a representative told you this was technical difficulty? Oh no, it was scheduled maintenance. When did we schedule this and notify you? Oh I don’t have access to that. I need to contact to technical support. Please hold. (long pause) Hello, I’m back, are you there? Oh yes, they say it was scheduled maintenance? What are we doing that requires downtime this long? I don’t know. You want to speak to Tech Support directly?

And 45 minutes later…tech support says, “Ah yes, there has been a technical difficulty and our router is down. Crews are working on it and we expect service to be restored with in a couple of hours.” (days 5, 6, and 7)

Outcome: Service has been restored. A machine called my machine to let us know. I called billing and had to request an adjustment to my bill to cover the lost days of service. Otherwise, I’d get billed as usual. I might anyway. Who can trust, you know?

My humble opinion: The idea here is to keep me running on a wild goose chase. Keep putting me on hold. All with the hope that eventually I will do what all American business hope consumers do once they have my money: get tired and bail.

Why can’t they just say, “Wow, our brick is broken. The router for your entire town is down, and nobody has service. We screwed up accidentally, and we are really sorry. We’ll offer you a refund of the past month, and free service for three months to make up for the inconvenience this causes, or you can opt in to one of our current incentive plans for a lower rate for the next year.”

Why can’t they just do that? Or something similar?

Treat me with respect, with honor…as a valued customer?

This leads me to the silver award.

2. SILVER AWARD to…Bank of America

What they did: Screwed up my new account and keep charging me a monthly service fee when they shouldn’t, and haven’t paid me the $50 promised to me as a promotion if I set up a new account.

How they handled it:
Badly. We’ve exchanged numerous e-mails for the last seven months and still the matter is unresolved. In fact, worse, they now claim that the account they themselves set up for me was set up incorrectly, therefore they don’t need to pay me the $50 and the fee charged has been accurate. In other words, they are trying to make it my fault.

Specifically, it has been:

Here’s what happens every month. I have it in saved messages. It’s hilarious. Not really. But sort of funny odd I guess.

Step 1: They yank $12 from my account.

Step 2: I contact them to inform them about their mistake and to request a refund.

Step 3: They thank me for contacting them, and tell me they have researched the situation. Unfortunately, I am the mistaken one, they inform me. They require a $5000 minimum balance for no fees. But thank you and have a nice day.

Step 4: I inform them they are the mistaken ones and if they actually researched, they’d see that it is attached to an account system which (a) exempts it from fees and (b) was opened from a mortgage account which exempts it from fees.

Step 5: They tell me oh, ah ha, ah yes, I am in fact correct and they’ll refund it. In their own sweet time. Which is usually oh say about thirty days from this point. Which, interestingly, is usually about the day before they yank out the next mistaken $12 fee.

This last month I simply copied and pasted both their and my messages into one message and sent it along when they withdrew the $12.

Now, in each message I add a P.S. It states, “I want my promotional $50 you promised.”

Initially they told me to be patient; it took a while to process all the promotional distribution money.

Eventually, when they passed the, “Give us at least 90 business days to deposit it” time period, they began accusing me of not having used the promotion code. When I copied them on the code and the receipt, they went silent. And I still don’t have my $50.

And now they tell me I won’t. In my humble opinion, what the hell ever happened to "the customer is always right" and "keep the custmer happy?"

Speaking of promised money not received leads me to my third Chapped Hide Business Award.

3. BRONZE AWARD to…Home Depot.

What they did: Offered a rebate to promote paint sales, and then never fulfilled the promise by actually rebating the money to me, although I followed their instructions to the letter.

How they handled it:
Badly. Pretended I don’t exist and the rebate never happened. Despite my copies of all paperwork.

I’m the person who always sends in rebates.

Clark Howard did a little personal study once. He found that he received about a 25% return on rebates he sent it. That’s…stunning. That means 75% of the time business BLEW OFF their in writing offer to rebate you money if you bought their product and correctly returned the rebate, which I promise you, he did.

A rebate process, BTW, that usually requires a degree in consumer advocacy it’s so complicated.

Nevertheless, like Clark Howard, if I buy something on rebate (and I hate hate hate doing that…I prefer straightforward honest---and I emphasize that word, a legitimate marking down, not simply a mark up then slight markdown---sales and coupons) I send it in. I follow the instructions carefully, make copies of everything and send it in, noting the date I did so.

I’m very careful---usually---about this.

This is why, six months later, I noted with surprise that Home Depot has NOT honored the rebate they promised me on some expensive paint I bought.

I spent time gathering all the materials necessary for the rebate, filling out the form, copying it, and sending it in.

They probably spent about 22 seconds dropping my unopened envelope in the trash.

Now I decide whether it is worth the approximately $50 they owe me to either (a) call and pursue the matter or (b) walk into the store and make a loud stink to gain leverage in pursuing (a)…because we all know the store will say it’s over their heads.

My humble opinion about it all:

I don’t enjoy this. I don’t like calling companies, already annoyed, already feeling cheated. I don’t like engaging in conflict resolution discourse with hapless workers. In fact, I don’t like talking to customer service reps---who are usually overseas in a country where English isn’t the first language so we already have that barrier to overcome---who have been trained to hedge, hedge, stall, redirect blame, prevaricate and lie. And who, by the way, hold no real authority other than being able to implement tactics their livelihood depends upon.


It’s all a game designed to make you give them your business (Rebate! Promotion!). Then, the system is designed to make you bail.

Only I’m stubborn, persistent and resistant.

It’s a game of hedging, and stalling. A game of Stare…see who blinks first.

I’ll say about 15% of the time I win.

That’s because their resources are bigger. And the people employed there have all the time in the world to keep repeating the Hedge-Stall-Redirect game. They get paid all day every day to do it. Me? I’m just a regular schmo trying to squeeze this in between all the rest of my life demands. And I don’t get paid to play the game.

Who wins the Bad Service Olympics for you? This time of year, it seems like there are a lot of contenders for the Gold…

By Julie Pippert

© 2006. All images and text exclusive property of Julie Pippert. Not to be used or reproduced. R.E.S.P.E.C.T that. Please. If you want to use something, write me.

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Tracy Prescott said…
Julie - I have just read your blog and would like very much to discuss the experience you had when you attempted to go through the rebate process.
Can you email me and let me know a contact number and a good time to reach you.

I look forward to speaking with you and hopefully restoring your faith in The Home Depot.

Tracy Prescott
The Home Depot
Director, Advanced Projects

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