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Archive for June, 2008

Most people with any intelligence whatsoever will admit to you that our public schools are failing their students miserably. Every day, students graduate ignorant of how our country works, how laws are made and how to drive, among many other things. And just because you have a degree on your wall, doesn’t mean that you’re any smarter. A study released in 2005 by the U.S. Department of Education shows that only 25% of college graduates were “proficiently literate,” that is, “using printed and written information to function in society, to achieve one’s goals, and to develop one’s knowledge and potential.” More discussion on this study can be found here.

One of the things many people seem to be ignorant about is the name of the country they live in. They seem to erroneously refer to this country with one word: America. Yet – and I know this may come as a huge surprise to some of you – there is no country called “America”. Not now, not in the past – never! It never existed. EVER! Yet everyday, we hear people refer to this mythical place. We also have TV shows named after it like American Morning. People refer to those who live in the United States as “Americans”. Folks refer to American universities, American film, American celebrities, American culture and on and on. And then there are Native Americans. And on Oklahoma’s license plates, its used in the state’s latest marketing slogan “Native America”. When will the lunacy stop?

The country “America” does not exist! And I blame the public schools for this incompetence because they provide children at early ages with books, usually titled “American History”. And while there is a land mass known as the Americas (comprised of North America and South America) these books almost always cover United States history under the title of American History. No wonder kids think they live in America. These are people (textbook authors) should know better! They should know that children are impressionable when young and when you fill their little heads with incorrect information they will never unlearn it.

Its called The United States of America. Or just United States would also be acceptable. But not just America because that refers to a country that is not found on any map, or any globe and instead refers collectively to two entire continents. Lets try to be intelligent for once and use the correct name to refer something.

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Customer service in the United States is dead. Has been for a long time, actually. But its just recently that the corpse has started to rot and really foul up the air. You see, companies still talk about customer service and pretend like they still provide it. They even have departments dedicated to it. But they don’t provide it, nor offer it or even really know what it is.

Providing customer service involves first the ability to provide customer service and second giving a damn about your job enough to provide it. Lets face it, some people are simply too stupid to provide customer service. No, I am not being cruel here, this is a proven fact. People that cannot perform basic mathematical computations involving addition and subtraction of whole numbers fall into this category. I have had cashiers try to tell me that I was wrong about how much change I should get back because the register tells them I am supposed to get a certain amount back.

Other people simply are too stupid to learn their job to begin with. This type is most commonly encountered as the moron who cannot perform basic tasks of his job like checking out a customer, making a sandwich with a special grill order (no lettuce, no tomato, extra onion) or processing a return with any degree of efficiency or competency. Often this goes with a remark about how the register (a computer) is ‘being difficult’ or ‘stupid’ (the last one always tests my self control) when we all know that computers are not humans. They don’t make mistakes, they don’t get angry and they don’t have varying degrees of intelligence. They do exactly what they are programed to based on the commands of the operator.

Then there is this category of folks who simply don’t give a damn about their jobs. And this is a really big group of people. Which I sort of understand, in fact. Companies today discard employees like used condoms. When they are no longer needed, they get pulled off and thrown into a rubbish pile. Way back when, employees used to work for the same company for a lifetime and companies rewarded that loyalty by investing in the employee beyond just giving his or her hourly pay. They don’t do that anymore and so I really don’t blame employees for having no loyalty to their employers these days. Whats that old saying my old man used to tell me? “You reap what you sow.” or something like that.

On the other hand, if you take a job you should at least do it correctly with a marginal amount of pride for the product of your work: be it tangible or otherwise. That means, if you work at fast food place, you should try to get orders correctly entered and prepared, fully cooked and served promptly. If your job is to answer phones and help customers understand their bill, you ought to know how to look up the bill, how to read whats on the screen and how to tell a customer what it says. And you should also know tell when a bill was not correctly generated, charges not properly applied and have the sense to know not to blame the customer or try to lie your way out of it while at the same time knowing how to remedy the situation.

Below, I am going to share two three recent experiences with two companies and explain exactly how they are textbook examples of how customer service is completely dead. Not just dead, but now a rotting, stinking, festering corpse with maggots all over it. Someone ought to have the decency to throw away rotten things when they begin to stink.

One day, I bought a printer from Office Max. I paid for it in cash – $499 plus tax. Later in the day, I went to Cost-Co and found another printer that was cheaper and better. I took the unopened printer from Office Max (with receipt) back to the store the very next day to return it.

