Archive for the 'consumerism' Category

Putting Humpty Dumpty back together again

February 21, 2016

My New York Times redelivery guy tells me that it’s his understanding that the delivery services in my area for The Boston Globe and The New York Times will be put back together again (see previous post), starting in about a week or so.  He anticipates another couple of weeks beyond that for the system to get up to speed.  He says The Globe has capitulated and is abandoning the new delivery scheme it tried to implement at the very end of last year and then tried to adjust later when that initial implementation failed.

Maybe this will have been like the New Coke?

I hope the news is correct and that the delivery system for both newspapers becomes reliable again.  And soon.

The redelivery guy told me a sad story about how the lack of Globe deliveries meant that friends of an elderly woman who had died were unable to read her obituary and did not know of her passing or her funeral service and therefore did not attend.

The problems for me from this delivery fiasco pale in comparison to that.

And indeed it’s nice to get to know my New York Times redelivery guy.  Reminds me of the blind men and the elephant story:  even a difficult situation can become an occasion for communication with others and yield positive results through that.


No delivery

February 20, 2016

We are back to no delivery of either print newspaper, The Boston Globe or The New York Times.

Requests for “redelivery” of the papers are sometimes filled, sometimes not.

Central customer service seems to concede that they still have a problem that is not going to get fixed anytime soon, as yesterday both offered me a week’s worth of credit going forward.

What they may not realize is that they are undermining their credibility about doing what they can to fix the problem.

What seems to be the problem is that their model for hiring drivers no longer makes economic sense for potential recruits.  Splitting off delivery of the Globe from delivery of other papers apparently broke the structure that allowed the regional delivery system to work.  Apparently the new routes are too long and inefficient for drivers to get finished in time to meet delivery deadlines or get to their other employment.  Delivering only one paper per house is also less lucrative for the driver.  One driver indicated that the pool of drivers is largely immigrant and vulnerable to exploitation, so I am wondering whether part of the reason that the feedback that the split needs to be undone is not being accepted is that the companies have assumed that they have enough leverage to make the new model work.

Since the driver I had in 2015 for the Times quit after losing the Globe part of his delivery work, no permanent replacement has been found by the service managing delivery of the Times.  I learn from central customer service for subscriptions for the Times when I call to report yet another missed delivery that my account is not assigned to a permanent driver.  A new Globe driver who came on board after a lengthy period of no delivery after the December 28th implementation of new system lasted only a few weeks.  Apparently there are not enough drivers to deliver the “redelivery” papers (those requested when the original copy was not delivered) reliably either.

So what are the delivery companies and the newspaper companies that hire them going to do?  Will they reunite the delivery systems for the different papers and go back to the status quo ante?  A redelivery driver for the Times some weeks ago told me that that he thought they would eventually do that but that it would take time.  He also claimed the problem was the result of a personal feud.  He said this accounted for the split itself and the abruptness of how the change was implemented.

Consumers seem to be the tail on the dog in all this.

On the one hand, I often read or hear that advertising in the print edition of a newspaper is an important source of revenue for journalism.  On the other hand, I would not be surprised to be informed at some point that subscriptions for home delivery of print papers will no longer be available in my area, if these companies cannot see their way to rebuilding a system that works, including cooperating with one another and being more realistic about driver needs.  I mean, how long can they go on saying they offer print subscriptions but not fulfill them?


January 11, 2016

The Boston Globe attempted to change its delivery service vendor at the end on December, and managed to throw a monkey wrench into not only the delivery of its newspaper but the delivery of other newspapers to homes in the region.

I think many of us thought that the disruption to The Globe delivery would be something like a couple of days of non-delivery (we were given 2 coupons to obtain a paper for free at a store) and then some late deliveries.  But the new company hadn’t hired enough drivers and their software for planning routes was unable to handle the idiosyncratic layout of New England roads, and so the disruption was more like no papers for days stretching beyond a week.

And at the beginning of January, my delivery of The New York Times was also disrupted.

Now delivery has been restored, not quite to the level it was before the disruptions (papers have been arriving later in the day and not where they’re supposed to be left), but they seem to be coming again regularly.

What’s interesting, in this day and age of concern about carbon footprints, is that the two newspapers I subscribe to are now delivered by two separate drivers.  This is clear from when and where the respective papers arrive.

The Globe is apparently going to save some money from the new arrangements.

While cap-and-trade has always struck me as some kind of a kluge, this newspaper delivery situation makes it clear that the good of the environment is not always lined up with corporate profits.  One would think that it should be more profitable for everyone involved to have one driver deliver two papers to the same house, but apparently it isn’t.  That arrangement would also reduce the amount of gasoline consumed and exhaust vented.  But since profits lie elsewhere, two delivery services we have.

