Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Holidays: Missing/Changing the Point

It bothers me that we don't seem to truly celebrate holidays anymore as a country. A National Holiday used to mean that the overwhelming majority of citizens didn't have to go into work on that day. Maybe the majority still doesn't, but every year more and more businesses find (financial) reasons to stay open on holidays. This means more and more people, fellow citizens, have to leave their celebrations, families, days of rest to go into work.

I'll admit my sins up front. My family used to have a tradition of going to the movie theater on Thanksgiving evening. I always felt bad for the workers there, but it never stopped me from going. I think we're past the point where one or two people protesting would make much difference, but I still refuse to join in these days.

Best Buy announced this year that they would be available for customer technical support on Christmas Day. Christmas Day, until this year apparently, had been the untouchable day. Surely no one would disgrace this grand day by making employees work.

I remember how unheard of it was just a few short years ago for major businesses to be open on Thanksgiving. I remember holidays where we'd double check out gas tanks the day before because we knew finding an open gas station might be a problem the next day.

You wanna talk about slipper slopes? It's now widely accepted that you can go to special sales on Thanksgiving, and usually the sales start right around dinner time. Not only are employees working, but they're working during the prime time of the holiday - missing the entire point if you will. I guess they can have Thanksgiving breakfast with their kids.

I just don't see this ending well, especially for those of us without high ranking jobs. I wouldn't be surprised to find the majority of us working through portions of holidays in the near future.

No rest. No special days for family. No true celebration or appreciation for the things we once valued. The point of holidays seems to have changed. Consume. Produce. Work. Support the whole.

Perhaps we should change our name to Egypt and start electing Pharaohs.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Customer Service, or Lack Thereof…

Let me start by saying, I don't believe the customer is always right, but the customer is always left with either a positive or negative encounter. I studied Marketing while in college, and I have years of customers service in multiple industries.

I used to work for a newspaper company that held, what I thought were, high customer service standards. I don't know what their policy is now, but if a customer called with almost any problem with that day's edition, one of our employees would soon be in a car driving a replacement newspaper to the customer. That might seem drastic to some. One customer being happy was that important, even in cases where we knew the problem wasn't our fault. All complaints were addressed within 24 hours on regular business days.

Having worked in that industry, I also know that most big name inserts (coupons, Kmart, grocery store chains, etc…) are printed by the millions in most cases. Most newspapers are supplied with thousands of extras just in case there are mistakes made in any way. In the weeks following insert dates, if those extras aren't used, they're often, not always, shipped back to the suppliers for their use. Also, when non-subscription copies of the paper don't sell on their edition date, those copies are returned to the newspaper headquarters. Again, we're talking hundreds, if not thousands, of copies with inserts intact readily available for at least a week after the edition date.

I contacted three companies last week because I didn't receive all of my coupon inserts in Sunday's Detroit Free Press. I had read that most other customers in this area did get these inserts in the papers they purchased. I buy three copies every week specifically for the coupons, so the main value I was seeking from this publication was lost. I shared all of that information in all of my correspondence. I contacted The Free Press, Proctor and Gamble, and Red Plum on Monday. Because it was a regular business day, I honestly expected to hear back from all of them within a few hours.

That evening I received an email from the DFP. They were somewhat confused about my complaint about missing inserts, but they still wanted more of my personal information so they could try to set things right. I've heard that they've actually sent out missing inserts in the mail when this happens. Having contacted them with the same problem in the past, I have yet to have this happen for me. But, I was hopeful.

The next morning they sent me a response indicating that they were sorry that I was not satisfied, but they felt it wasn't their responsibility to make sure all delivery zones received all inserts. They couldn't tell me specifically, but they felt that their customers (Red Plum and P&G) had decided not to deliver those inserts to the entire Flint area. If they had made a definitive statement telling me that it was totally out of their hands, I think I would have felt better about their response.

I was disappointed. Having worked in the newspaper business, I know that in all likelihood they had access to copies of these inserts. If they didn't have left over stock, they would have received their overstocks back from retailers on Monday (the papers that didn't sell in stores). They could have at least offered to sell me those, if not outright sent them to me just to keep my customer satisfaction high. At least they had gotten back to me.

I was surprised on Friday to receive a response from P&G. They too were sorry I didn't get everything I was expecting. They didn't comment on whether or not they were responsible for not distributing the inserts to the entire Flint area. They had decided to send me one of the three missing copies of their insert, but they made it clear this was a one time thing. In the future, I'd be out of luck. Again, they had at least gotten back to me.

At this time, I still haven't been contacted by Red Plum's "customer service" department.

To be honest, I'm not sure which of these outcomes is more negative. I just keep thinking, they could have made this right with me very easily. They could have even suggested that I pay postage, and I would have been thrilled. Instead, I have one company that tells me I'm out of luck, another that tells me they're inconveniencing themselves to send me a third of what I paid for, and another that doesn't contact me at all. I find all of these responses perplexing. None of these outcomes is positive, and here I am, sharing my negative experiences with the world.