Imagine my surprise when I got to the counter to do the return and the cashier called the manager over, who came out and politely explained he would not be giving me my money back because his store has a $200 limit on cash refunds. Normally that would be OK, stores have all kinds of policies (and as required by law) they usually have a sign by the register or on the back of the receipt telling of their return policy.

There were no signs on the register, but this was the policy as printed on the back of the receipt:

“If you aren’t satisfied with your purchase, simply return it in the complete and original packaging (together with all accessories and manuals) with your original sales receipt within 30 days of the date of purchase. We will gladly replace or repair the item, or refund your money. Electronic Items, Digital Cameras, Computers, PDAs and Business Machines must be returned within 14 days of purchase.

OfficeMax will not accept returns of opened Computers, PDAs, Digital Cameras or Software packages unless defective. These items that are defective may be exchanged for the identical item only.”

The receipt then goes on to explain the rebate policy. Notice how there is nothing mentioned about this supposed cash limit policy. My options – so I was told – were to take my refund on a gift card (store credit – not redeemable for cash) or a check mailed from their corporate office in 7 to 14 days. I got myself quite worked up about it but the manager pretty much said he didn’t care how much complaining I did, he wasn’t changing his mind. He also told me he had enough money to do the return in the store, but this policy prevented him from doing it and by golly, he was not going to override the policy! I asked him if I could take 7 to 14 days to pay for my future purchases and he did not see the humor in that.

I got the number for the corporate office and took my refund on a gift card. And as soon as I got to the parking lot, I got on the phone and started complaining. After talking to several people (who all said that there was no such policy after I pointed out that it wasn’t posted anywhere) I got to the regional manager who explained that this store had made its own policy and that stores were allowed to do this. I pointed out that the supposed policy was not disclosed anywhere and he finally passed me up to some sort of director of retail operations.

This person seemed to have no authority, as she listened to the entire story and then told me she needed to research it and call me back. I told her that I knew what happened at this point, since I have been here with AT&T several times. The part where the supervisor takes your number and will call you back never happens. Its just a way of getting rid of a problem customer. She swore up and down she would call me back, gave me this song and dance about how her word was her bond and on and on. I told her I have heard all this before.

She promised again and then we disconnected. I knew what the score was, so I took my gift card to another Office Max and blew it on some nice stuff that I really didn’t need, but just looking at the card made me angry. Two days later, she did call back – which surprised me. But when she told me why she was calling – to let me know that she was still looking into it – I knew had it right the first time. I was dealing with someone with little to no authority who was not even good at wearing her seemingly important title well. I told her to call me back when she had an answer.

Nearly a week later, the store manager of the Office Max called and left a message on my cell phone’s voice mail that I could bring my gift card back for cash now, if I wanted. The lady at the corporate office never did call back with a final answer as she promised she would. Not that I was surprised, promising a call back is the tool of an incompetent middle management asshole who wants to get rid of a whiny customer that s/he doesn’t feel like dealing with at the moment.

I didn’t bother to return the manager’s call – what was the point? Office Max lost me as a customer due to their completely incompetent handling of the situation. I now do all my office supply shopping at Staples. At least they spell out their return policy honestly on the back of the receipt.

In this instance, the failure of customer service was just simple stupidity coupled with dishonesty. Someone made a dishonest and incorrect statement (the store manager who professed the cash limit policy that did not exist) and when confronted with the customer’s complaint and researching the issue and then funding that no policy existed – no one was willing to admit that the mistake occurred or correct the situation. They instead wanted to play hot potato and pass the angry customer around until someone was willing to take the responsibility for being wrong and be the fall guy.

I have a multi-year contract with Sprint for wireless service. One day, I went to one of their stores and added a second phone and line to my service. I also bought a Motorola Bluetooth headset for $199. It was the latest one, supposed to be the best out. I was told it had a 30 day return policy on it if I did not like it. Charges for both were billed to my Sprint account. Several days later, I returned the Bluetooth Headset because everyone I called told me they couldn’t hear me – just like all the other headsets I have bought.

The return went fine, but the credit never showed up on my account. So when I got a bill from Sprint for over $600 (there were some other upgrades done to other phones between the bill getting cut and my return) and the credit for the return wasn’t there, I called and complained. I spent nearly two hours on the phone explaining first to a customer service representative and later to that rep’s supervisor why I was not going to pay a $600 bill that should only be $400 because they did not feel like posting a credit to my account. They, of course, charged my account for my purchases immediately.

Around and around we went and I never did get a solution to that issue. I wound up paying the bill but vowed to make up for it later on down the road.