To paraphrase Tacitus, they make a less environmentally-friendly arrangement and call it progress.


August 27, 2015

I wanted to pick up on something I said in my last post.  I mentioned that by reducing (through the “people as puppies” framing) my getting caught up in emotional reaction, I am freer to pursue problem-solving in the situation.  And I did (I am referring to the internet/phone service failure situation we recently had).

I am not sure what phone/internet service providers are required by law or regulation to do in the situation I had, but they are refunding me for 5 days of service and sending me a new back-up battery at no charge.  They also said there is no charge for the service call, as it was their equipment that was the problem.

What I couldn’t get them to do was to come out sooner, because, as I indicated in the previous post, they don’t see such repairs as urgent anymore, they seem to assume the customer will make do with a smartphone.

When I shared this experience with others, I was told that it’s a political problem — the state government handed the company a fair amount of carte blanche, which has left customers/citizens without adequate landline protections when equipment failures occur.  The back-up batteries were supposed to bridge that gap, but they don’t.

Different people

November 17, 2014

I had this conversation with my mother that started off about customer service departments and whether part of the hiring criteria and training focus is to keep customers at bay.  The occasion was the good news that finally her health insurance transition has been accomplished.  We were also noting that the same benefits department that had made this transition take about 6 weeks of intensive work had also made mistakes on other of her benefits.  I will note that the news of the health insurance accomplishment was relayed to me by a doctor’s office (which was trying to submit a claim), not by the employer benefits department responsible for arranging the insurance.

We ended up talking more generally about whether people who have caused damage but present an impervious demeanor really do harbor a sense somewhere of having done something they at least regret and a feeling of feeling bad about that, however much they may wall off such senses and feelings.  (If they are too successful, I think they may find it difficult to get back in touch with that part of themselves that handles such things.)

I mentioned that I have thought on some occasions when someone has caused me physical and/or emotional harm that it is easier to be me on the receiving end than I think it would be for me to be on the delivering end.  I would probably feel worse.  She replied that that thought had never occurred to her and that it never occurs to her to think about what it might be like to be them in the situation — she said she just feels anger about it, for years on end.  She also thinks more people really do not have that sense of regret and that feeling of feeling bad that I imagine almost everybody has somewhere at some level of their being, even if they are pretty disconnected from it.

Sometimes I think different people are in some ways living in different worlds, as if we are in a sense speaking very different languages of the psyche.


When technology takes on a life of its own

November 16, 2014

I had the disconcerting experience today of trying to abort a purchase online by removing the one and only item from the order, only to discover later that an order for the item was posted to my account.  I had not submitted the order.  Perhaps merely clicking on “remove item” had the same effect as “submit order”?  I don’t know.

My credit card company told me to place a temporary hold on my card, since the online vendor has no customer service support on weekends, so it can’t be straightened out at that end, and the request for authorization had not yet been received by the credit card company, so the hold will thwart an attempt to process the “order.”  I can try to clean up the mess tomorrow, when customer service is available at the vendor.

This may be the second vendor I’ve encountered in the past couple of months where it’s easier in the long run to place an order by phone than to use their newly idiosyncratic software online.  And my bank’s automated telephone line refused to recognize my password the other day, for no apparent reason.  I was calling because my monthly statement was missing — which turned out to be a casualty of their machine that produces them being broken for two weeks.

These experiences make me wonder whether hacking incidents have spurred companies to upgrade their software, in a quest for greater security, and not adequately tested the new software before implementing it.  Either that, or business infrastructure is deteriorating — and turning into a zombie some of the time.

Price guarantee

January 24, 2014

An employee of my phone/internet service provider made an unauthorized change to my services last summer and, in the course of putting that situation to rights and restoring my old services, I ended up with a deal that included a price guarantee for 12 months but no contract.  I was specifically told that because I was dealing with a manager and she was giving me a manager’s bundle, which included services a regular customer service representative could no longer access, it could include a price guarantee without a contract.  She went into detail with me about how this price guarantee would work.  We went through examples.  It was not just a passing comment.

So a few months later my bill increases and I call to get this increase rescinded and a rep agrees she sees the price guarantee, once I reference the date of the call and the manager’s name, and that they will honor it.  She points out that I had actually ended up being charged slightly less than the guarantee, due to a customer reward coupon, and that I would now only get the guaranteed price, and I replied that I could not argue against that.  She also adjusted the current bill, using a credit.

Next bill showed no change from the increased bill.  I called again.

