Saturday, June 29, 2013

Social Media Matters

"Capitalism is better than Socialism."

On the contrary, I don't believe Capitalism works without Socialism.  We are social beings, who exist within a social contract that is literally the very fabric of our world.  We need and depend on each other, and the more social we are, the more connected, and understanding of each others' wants and needs, the better off we will all be.  Social Media today is the saving grace of Capitalism.

I have in the past run aground with a sales associate or two.  Maybe he or she had a bad day, maybe I had a bad day, maybe there was just a misunderstanding of the agreement.  In local instances, a word with the Manager is usually sufficient.  However, when that he or she is a Manager, then things are different.  Having worked in retail myself, and living with someone with more than two decades of experience behind the counter, I can tell you customer service can be difficult at the best of times.  What I experienced in the past beyond the Managerial level, was lengthy.  You could write a letter or send an e-mail, but you usually never heard anything back.  If you were lucky, you might get a letter with a coupon, but good luck getting wrongful charges reversed!

Today, we live in a world much more reactive, because we have this social web, "the intertubes," or whatever the our inter-connectivity is to be nick-named tomorrow...  Our Social-Sharing and reaction to each others losses IS the thing that causes marketplace changes.  We lacked this even 10 years ago.  "Times, they are a changing."

Just last week, I posted a blog and a piece about a bad experience I had with Enterprise Rent-a-Car.  It took less than 72 hours and 20,000 hits for them to respond accordingly.  In less than a week, they resolved the issue fully with me, and all is right between us.  Truly, I have never in my 37 years seen such a quick positive reaction to a customer complaint.  Granted, I had good grounds in which to complain, but still, 6 days...!  That is amazing, astounding, utterly astonishing.

With that, I would like to thank both and Enterprise.  You have both given me faith in Socialism and hope for Capitalism.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Troubles in the Marketplace

"Capitalism works, bad acting companies are weeded out, and those who treat their customers well will be those who remain."

This might be true if it weren't for advertising and public relations departments.  Most established corporations can easily overcome a little bad press with a few individuals.  Even BP after its gulf oil spill doesn't have a disapproval rating as low as Congress'.

The example I'd like to present here is Enterprise Rent-a-Car.  This company was founded in 1957.  Everyone knows what it is, and what they do.  They have paid to feature happy people getting in and out of their vehicles on television for decades.  Business Week magazine listed it as a "Customer Service Champ" in '07, '08, '09, and '10.  It also won Budget Travel's Reader's Choice award in '10 and '11.  They have annual revenues of over $12 billion and almost 70,000 employees.  However, it is a privately held company, meaning it doesn't answer to stock holders or 'the public,' just their bottom line.

So, what we have is the illusion of a perfect example of a great American business model.  Clearly, this company acts in good faith, or they wouldn't be so popular with their customers, right!?

In reality, this car rental company is horrible.  Do a search on customer reviews.  They get a 1 out of 10, on most I found.  They log thousands of complaints about the outright fraud perpetrated every day with their hidden insurance fee agreements, damage accusations, and unauthorized charges to credit cards. However, unless you go looking for this information, or it has happened to you...then you probably have no knowledge of such things and so have a positive image of this company.

I am in a wheelchair, so car rentals are a whole other headache for me.  I have portable hand controls that bolt in and out of any automatic in about 5 minutes.  All that I really need is a 2-door coupe, because the door opens to a wider area in which to get my wheelchair through.  However, I can't just show up and expect perfect service anywhere.  I have to call ahead, make special requests from their homepage, then call ahead and make sure the local office received my special request, blah blah blah...  Which I did here, with great efficiency.

I was in a collision wherein the other driver was at-fault on a Monday around 5:00 pm, and I needed to be in class the next day, so I put in the 2-door request that night.  Tuesday morning I called to see if the local branch had received the special request and if they were working on it.  The associate said they had, they were, but they would know more that evening or the next day.  On Wednesday I was told they had several cars from which to choose, but that they had no 2-door cars in their fleet and that if I'd like they could send me to another company.  Having rented from this company before, I knew that there were lots of 2-door coupes available in Enterprise's 1 million car stockpile.  So, I took the sedan, but requested that as soon as they get a coupe, to call me.

After about a month I had to take the sedan back.  The awkward transfer in an out was keeping my injured shoulder from healing, so I returned it only to find out that Enterprise had maxed out my credit card with a daily insurance fee.  Initially, I had paid for the rental and insurance fees, but after the other driver's insurance "picked up the contract," because they finally accepted liability, I thought those charges had stopped, and that both me and my card would be reimbursed.  I should have known something was amiss when I was provided the hand-written receipt for the cash portion of my payment.  In total, to drive a car I didn't request for one month cost me $1161.91, when in fact I only owed a mere  $258.79.

Undeterred I followed up, made another special request for a 2-door coupe, and sought to remedy wrongful charges through the local office.  I was met with incompetency and an arrogant disregard for me and my situation.  I was hung up on and repeatedly told a vehicle was 'on the way,' but after almost 11 days, I began to lose hope.  They finally stuck me in tiny coupe, but still refuse to reverse the charges...

My story is not unusual or out of place.  Talk to anyone who's dealt directly with this company and you'll hear similar stories.  The problem is that as individual consumers, we lack the resources to affect any positive change here, and capitalism is failing us.  My next stop is small claims court and possibly a Title III complaint, but honestly I can't say I have confidence in remedy through those options either.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Surprise, We're Listening...

"Big Brother, i.e. Big Government is watching you."

So it would seem, the NSA is, has been, and will continue to look at everything we do to the best of it's ability.  They scan every broadcast, and every exchange about everything we are doing, every minute of the day.  It would seem that there is plenty of room for abuse and it has occurred.  I wish that I could say I was surprised.  We live in a world were communications exchanges leave traces.  Those charged with our protection wouldn't be doing their job if they ignored 'terrorist communications' about some in suing threat, that was out there floating around.

Knowing this, as a liberal, what I expect is adequate Congressional oversight.  I want elongated hearings, reports, and actual representative supervision adequate to the task at hand.  Congress is claiming this never happened, but there are records of some supervision or reporting, but all of this came about after they re-authorized the Patriot Act.  So, who is really to blame?

In the end, I side with Benjamin Franklin who said something in the order of, "They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety."  After 9/11, everyone was all too wiling to let the government do anything and everything in its power to protect us.  It was called the Patriot Act, and we supported those who voted for it overwhelmingly.  In the end, this is a democratic republic wherein we get the government we deserve.

Our apathy has beget us these problems.