The Checkout

Archive: Customer Service

Credit Card Debt Is Up

No surprise here. Credit card debt is ticking up. TransUnion, one of the three main credit bureaus, reported that in the second quarter of this year, national credit card debt per borrower increased 2.63 percent to $1,717 from the previous quarter's $1,673. That is also an 8.6 percent jump from a year ago, when average debt was $1,581. What state has the most debt-ridden people? Alaska, with $2,494 per borrower. What state has the least? Iowa, with $1,281. How are we faring around here? The District of Columbia has the fourth highest average debt, with $2,009 per borrower. The District...

 

By Nancy Trejos | September 17, 2008; 07:12 AM ET | Comments (0)

Receipt Checks -- You Can Say 'No'

Over the past few months, I've received several e-mails about bad experiences people have had when they've been stopped by security to check their receipt as they're trying to leave a store. A lot of people find the exercise insulting and invasive, especially if they have to wait in long lines. After all, once you buy something, it's your property, right? This is what reader Tamu Wright wrote recently: In general, I think it makes honest customers feel like the store is treating them like a criminal, and in my mind it is a very lazy way of trying to...

 

By Annys Shin | March 1, 2007; 07:24 AM ET | Comments (0)

BW Picked the Best. You Choose the Worst

Business Week for the first time has ranked companies for their customer service. The weekly magazine's timing came close to being laughably off. It nearly went to press listing discount airliner JetBlue as No. 4. Business Week deemed JetBlue's customer service fiasco the week of Valentine's Day catastrophic enough to yanked the company from the list altogether. In addition to well-publicized meltdowns, Business Week based its rankings on a combination of factors: It started with brands already ranked by J.D. Power & Associates, commissioned J.D. Powers to survey customers about brands J.D. Powers doesn't track, and polled 3,000 BW readers....

 

By Annys Shin | February 26, 2007; 09:15 AM ET | Comments (32)

A Wii Sad Story

Today I bring you a story of one local man's quest for a Nintendo Wii. It's sure to strike a chord with anyone who has spent half a day glued to a Wii inventory tracker, slept outside a store for a Tickle Me Elmo, or simply been mistreated at the hands of Best Buy employees. Our story began earlier this week when Dale Graham and his wife wanted to surprise their 15-year old daughter with a Wii on Valentines Day. Graham owns a landscaping company. He's not a gamer. So he started his journey not quite realizing how popular the...

 

By Annys Shin | February 15, 2007; 10:00 AM ET | Comments (0)

An Unreasonable Request?

A reader named Grace called in this week to raise this question: How far should businesses go to be accessible to consumers with disabilities? It all started when Grace spied an ad for C-Mart, a new discount retailer opening in Landover, Md., this weekend. The store plans to offer boutique designer clothes and furniture at big box prices. In the spirit of the latter, it is a roomy 65,000 square feet. That poses a problem for shoppers such as Grace, who on top of a burning desire to buy a Ferragamo bag for 80 percent off retail has multiple sclerosis....

 

By Annys Shin | February 14, 2007; 08:15 AM ET | Comments (0)

Thank You for Paying Interest

Credit-card companies usually aren't very good at making their customers feel warm and fuzzy. Not even knee-slapping commercials starring barbarians and fake Borats can make a person forget incomprehensible terms printed in squint-inducing type, late fees, and the pain of universal default. But how about a handwritten thank you note? Jeff Baron, a colleague of mine, and his wife originally signed up for an Advanta small business credit card to take advantage of an introductory offer of 2.99 percent APR on transfer balances. "The flier for the deal was clear enough, which was one of the attractions, though of course...

 

By Annys Shin | January 25, 2007; 07:00 AM ET | Comments (41)

E-Service Failings

For the most part, e-mail makes communication easier. But I'm beginning to think there is one area where it isn't working: customer service. My husband and I recently signed up for Netflix. We got our first movie without a hitch. (Boys of Baraka. Two thumbs up.) We watched it. We sent it back. No problem. Since then, however, we have yet to receive movie No. 2 on our list. I've gone online several times to make sure the mailing address is correct. It is. I reported the movie missing. Netflix promised to try again. It was supposed to show up...