Now I’m being told that a manager could not have given me a price guarantee outside of a contract.  But here’s the kicker:  they now claim the notes don’t contain evidence of the manager’s price guarantee.  Last month they obviously did, now they don’t.

Eventually the representative in the “Elite Dept.” gave me a third coupon to offset most of the price increase.  Now I should be getting something slightly below the price guarantee and above what I had been paying before.  I accepted this arrangement.  It does, of course, not include recognition of the 12-month price guarantee, so if they raise the price of individual services again company-wide, I will again have a problem.  But I could not see that I was going to do any better than this at this point, short of taking my business elsewhere, because they now claim there is no such thing as a “manager’s bundle” and that a manager has no authority to give a price guarantee without a contract.  I am thinking that they may have revised their rules, but I don’t know.

The other issue, which is nothing new, is that it is difficult to get anything in writing, even in electronic writing, from them.  Even when one knows what one wants in writing.  Sometimes they tell you they’ve sent you an email and it never comes.  Then they hold it against you later that you don’t have enough evidence.

What am I learning from this?  That company policy of a reputable company seems to include what amounts to lying and covering up.  I don’t know how one responds to that.  I got the extra coupon and then turned the rest of the problem over to forces greater than myself.


January 13, 2014

I have got a very funky electrical system in my house.  It has layers, wiring put in at different times.  It has circuit breakers, but it also has fuses, and in multiple locations, to boot.  The lights dim when the furnace kicks on.

In the garage is an outlet that will not take a polarized plug, and is only for two prongs anyway.  So contractors are always needing to use an adapter, and my mason, I think, took my last one some years ago.  The contractors since then have had to unplug the garage door opener from its extension cord, and if they don’t remember to reconnect the pieces, I have a problem, since it’s higher than I can reach (and the opener is kind of important because of the way the garage and driveway are (mis) aligned;  it’s an older house, circa 1895).

I couldn’t find another adapter.  My computer guy advised me to file down the wider prong on a contemporary adapter, but I couldn’t see myself doing that successfully.  As Jordan would say, that’s Tony being Tony.

This morning I was at the local, and very old-fashioned, 5 & 10.  After finding what I had come for, I turned to the electrical supply shelves, for no particular reason.  They had them!  Really.  I was so thrilled I bought four.  They are bright orange — that’s half of why I noticed them.  Joe claims he always has had them and he sells a lot of them, but I didn’t find them the other times I looked, and the local hardware store has claimed they are illegal to sell, no longer manufactured, etc.

They have two apparently equal-size prongs and adapt a two-pronged outlet to take three modern-size prongs.

I haven’t yet tried them out, but I am thrilled.

Paying one way or another

June 26, 2013

Got an email recently about a hacking into the database of a ticket sales vendor whom we apparently used.

You buy a ticket on line and it’s so easy and convenient (assuming the software is well written).  Then months later you have a potential credit card fraud issue to deal with.  Some stress involved there, even in just deciding how concerned to be.

What really has been gained?

Plowshares into swords

October 15, 2012

Tools so easily become weapons, even in mundane contexts like buying Halloween candy at the drugstore.

Unit pricing was the tool.  A help for consumers trying to comparison-shop and not be mislead by packaging strategies.  But to be helpful, the pricing label on the shelf needs to correspond to the item actually above it.  If it’s a little off to the side, not a big deal, but if it’s on an entirely different shelf and some feet to the left or right, that makes the label not useful.  And the units need to be the same if the labels are to be used for comparing price per unit.

At the store, bags of small candy bars packets of candy were $2.99 for 11 oz. and then some.  A larger bag, at $5.99, contained 19 oz. and something more.  I figured 22 oz should be less than $6 for a larger bag to be a better deal, but I wanted to check myself.  The unit pricing on the shelf label for the smaller bags was in ounces, the shelf label for the larger bags was in pounds.  This I discovered once I finally successfully located a box of the larger bags that was somewhere near their shelf label.

I bought the smaller bag size and mentioned the issue to the cashier, and we agreed the policy probably came from the corporate level and he said he would bring it to the store manager’s attention.

I’m working on the candy supply for Halloween now, in part because I’m finding it more confusing this year anyway.  The bags of candy bars are (all?) smaller (to reduce sticker shock?) and I’m trying to figure out how many I am likely to need.  I didn’t do any Halloween house decorating to speak of last year and still a lot of kids came to the door (even though mine are grown beyond that stage and I doubt these kids or their parents know me or my kids).  I don’t mind.  The 90 lb. poodle is no longer here to bark when the doorbell rings, or even if it didn’t, so it’s a little easier (I used to lock him in the kitchen — we put up trellises as gates).  But I don’t want to run out of candy.  I’m not sure what I would pass out instead.