Archive for the 'consumers' Category

Energy

February 7, 2015

The red bar on the heating oil tank gauge is at the bottom.  We had been on the home heating oil company’s automated routine delivery list for today.  (I had been told that earlier in the week.)  At noon, I called, since there had been no delivery.  I got a maybe yes, maybe no sort of answer, “You’re one of many.”

We’ve been with this oil company for years, probably twenty.  They used to say customers would never run out, that they’d give you a free tank if you did, they were that sure that you wouldn’t and they put that much emphasis on customer service.

Now they say, “We took on a lot of new business recently and we can’t keep up.  Your pipes won’t start freezing for 8 to 10 hours after your heat stops running.”

I signed us up on the emergency list, which should get us a small amount of “fluid” to tide us over until they bring the full amount.   We’ll see what happens.

This is what we get from systems and norms we as a society accept, if not embrace.  I see contributing factors from capitalism, greed, inadequate conscientiousness, insufficient ability to think ahead, and just not thinking about others to whom commitments have already been made and who are depending on those commitments.

It could be worse.  I have no babies here or elderly ill adults (as they have across the street), it’s just Jordan and myself.  But it does impact my peace of mind, my trust in others, and my sense that if I do my part (pay my oil bills and keep my walkway clear), they will do theirs and all will go smoothly.  And it could lead to damage (to house, to health, to my ability to get done what I need to get done later today).  As it is, they questioned whether I was opening the door more or something, to require more heating;  not only am I not, but, as I pointed out to the fellow, our energy consumption should actually be lower because we had six new storm windows installed this summer.

So much for good will, customer service, and the market.

Update:  We received oil late this afternoon.  While the emergency technician was preparing to hand-carry five-gallon vessels of oil from his van to pour into the tank, the company called my house to say the delivery truck would make it today after all.  I put the technician on the phone, he was relieved, as he had been trying to contact his company, and I was fine with waiting for the substantial delivery, so long as I was being told it really would come.  And it did come, about an hour later, around 4 o’clock.  The technician had told me to make sure the furnace was running while the oil was being delivered (by increasing the thermostat setting), to make sure the furnace didn’t need to be primed.

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Debit card overdraft fees

June 11, 2012

My older son knew a debit card was not for him, but my younger son has one, and he has found that there are even more hidden fees than consumer watchdogs and newspaper editors talk about.

He used his debit card on line and the transaction did not go through.  At least not immediately.  A few days later he spent some more, thinking the older transaction was over.  But the older transaction was actually processed days later, and at the vendor end, they processed it as a “credit” transaction, so the transaction went through, even though by then the account did not contain enough money to cover the transaction.  And despite my son’s having made the appropriate arrangements with his account so that attempts to spend more with his debit card than was in his account would be denied rather than allowed and penalized with a fee, in this situation his account was debited for the amount and assessed a fee.

Now my son did make phone calls and eventually went down to the local bank branch and they did reimburse him for the fee — but only because “it was the first time,” “he was a good customer” kind of thing.  There was no admission that the systems and their interplay don’t work as advertized.  I file this under “we have made things too complicated,” as well as under other headings.

Consumer complexity

April 17, 2012

Today’s entry in “consumer transactions that need to be corrected” is my car insurance renewal.  The insurance company left off the low-mileage deduction for some reason and so far it has taken me two phone calls just to get my agent to look into it.  He is hung up on the fact that he sent me his copy of the forms by mistake and is now sending me the right set, including the low-mileage form for me to fill out and sign.  In previous years, though, that form came with the renewal document already reflecting the discount.  I asked whether the company has changed its procedure or whether it’s a mistake.

My agent has now called the insurance company, and yes, it is a mistake.  “It slipped through the cracks” and “They don’t know why.”  I have been told how we will take care of all this before the renewal date, and how I won’t end up paying too much because we will get this squared away before then with mailings, faxes, and telephone calls.

Here’s my point.  Consumer transactions have become very complex.  It seems to me that with lots of complexity there’s more opportunity for mistakes to occur, mistakes to be made, what have you.  I do think I spend more time cleaning up “mistakes” than I used to.  It seems to me I always have a list of transactions to follow up on because they didn’t go smoothly the first time or two.

It’s interesting that I thought this year my car insurance bill might (legitimately) go up since Jordan had a plan to get his act together about learning how to drive.  He didn’t, but low and behold, my bill (erroneously) went up anyway.

Bank fees

October 11, 2011

I am thinking about the advent of monthly debit card fees, bank monthly paper statement fees, bank fees passed on through insurance companies to consumers for monthly automatic payment of things like car insurance premiums, and Elizabeth Warren.   Where I ultimately come out on the picture I see coalescing is that at least now more of us and with bigger voices are getting to see just how the banks treat customers and balance service with profits.  Because some of these new fees seem to be a pretty direct result of disallowing fees previously charged by banks to a smaller and less sympathetic portion of their clientele.  Part of me wants the Elizabeth Warrens of this world to deal with these consequences, but I think it might be fairer to say that eventually competition from banks who actually offer superior services even at less profit may be the only sustainable way out of this mess; how lower profits would impact executive salaries or shareholder concerns I’m not sure, but eventually, I hope, just moving the charges around one more time to some newly created fee will become impossible in the face of consumer demand.