 

By Annys Shin | January 2, 2007; 08:19 AM ET | Comments (38)

The Elusive Escalations Office

After reading of Lisa Newman's battle with MCI, reader Gary Goldberg had an excellent question: "And the phone number to the MCI Executive Escalations office would be...?" I posed that very question to Verizon spokeswoman Christy Reap. I also asked what exactly is the Executive Escalation Office and what triggers its involvement. Reap's answer: "The bottom line is customers should work with the customer service representatives to attempt to get their issues resolved. Period. Any information beyond that is proprietary." Next time you find yourself stuck in a phone tree, or better yet, if you crack the secret code to...

 

By Annys Shin | September 13, 2006; 02:55 PM ET | Comments (0)

Message to MCI: It's NOT Me!

In this age of identity theft and hijacked MySpace identities, proving you're you is not always easy. Just ask Lisa Newman of the District. Lisa has been fighting just such a battle against MCI, which keeps trying to get her to pay someone else's bill. About three years ago, Lisa began receiving long distance phone bills for a phone number she never had. At the time, she hadn't been an MCI customer for many years. Lisa quickly called MCI about the bills, customer service workers and supervisors assured her the mix-up would be fixed. Several months later, though, another MCI...

 

By Annys Shin | September 13, 2006; 06:00 AM ET | Comments (35)

Valiant Verizon

One last note before I leave--I have to do this, as anyone who's read my previous items on Verizon will understand. The FiOs installers came again to my house today--begin at 8:30 and just left--at 4 P.M. It was a hard job, with many complicated parts. They did a great job!!!...

 

By | September 8, 2006; 04:10 PM ET | Comments (0)

Verizon FiOS Fiasco

I would love to write a nice item about Verizon. Really. And I was hoping I could do so when I got my FiOS TV installed. Alas, I can't. Here's my sad installation tale. First, the Verizon technician was supposed to arrive between 1 and 5 p.m. He came at 5:10. That, it turns out, was the least of the problems. I had planned to get two TVs hooked up to FiOS; one was already hooked up to cable, one was not. When I signed up for FiOS TV, the Verizon sales agent said I could have three TVs...

 

By | September 5, 2006; 07:00 AM ET | Comments (106)

Fine Print Hide & Seek

The ultimate in fine print arrived at my house earlier this week: a letter from Verizon touting its FiOS TV service. Now that my county, Arlington, has given its approval to Verizon to offer its TV service as a rival to Comcast's cable system, Verizon promotions have been arriving almost daily at our house. The one that really caught my eye came in a big 8-by-11 envelope stamped "priority delivery" and "important information inside." It looked like an urgent, overnight delivery. Needless to say, that envelope didn't get automatically thrown into the trash. Inside, there was a letter about...

 

By | August 11, 2006; 07:10 AM ET | Comments (38)

Making Loyal Customers Pay

New Yorker Stacy Cowley recently wrote to complain about her annual renewal battle with Time magazine. It's a "tale of consumer injustice that gets me cranky every year," Cowley said. The problem, Cowley says, is that when it comes time to renew, loyal subscribers are asked to pay far more than new customers. Cowley has written about her frustrations on her own blog. Here's the shorthand version. When it came time to renew this year, Cowley visited Time's Web site, which offered a year subscription at $29.95. "That's been the subscription price for at least two or three years,"...

 

By | August 7, 2006; 09:40 AM ET | Comments (46)

Profiting from Bad Customer Service

For the first time in years, I recently flew on Northwest Airlines. I had been dreading it because my last trip on Northwest several years ago was so bad that I had vowed never to fly the airline again. You know: delayed, then cancelled, flights; surly employees; total disregard and downright rude treatment of passengers. But I figured Northwest had to have changed; besides it offered the best schedule and, of course, the best price. Indeed, this trip was better this time around (anything had to be.) The flights actually left early, all connections were made and all arrived on...

 

By | August 4, 2006; 07:00 AM ET | Comments (118)

How Good Are the Goods?

About 17 years ago, we bought our first gas grill. It lasted about 10 years. The next one lasted about five, and the inner parts of the third one -- only 2½ years old -- just disintegrated. In other words, each new version seems to have a half-life of its predecessor. Whatever happened to technology? I thought it was supposed to make products better and better. But some products barely last a year, if that. Consider telephones. I can't tell you the number of telephones we've recently purchased that lasted only a couple months before the buttons start to...

