Monday, November 24, 2008

Week of 11/24/2008

Is It Too Much To Ask?

As I sat in my hotel room pondering what I should write about for this week’s column, a single thought kept on creeping into my head:

Is it too much to ask that a hotel deliver what they promise?

This week I’m out visiting relatives. I don’t like to travel, but I was convinced to go up north and visit family. So I did, and all the while I kept on insisting that my hotel room have Internet access. I was told that every room has it.

So I get here and sure enough… no Internet! The front desk apologizes profusely and says they’ll have someone over in the morning to fix it. Later that day, still no Internet. Again they apologize profusely and says they sent someone over to reset their access point, only they can’t “find it”.

It’s not rocket science we’re talking about. Resetting an access point is about as simple as turning the device off and then turning it back on. And if they can’t “find it”, then either the person they sent had no idea what to look for – which is an easy fix too – or the device itself has been stolen. The latter of which would require a police report and replacing the device at a tech store just down the street.

But, seriously, if you promise a service and it isn’t in that room, why not just offer to change rooms with one that HAS it? (That is what they ended up doing, by the way.) Bear in mind that this was my ONE requirement. If I knew going into it that they didn’t have Internet access, I would have gone elsewhere. It’s that simple.

Is that too much to ask? Seriously. Is it?

Then again, that seems to be par for the rest of the business world.

Look at the airlines. We bailed their sorry asses out after 9/11, and if anything their treatment of the very customers that paid for that bailout has gotten far worse.

Everything on that previously “insanely-low” fare costs extra. If you bring luggage, that costs extra. If you want the little thimble of soda, that costs extra. You want the plane to land? That costs extra. You want a seat? That costs extra.

And that is on top of being held hostage in the plane with super-long delays from the airport, going through a police zone that rivals most maximum security prisons, being bumped because of overbooking, and, oh yeah, if you wear something that the flight attendants find “offensive” they can kick you off the flight as well.

You know, guys, it just makes you want to take the train… or take a bus… or even hitchhike. You’ll probably even get there faster.

Is it REALLY too much to ask that the airline have just ONE COST for everything? JUST ONE! Luggage, flight, plane, wings, wheels, takeoff AND landing, fuel... we can tolerate a few delays and the surly joyless prudes that call themselves flight attendants as long as they stop serving as our fashion police. Remember, we’re the ones that are paying for your bailout, and you are currently giving us NO REASONS whatsoever to continue to support you!

Is that too much to ask for?

Phone companies love to push all of these different features on cellphones. Now cellphones can take pictures, hold video, save music, surf the Internet, play games, send text message… but they still haven’t done anything for the annoyances we have to put up with. They continue to sell our personal information to private companies without our permission and then tell us afterwards that we need to opt-out if we don’t want them to.

Sure they offer all sorts of programs to “help” us, like caller ID and voice mail, but at the same time they REFUSE to deal with the problem concerning telemarketers and junk fax senders. They offer you the ability to block SOME numbers, but then the phone company says that you can’t block the 800-numbers that telemarketers use, or they can’t block any number not in your “calling area”. And the telemarketers use devices to spoof phone numbers to get around Caller ID.

The solution here is crystal clear. Give US the power to block ANY NUMBER we wish and to forbid any spoofing of caller ID numbers. ANY number. Doesn’t matter if they’re in our calling area or not. Normal number, long distance, toll free, ANY NUMBER. And don’t limit us to only a handful of numbers because there are too many telemarketers for the phone companies to start playing that game. That will take care of both telemarketers AND junk fax senders.

Is that too much to ask? Seriously. Is it?

Lenders are advertising for cheap credit. No down payments. No credit history. They are running ads with some dork in a tie rubber-stamping loan applications like crazy. And then they turn around and they beg the federal government for bailout money! What’s wrong with this picture? Or they advertise it and then give you a hard time when you actually TRY to get it. You know, what normally would be prosecuted as FALSE ADVERTISING.

