[NOTE: This is a re-post of my May 20, 2010 entry on my former Open Salon blog, as well as the June 16 update to that entry.]
I've been told on several occasions that I ought to make a business out of ghost writing complaint letters. Friends have stated that my track record is so good I could fare well on a pure commission basis, taking a percentage of the refund or compensation received. I could be the voice of the downtrodden who don't excel at being pissed off in just the right way to get what they deserve from the situation.
It's not that I'm driven to take advantage of anyone; I want people to give me the great service that makes me happy to pay them. But when folks don't do what they promise, don't deliver excellence, don't earn what they are charging me ... well, I get angry.
I never did take the ghost writer road to riches. But why shouldn't others have the benefit of this odd yet useful talent I seem to possess? So I offer a couple of examples for others to follow if they like. Sadly, both are from today and this does not seem particularly extraordinary. What a testimony to how commonplace poor service has become.
Every two or three years, we have the windows in our home professionally cleaned. The house would probably look nicer with greater frequency, but recall that I didn't travel the road to riches... so every few years it is. Last week, to avoid yet another huge branch crushing my parked car, we succumbed to having a good deal of major pruning on our large, old trees. Now the windows were really dirty. So I called the number of my long-time, trusted window washer, Willie. Willie had retired. His grandsons had taken over the company, and would be glad to do the work. I scheduled for today with grandson Daryl. This evening, I wrote Daryl an email:
When I did business with your grandfather, he was invariably prompt and at the end of the day I had extraordinarily clean windows and my belongings back where Willie had found them. What's more, his prices were very fair. This is why I regularly came back to him and recommended him to others. Even after he'd taken a hiatus due to health issues, and I'd been forced to use a different service, I returned to your grandfather when he returned to work.
I'm sorry to say that I have not found the same level of service from you. When we first spoke, I asked two things of you:
1. Be here no later than 8 am, as a compromise since I normally leave the house at 7 am.
2. Check my past records and call me in advance if the cost would be much more than it had been when I last used your grandfather's services.
As you know, I had to call you at 8:15 this morning to learn your whereabouts, and you were still 15 minutes away having forgotten our start-time arrangement. Thus, I had to leave before your arrival with the door to my home unlocked and no opportunity to meet with you in person. This hardly made me comfortable, and it is only because of my past loyalty to your grandfather that I did not simply cancel the work altogether at that point. I must say that it shocked me to come home and find that you did not even add a note of apology with your invoice.
What shocked me more, however, was the price. Given that you never advised me of a significant difference from when I dealt with Willie, despite our discussion that you would were that the case, it is inconceivable how I could be charged dramatically more than in the past. I'm horrified and this simply is outside the range of my budget.
But before I ever saw the invoice, I saw my house. As far as I can tell, there was no attempt to return a single item to where you found it. I need to put in a full evening of work cleaning up after you. What's more, the edge of the new, wool area rug in my sitting room is dampened and roughened, as though something wet were dragged against it. And the light-colored, wall-to-wall, wool carpet in my dressing room is scattered with dark streaks, suggesting that something on wheels (your bucket?) was dragged across it. This was not the condition of my rugs when I left the house this morning.
Finally, while some windows are well cleaned others are not. I've found dirt across the bottom of windows in my son's room (on the inside, where I can run my finger through it to rub it off, so hardly difficult to clean), and a front window in the living room is mottled with dirt on the outside, for just a couple of examples.
I am not writing to ask that you return to improve upon your errors. After this experience, I am not comfortable having you back in my home. This saddens me, given my great admiration of your grandfather.
In the meantime, I missed an hour of work this morning for no good reason, since you did not arrive in time for me to meet up with you. I have a full evening's work ahead of me returning my furniture and belongings to their rightful places. I must hire someone to clean the dressing room carpet. My new rug in the family room no longer will have a new appearance. And I need to either live with the windows that are not quite clean or take my own time to remove the remaining dirt. How can I pay $848 for the privilege of these costs and inconveniences?
I'm angry. I believe I'm justified in that anger. Daryl has yet to respond, so the jury is out on whether I'll uphold my reputation for complaint-letter results.
In late April, I ordered a medication refill for my son from our mail-order pharmacy (an evil, though money-saving, creation that destroys local, family-owned pharmacies and offers yet another means to take the caring and customer service of a community-based provider out of the health care system; but I digress). I received the usual email confirmation that the order was being processed. But it still had not arrived, so this evening I checked on line and there was no record of the order. It had simply disappeared.
I called and learned:
Your son is in the system as a minor dependent, and he no longer qualifies for your plan.
Indeed, he'd turned 19, the magic age of no-longer-covered-unless-a-full-time-student, in early April (thank God for the health care legislation; the 6 month wait for this aspect of the reforms to kick in can't come soon enough; but I digress).
So it went:
He's a full time student. He's covered.
That's not in our system. You need to inform your insurer, then they will update us, then you can reorder the medication.
That takes too long. I need you to override the system.
Someone can. My son has a chronic disease. Do you want to be responsible for him having no medication?
Would you like to speak to a supervisor?
The supervisor, of course, needed me to repeat everything. And she then repeated everything I'd already heard. I became, I must admit, a bit agitated with her.
And you think it's acceptable to send me an email telling me it's being processed and then just fail to do so without sending a follow-up email letting me know that you cannot fill the prescription?
Well what would you like me to do?
Override the system.
I physically can't.
Yes. And I could go into our system and inform that person that your son is eligible as a student. And they would override the system. But then we'd be audited, and it would become apparent that I had lied by indicating that I had evidence that he is a student, which I do not. And then I'd be fired. And I have a family too, whom I have to protect, so I cannot take that risk.
Well, I said (more quietly, and with feigned concern cloaked in sarcasm) I do feel very sorry for you that you work for a company that cares more about following every possible procedure to deny coverage and save money than about protecting the health and life of its customers. Someone could die because you can’t let them have their medication, and it must feel terrible for you.
A brief pause, and then she had a solution. Though she can't profess that my son is a student, and her company can't take my word for it, they can believe the benefits administrator at my company if she gives them a call (never mind that the benefits administrator has never laid eyes on my son and has no first-hand clue of his academic situation), and then they can change his status in the system. Presto! And guess what, the supervisor is being so generous as to note in the system that she's approved expedited delivery without additional charge (that won't get her fired, I gather).
I want to live in a world where people just take care of others, simply because they are fellow human beings. Mostly, I’m happy to say, I do live in that world. But too often I don’t and I get angry. Here’s what I do with that anger:
I tell a story.
I make it personal: not measuring up to your grandfather; feeling rotten for having to do what is wrong.
I show disdain, but in the context of the story. And by engaging with the story – reading or hearing my narrative - my targets recognize the disdain from within themselves. No longer is it about me passing judgment; they’re doing that themselves.
You have my examples. You have my process. Let’s wish each other success in eking out those gratifying moments of justice.
And I’ll let you know how it goes with Daryl.
June 16 entry:
WHAT HAPPENED WITH DARYL
When I posted the essay about my peculiar talent with complaint letters, I promised to let you know how it went with Daryl.
He resisted a little, but within 24 hours reduced the invoice by 25%, making it much more within the boundaries of reasonable, and he apologized for the problems I encountered with his services.