 

By | July 31, 2006; 07:00 AM ET | Comments (0)

A Store Clerk's Perspective

We all gripe about customer service, especially inattentive, surly store clerks. But have you ever considered the rude customer? I didn't think about it often until my daughter started working in a retail store. Every night she'd come home with stories about nice customers and impudent ones--the customers who valued her help and even approached her as someone who had expertise as well as the customers who demanded her immediate attention, threw their money on the counter and talked on their cellphones as they were being checked out. I asked Alison to give me her perspective from the other...

 

By | July 28, 2006; 07:00 AM ET | Comments (65)

Document This!

For days, I listened to my husband, Gary Anthes, complain about the difficulties in setting up his new computer. And for days, I said, this needed to be posted in my blog. So, at my request, Gary (who is a senior editor at Computer World), wrote up his tale. Here it is: People are always kvetching about their personal computers, and for good reason. With the possible exception of Apple's Mac, they are a disgrace, by far the most problematic, frustrating, baffling consumer products on the planet. Maybe off-planet as well. But while people are apt to bash Microsoft for...

 

By | July 17, 2006; 07:00 AM ET | Comments (34)

Say What You Mean, Round 2

Last week, I posted an item about my Canada trip, mostly discussing the things I read on the trip. I want to revisit that item for a couple of reasons: 1. As I noted on a comment I posted late in the chat, I stand corrected about my criticism of the tree nut allergy warning on peanuts. I appreciate all your notes and comments and realize that those allergic to walnuts, pecans and other tree nuts, could wrongly assume that a bag of peanuts may be safe because they are not grown on trees. 2. Many of you also commented...

 

By | July 7, 2006; 07:43 AM ET | Comments (50)

Say What You Mean, Please

As I'm still reminiscing about my vacation, I want to share a few thoughts about customer service, especially this one: Why can't hotels say what they really mean? Instead they put sweetly worded messages in the rooms that seem to say one thing but actually mean another. For instance, in my first B&B in Banff (the Blue Mountain Lodge, a friendly little residence near the main drag), there's this note: "We want to respect your privacy. If you would like fresh towels, the garbage emptied, etc., please let us know." The real meaning of this message became clear the second...

 

By | June 28, 2006; 07:00 AM ET | Comments (59)

No Hails for Airport Cab Service

And here I thought the Canadian Rockies had a lot of rain! For the 10 days I hiked around Banff and Jasper, there were showers everyday. Blue skies one minute, an ice squall the next. But that was nothing compared to the deluge that greeted me Sunday night (or rather in the wee hours of Monday morning thanks to all the air-traffic weather delays) at D.C's Ronald Reagan National Airport. And once again, the complete chaos there proves that Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority has a long way to go in serving its customers. Hundreds of travelers waited for nonexistent...

 

By | June 27, 2006; 09:24 AM ET | Comments (17)

Comcast vs. RCN

In my absence, my editor Stacey Palosky has offered to post an item, giving one more perspective about customer service. I'm in the midst of a big move and have been dreading dealing with the whole cable, phone, Internet conundrum. Do I continue with separate companies, to whom I paid a combination of $141 last month, or fold them all together? Which to choose: RCN, our current cable company, or Comcast, our current high-speed Internet provider? I knocked Verizon, our phone company, out of the picture a year ago, when I tried to switch to their DSL. They mangled the...

 

By | June 20, 2006; 07:54 AM ET | Comments (50)

Begging to Serve Myself

I've spent the last few days setting up my home office. Of course, that has meant several trips to Staples to help me create the perfect environment. I needed a better phone, a stand for my computer monitor, paper, pads and pencils--and all sorts of handy little organizational helpers that I hope will actually make me better organized, although I doubt it. Of course Staples had a great selection--in all the things I didn't really need (mostly the more expensive, more frivolous items). But when it came to what I did want and need, I often found empty shelves....

 

By | June 9, 2006; 08:40 AM ET | Comments (0)

Making Everyday Life A Complicated Situation

Here we are in an era where the ultimate marketing goal seems to be simplicity. There are an ever growing number of convenience foods to give us great meals with little work. There are all sorts of quick-cleaning products to give us a sparkling house with no elbow grease. And there's even a magazine to make life Real Simple. So why then do we insist on making life, or at least our language, so complicated? That thought struck me last weekend as I was sitting in an airport waiting for a delayed a flight. Over the loudspeaker, the gate attendant...

