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Living Freedom by Claire Wolfe. Musings about personal freedom and finding it within ourselves.

Want to Comment on a blog post? Look for and click on the blue No Comments or # Comments at the end of each post.

Archive for November 24th, 2010

Claire Wolfe

The Curse of the 1-800 Number

Wednesday, November 24th, 2010

Okay, maybe it’s not scary enough to make a great horror film. But is there anybody else around here who trembles and quakes as I do at the prospect of trying to solve a problem when the only contact a company will allow you is the Dreaded 800 Number?

I’m not against 800 numbers in general. Obviously, they can be handy for signing up for a service, checking a balance, or asking a minor question. I’d rather do all that online, if I have to do it at all. But the 800 number is a quick and easy alternative for simple stuff.

But when something goes wrong … OMG.

Right now I’m dealing with a small matter involving a Big Famous Company. Really not a big deal. But one of their phone reps misled me in a way that caused some definite strife. It also cost the BFC money and time. There are only three possibilities: the sales rep was misinformed about company policies; the sales rep lied; or the company has policies that are All Screwed Up and the rep was just following them. I sent a certified letter a few weeks back explaining the situation, attaching documentation, and asking them to look into the situation.

Got a form letter in response. You know what it said, don’t you? If you’ve ever tried to deal with a BFC, you’ve seen this letter before. It says, “We sincerely want to help you with your problem. Please call our helpful Customer Care Representatives at 1-800 …”

In other words: Go talk to the very people who caused the problem — the people who have neither the ability nor the authority to do Thing One about the situation. In other words: Get freaking lost. We don’t give a rip.

I’ll drop the matter if I don’t get an answer to my second certified letter (this one mailed to the exec who ostensibly signed the form letter). As I said, it’s not a big deal and I’m not going to bash my brains against a wall over it.

But years ago I had a super, super serious problem with another BFC. Many thousands of dollars were at stake. When it first occurred, I made two calls to their “Helpful Customer Care Representatives” — calls that didn’t make a dent in the problem but did make me realize that a) the reps didn’t know or care how to fix the situation, and b) if the dispute were to escalate, I would have no paper trail to prove that I’d been trying to solve the problem or to document anything the company rep said to me. If I kept calling, the company could just deny, deny, deny.

For the next six months I fired letters at them, explaining the situation over and over. I sent the letters certified. I sent them to managers and executives by name. I explained why I was absolutely not going to deal with their 1-800 reps again, but I assured them of my willingness, my eagerness, to work with them on the problem if only they would respond to my letters. In the end, I even took to doing things like writing portions of the letters in purple crayon (because I had read that such tactics sometimes got attention when nothing else could).

That particular BFC never once directly answered me, not even with a form letter. But about twice a month, I would receive other form letters from them saying, “We’re SO sorry you’ve NEVER contacted us about this matter. We sincerely want to help solve this problem. Please call our Helpful Customer Care Representatives at 1-800 …”

And I would hopefully take the name from the signature line of the newest form letter, write a certified letter to that person … and ’round and ’round the un-merry-go-round would go.

Ever since then … well, I’d rather meet Freddie Krueger, Jason, and Chuckie together in a dark alley than have to try to solve a problem with any BFC in the world. I truly sympathize with that poor man who let his house go into foreclosure because his bank wouldn’t deal with him human-to-human over a wrongful $25 charge. His principled stubbornness may be unusual, but his plight is not.

For the company he attempted to reason with, it was either 1-800 reps — who typically gave no help — or lawyers.

1-800 numbers were set up as a convenience for both company and customer. That’s all they should be. Whoever decided to make them the only avenue for problem solving between customers and corporations was either insane or insanely rapacious — so eager to save a buck for the company that they didn’t — and don’t — notice that the costs (in both money and goodwill) of alienating customers eventually surpass any savings the “convenience” of ill-paid, poorly-informed, and often uncaring 1-800 rep offers.

Nothing against the reps themselves. Well, most of them. They’re in an impossible position. But come the revolution, the guy who decided that customers would be allowed to deal with companies solely via 1-800 numbers should go up against the wall. Right after IRS agents, ATF entrappers, TSA gropers, and parents who bring screaming children to nice restaurants.

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