In the instance of Sprint, we simply have a combination of I-don’t-give-a-damn employees working for an I-don’t-give-a-damn company coupled with people who are too stupid to be customer service representatives in the first place. They could not understand for the life of them why I might be unhappy with the situation they had put me in.

Last time I got sweet talked when it came to contract renewal time. In 2010, I will not be so understanding and will very likely take my business elsewhere to someone who appreciates it more. If such an entity even exists, most wireless companies are rumored to have horrible customer service. But in 2002, Sprint won two JD Power & Associates awards for customer service excellence. When we talk about wireless service and awards for good customer service, we may as well say ‘Congradulations, you’re service stinks the least out of all the turds on this pig farm’.

Recently, I went to send a money transfer via Western Union while away from home. I used their website and it’s Agent Location feature to find the closest place to send from quickly – or so I thought. I put in my zip code 60515 (where I was at the time) and it came back and told me that the closest place was right across the street – a check cashing place called The Currency Exchange. The website said the place was open until 9 PM. Great, since it was currently 8:10 PM and it would be one less thing to deal with the next day.

So I grabbed my post it note with my recipient’s information and drove across the street (stopping first for a bite to eat at Burger King) and then parked in front of The Currency Exchange. Only when I got there, The Currency Exchange did not appear to be open. That was because they weren’t open, they closed at 8 PM.

When I got back to my hotel room, I called Western Union and informed them of the oversight. The representative, after I got done telling her about the error on the website said in a completely calm manner “I’m not sure I understand what you want me to do about it.” When I suggested that the transfer me to a supervisor after several more attempts to reach her tiny little brain, the supervisor was no better telling me that she did not have access to the people who maintain the website and instead suggested I send an e-mail using the form on the site.

I did go and send the e-mail. And if you go and pull up the hours for The Currency Exchange, you’ll still be told it closes at 9 PM.

Finally here we have a case of stupidity, lack of pride in a job, failure to learn job and to top it all off a healthy dose of zero initiative to provide customer service. When a customer tells you about incorrect information on your website or elsewhere, thank them for bringing it to your attention and then pass the report on to the proper people who can correct it. If you don’t know who to report it to, find out. But at Western Union, apparently this is all too much to understand.

These three experiences, which have all occured within the last 30 days, have proven to me that customer service is dead. Surely you have had other experiences on your own that lead you to the same conclusion. Its a sick joke that companies continue to banter around. Economists keep whining about the downturn in the economy and bitch about how consumers aren’t spending as much as they used to. Gee, it couldn’t have anything to do with the fact that companies treat them like shit, could it?

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Welcome to the other personal blog of Keith Kimmel. Confused yet? Sorry about that. Let me explain:

You see, I already have a blog called In Corruption We Trust. I originally started ICWT to discuss my ever-increasing dislike for what the United States has morphed into: an out of control theocracy that is quickly devolving into a police state, spending monster, terrorist state, big brother, nanny and third world country all rolled into one. Now, lets get something straight right here and now: I love my country, I hate my government. There is a big difference that some folks still fail to grasp.

Anyway, I intended to write ICWT in a journalistic style that is professional in nature but always providing the details that mainstream reporters leave out like docket numbers in court cases, etc. Additionally, I endeavored to report only the facts and letting the reader choose the sides – a concept completely lost on the modern reporter in this era of managed news. These days, its not enough to help the reader choose sides, we have to only give him one side of the facts as well.

I think I have succeeded in this quest for the most part, but I am human and I confess that I have been unable to overcome the urge to inject a personal jab here and there into a story. Unfortunately, that style made ICWT a news site first and a personal blog almost not at all. And that’s what need this blog is intended to fill: this is a place where I no longer need to temper my reporting, remain fair or present both sides of the story.

While nearly every ICWT story starts with (and often quotes from) a mainstream (and sometimes not so mainstream) news story, this blog will simply be more of a collection of my personal writings. It would be more accurate to say that this blog will help you gain insight into the man behind ICWT. This site will compliment and expand upon my personal platform.

In fact, most writings here will start from one or more planks and then work from there to encompass one or more current events. In other words, this will simply be a dump of what is going through my mind. Like my personal website, this will be undiluted Keith Kimmel which may be hazardious to one’s health. Caution is advised and you should consult with your doctor before you begin, change or discontinue a Keith Kimmel regimen.

And just in case you are wondering: I am not planning on shuttering ICWT. Quite the contarary. I have a renewed intrest in the site and will be working towards keeping it one of the leading publications avaliable online for free that combines tasteful advertising and web design with real news of real importance.

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