 

By | May 22, 2006; 07:00 AM ET | Comments (33)

Tech Non-Support

"Won't you please, please help me." Little did the Beatles know when they recorded those words more than 40 years ago, how appropriate they'd be today for consumers calling tech-support desks. But indeed, nearly half of the consumers who contact a computer company's free-tech support line don't get their problems solved. That's what Consumer Reports found in a just published survey (pay required) of more than 20,000 subscribers with computer trouble. Only 55 percent of those surveyed got the help they needed and had their problems solved. That's probably not a big surprise to many of you. "Free manufacturer support...

 

By | May 9, 2006; 09:15 AM ET | Comments (25)

Verizon's Big Disconnect

I'm not trying to bash Verizon. Really. But at least once a month I seem to be writing about some customer service or billing issue with the telecommunications giant. Maybe that's because Verizon is so large--or maybe it's because it doesn't know how to treat its customers. Or maybe both. The latest tale stems from my attempts to try to sign up for a new local and long-distance phone plan, Verizon Freedom Value, which Verizon keeps promoting in ads, bill inserts and mail solicitations. I called early on a Thursday morning to ask about it. Here's what happened: Call 1...

 

By | May 8, 2006; 06:00 AM ET | Comments (92)

We Have Met the Enemy and He Is Us

Recently, I've had a couple of shopping experiences that have made me wonder who's to blame for the rude store clerks we so like to complain about. Experience 1: I was in a long queue at the express checkout of my local supermarket. There were two express lines, and one got hung up as a shopper disputed a price. I was lucky; that non-moving line wasn't mine. My line crept forward and soon it was my turn. In the next line, though, there still remained a man who had been waiting long before I had gotten to the checkout. I...

 

By | May 4, 2006; 06:00 AM ET | Comments (145)

Self-Checkout Blues

Timothy M. Breen of Wheaton recently wrote me to complain about the self-checkout aisles that have proliferated in many supermarkets. Here's his e-mail: "I was wondering what others thought about Giant Food's self-checkout aisles. My problem with them is that if one utilizes the self-checkout, all one is doing is adding to Giant's profit margin. If Giant was serious and transparent in their 'push' to have consumers utilize the self-checkouts, then Giant would include a 2-5% discount as an incentive." I asked Giant about Mr. Breen's e-mail and spokesman Jamie Miller said the self-checkouts were strictly for convenience, for people...

 

By | April 21, 2006; 07:23 AM ET | Comments (150)

Making Companies Pay for Bad Service

How's this for a radical idea? If you can't quickly reach a customer-service representative, you should be compensated for your time and effort. Or this? You should get a credit on your next bill if the first customer-service rep doesn't have your records or can't solve your problem. Ditto, if you're billed incorrectly and have to call or e-mail the company to get the problem fixed. These are the key provisions in a Customer-Service Bill of Rights proposed by Ernan Roman, a New York consultant who has spent more than 30 years advising major companies on how to give customers...

 

By | April 13, 2006; 07:00 AM ET | Comments (44)

The Highs and Lows of Airline Customer Service

Earlier this week, my colleague Keith Alexander wrote about the current attempts by United Airlines to improve its customer service in his Business Class column. As he noted, United has a long way to go, considering in February, it was the second-most complained about airline (after US Airways) at the Department of Transportation. Well I had the fortune (or was it misfortune?) to fly on United last week. This week, I flew on Jet Blue and even though one leg of that trip was late because of mechanical problems there is no question that Jet Blue wins my support. It's...

 

By | April 7, 2006; 07:00 AM ET | Comments (0)

No-Show Fees

A colleague recently complained when she was charged $35 for missing her hair appointment. As she explained it, there had been a mix-up in appointment times, and after she realized she missed hers, she called to see if she could come in later that same day to get her hair cut. It was then that she learned that she had already been charged (her credit card number was on file from previous visits) and would still have to pay for her missed appointment, even if she came later that day for a cut that would cost an additional $35. I'm...