Hey, here’s a novel concept: how about not running the ads telling people that you’ll give money to anyone if you’re really not going to? How about that? Is that too much to ask?

Is it too much to ask that companies that get bailout money from the federal government NOT take their execs on a posh luxury retreat? Or give themselves fat stinking bonuses? This is especially true when these executives turn around and tell the employees that they can’t afford so much as a holiday get-together, oh, and they may or may not be able to pay for the pension fund.

Is it too much to ask? I mean, it’s not like you’re losing your mansions and yachts, right?

Here’s an eternal question I ask of stores…

Is it too much to ask that they hold off on dragging out the holiday material until Thanksgiving? Or even just around Thanksgiving? It doesn’t have to be ON that day.

I go visit the local store, be it Wal-Mart or Target or any of the other big names, and while they may have Halloween items up in the seasonal section, they have the Christmas trees and ornaments just lurking around like a crouching mad dog, just WAITING to pounce on you when you least expect it.

Yes, we know that the Holidays are your big money-making season. We know that you LOVE the Holidays because it means that you get to make up for the crappy sales for the rest of the year… or at least in theory. (We’ll see if that holds true this year with our current economy.) But do you really have to stalk us like that? Do you have to have the Christmas Creep around Halloween? Yes we KNOW it’s just around the corner… but you don’t have to physically demonstrate it to us.

Worse yet is when they DO put up the holiday stuff right after Halloween and they crank up the holiday music. I live in Atlanta; it JUST got cold enough for the heat to come on. Why do I need to hear “Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow” when I’m still walking around in short-sleeves and the leaves are just starting to turn?

Is it too much to ask that you guys wait a few weeks? Seriously. Is it?

Here’s one that I find really annoying… computer support.

Is it too much to ask that a support person NOT take you through the chain of processes if they know the problem is on their end? Let’s your Internet service goes down. You call support, asking about whether or not there is a local problem with the system. It worked before, but it’s not working now. They go over their laundry list of things for you to do thinking that the problem is on YOUR end, and that usually takes about an hour to go through. Shut down, unplug, reboot, check again, check one more time, dig here and dig there. It’s only after they have exhausted the list that they do a quick look up and they say “Oh, sorry, we found out that your area is having problems and they’re working on it.” Well then why didn’t you SAY SO in the first place? That would have saved me an hour of wasted time plugging and unplugging and rebooting and checking every setting that I had already done three times BEFORE I made the call!

How hard is it to check the status board to see if there is already a problem before going through the laundry list of activities with the caller? It takes you thirty seconds to check. It can take a person up to five minutes to completely shut down and reboot their computer, and you’re having them do that at least twice!

I know we’re dealing with people from third world nations and they’re reading from a prepared script, but how hard is it to include in that script a quick check to make sure that the problem isn’t regional? “What sort of problem is it? Let me check really quick to make sure this isn’t on our end.”

Is it really too much to ask?

Let’s get brutally honest here… a lot of these little things are seemingly little or petty but they go towards the general perspective of how businesses treat their customers. They continually treat customers as fools, idiots, mindless myrmidons that will do whatever they are told to do.

And sometimes they do get away with it. Sometimes we the mindless masses really do live up to the stereotype. We do mindless things. We buy things because some advertiser gave us a cute jingle or catchy slogan or because they stuck a flat-belly model in front of it. Sometimes we aren’t looking where we throw our money towards. But that doesn’t mean that we do so ALL of the time!

Do you know what the secret to a really great con is? It’s making them feel like you really DO care about them. It’s about giving them the little things that makes them feel like they matter. As long as they feel like they matter, they won’t think that they’re being taken for a ride.

So the next time someone comes up with a little suggestion and they ask “Is it too much to ask”, you better make sure that the answer is “no, it is not” and then work on getting it done. It could quite literally spell the difference between a bad sale and a good one.

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