The dark side of low prices

I spent over an frustrating hour on the phone yesterday with Bank Of America and Paypal trying to sort out what a charge that was showing up on my credit card. All of $4,200.00. So nothing small. It turned out that it was correct, but the description was so incorrect that it was impossible for me to figure out just from reading the statement. I know we’ve all been there.

During this fiasco I spoke to five different people, earned myself a $25 Amazon gift certificate to ‘apologize’ for the bad service (Is that all my time is worth?), was on infinite hold (15 minutes+) waiting for a ‘supervisor’ – twice. Anyway I won’t go into the blow by blow because it’s boring and stressful to recount.

My point. We are getting what we pay for. Whether it is banking or airplanes or health insurance or telephone or cable. We have set up a world where competitors fight to the death to meet the one metric we have or care about, and that’s price. The cheapest wins. And so the competitors fight to the death to give us the cheapest service which means the worse service. We don’t (or can’t reward) vendors for good service and so that goes out the window. 

Minimally trained ‘screeners’, forcing you to explain your problem before being given to a live agent (if at all), being subjected to advertisements while on hold, multiple and inconclusive transfers to another department, confusing bills and all that. 

We are getting what we asked for.

Letting out my Comcast frustrations

“Dear Kelley

I’ve had a very bad two days with Comcast, and if you check my account you will see that I’ve used Comcast for over 20 years!! But I am now talking to Verizon.

Because I don’t want to waste more time with you guys I will say this: I am glad to talk to someone serious who wants to know how you are going wrong. I don’t want to talk to a trained support person who is trying to calm me down. I am very calm.

Here is a short list of issues:

  • the web site says that the link is for an email to Rick Germano. This is clearly not the case as I am talking to you. You treat your customers like they are dummies.
  • your voice mail menu is horrible and time wasting. it seems tike it tries all it can do to avoid me talking to a person. Why even have an 800 number?
  • it is impossible to call a local office (like the one in Sommerville MA) to ask if they have a certain thing in stock to save me a trip as the only phone number is your horrible 800 number
  • the cable box that you gave me after I had to drive in the snow to pick it up, was defective. I know that because the second one I drove to the store in the snow to pick up just worked.
  • You use your customers as quality assurance instead of making sure that you don’t shrink wrap a boat anchor of a cable box that came from who knows where to hope it works for the next customer
  • t is impossible to find on your web site how much dvr is going to cost. I am forced to call (see complaint above)

Ok I could go on but am tired. I know you are trying to save money because competition is fierce but this is way too far for 2012.

Bye Bye. Pito Salas”

Make it matter

Chris Shipley of Guidewire Group has a great post bemoaning how entrepreneurs are driven to invest their time and energy and (other peoples’ money) on more and more vacuous projects:

“Indeed, the collective attention of young entrepreneurs seems be have been hijacked by all things trivial. How many knock-off AirBnB sites does the world need? Or new vertical social networks for niche groups that can’t figure out how to create a Facebook page? Or Foursqure meets Match.com meets World of Warcraft?

Presumably, these proportedly hot startups are endorsed by the taste makers of the angel investor scene. And if you’re an investor, these businesses may be a good way to turn a quick profit – for you, if not the entrepreneur. But, really, where’s the long-term positive impact? (by Chris Shipley)

Personally I totally agree with the sentiment. Are we bemoaning capitalism? Does that make us communists, oh dear? I don’t know – it’s true that these entrepreneurs are pursuing their dream of making it big as expected from rational economic actors. If we as a society chose to reward – with our attention, time and money – vacuous projects, then in a way, aren’t we getting what we asked for?

Analogous I suppose to my thoughts about TV. Isn’t TV (and especially Cable) news terrible, repetitive, overly polarized, superficial and everything else? I doubt (Murdoch may be the exception) that folks deciding what to put on Cable have any other agenda than simply: “measure what brings in viewers and give them more of that. If it doesn’t work then try something else.)

What we asked for.