 

By | March 13, 2006; 07:50 AM ET | Comments (55)

When Free Shipping May Not Be Free

Anyone obsessed with shoes (and that's almost every woman I know) says there are two sure places to find and buy shoes: Nordstrom, of course, and Zappos, an online Web site with a huge selection and promises of free shipping and returns. It was that free-shipping promise that prompted me to turn to Zappos after a disappointing outing at Nordstrom. First I encountered a couple of rude clerks (at Nordstrom!?); then I learned the store didn't have the right size in stock. A clerk finally found the right size at another store but said it would cost me $5 to...

 

By | March 10, 2006; 07:01 AM ET | Comments (0)

Yogurt's Hidden Dangers--Part 2

Wow! Who would have thought my short (pun intended) item about height-challenged grocery shopping would have prompted such an outpouring of comments and e-mails. A lot of you told me I was silly, wasting my time and should get over it and move on to bigger (no pun intended) stuff. But even more of you thanked me for talking about a problem that plagues you--and me--almost every day. Yes, I know there are a lot more serious issues out there (as one reader told me, people are dying of cancer and viruses), but this blog is about consumer topics, things...

 

By | March 7, 2006; 09:10 AM ET | Comments (14)

Yogurt's Hidden Dangers

On one of my latest trips to the grocery store, I fought with a yogurt container. The yogurt won. I have a cut and slight bruise under my right eye to prove it. I wouldn't normally share such humiliating stories, but my friends and family encouraged me to. Maybe they want to make me feel smaller than I already am (saying I'm five feet is just sort of stretching it). But they assure me that even though they are all taller, they've had similar frustrating supermarket experiences. I admit it. When it comes to grocery shopping, I'm height challenged. There...

 

By | March 2, 2006; 07:37 AM ET | Comments (0)

Why Do Automakers Make Life So Difficult?

It should have been so simple to fix. At least that's what I thought when the light bulb to my rear turn signal stopped working. But alas, it wasn't. I've got a VW Beetle convertible (yes I know, it's not a car known for its reliability but it's cute--and if you know me, you'd know it is just my size; I'm only five feet). There didn't seem to be any way to get to the bulb to change it--not even by going through the cramped trunk. I checked my owner's manual and sure enough--here's what it says: "It is becoming...

 

By | February 22, 2006; 08:50 AM ET | Comments (26)

A Bitter Fee to Swallow

Let me be blunt. I hate all these extra fees added in bills these days: those daily resort fees at hotels for services that should be provided in the first place; those added extras to the phone bill which, in total, can be as much as the basic phone service costs and those car rental add-ons too aggravating to even write about! You've seen them, too. You've paid them. And I'm sure you hate them as much as I do. And just when you think you've seen them all, there's always another fee to be found. I spotted a doozy...

 

By | January 30, 2006; 11:00 AM ET | Comments (25)

Good News About Customer Service

When most of us talk about customer service, it's usually to complain, to say how poorly we've been treated. But this tale from a reader in Ohio shows how well customer service can work. The story from LDS, as he wants to be called, also illustrates a vital lesson to consumers: It never hurts to ask for a discount. (Of course this also raises questions about medical billing practices and the discounts some insured with one particular company get while others are forced to pay full price--but we'll save that discussion for another day). So thanks to LDS for sending...

 

By | January 18, 2006; 07:42 AM ET | Comments (5)

How Did Your Online Shopping Experience Rate?

If you shopped online over the holidays and had a good experience at Netflix, Amazon, LL Bean and QVC, you were not alone. These were the top scoring online retailers in a customer satisfaction survey by ForeSee Results, a Website satisfaction survey development company. But ForeSee noted that customers were not as satisfied with these retailers as they had been just a few months earlier, a sign that consumer's expections were not met during the holidays. In fact, only one online retailer, Buy.com, posted a gain in customer satisfaction since the spring, ForeSee said. (Click here to register with Foresee...

 

By | January 12, 2006; 07:00 AM ET | Comments (8)

Good and Bad One-Stop Service

Recently, a water bottle leaked all over my gear and I didn't realize until too late that my cell phone was soaked and totally kaput. So it was off to the cell phone store—where I got hit with the reality of customer service-both good and bad. I had to first visit the technical support desk where a clerk kindly let me know that my phone was beyond repair. So I had to wait (of course!) for the next sales agent who checked my account and told me I could only buy a new phone at full price because my contract...

 

By | January 5, 2006; 09:29 AM ET | Comments (37)

 

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