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  • Fallout from the economic crisis: Consumers spending more time fighting companies?

    The last two weeks have made me very concerned that as the economy worsens, I’m going to have to spend more and more time fighting companies for no good reason.

    The first incident that causes me concern is the amount of time I’ve had to spend getting Amazon to fix a billing problem. They screwed up and didn’t apply my gift certificate balance to an order, and as result, I’ve had to send four emails and make one phone call, not to mention endure a lot of frustration.

    I’ve had hundreds of uneventful orders with Amazon. I’ve even contacted them in the past and gotten relatively prompt responses with satisfactory resolutions. I’m quite disturbed at the fact that they’re not responding to emails, and that even after I called and spoke to a person who directly contacted the Gift Certificates department while I was on the phone to ensure that my situation was rectified, I still didn’t get an email telling me that things would be taken care of until the 48 hour deadline they had imposed upon themselves had passed. Even worse is the fact that after initially fixing the problem, they made things worse by reversing the correction, but incompletely and in a way that left me $7.14 short of where I had started. I’m afraid that this is a sign of things to come and that the headaches of shopping with Amazon aren’t going to be worth the convenience or savings.

    The second incident that worries me is a letter I got from my health insurance company, denying a test that was performed last May. The letter doesn’t indicate why it took them so long to deny the claim, and now I have to spend time and energy filing an appeal, which may or may not be granted, for a medical test that my doctor obviously felt was necessary.

    A friend who works for a doctor in his billing office has been telling me for a few weeks now that insurance companies seem to be automatically denying claims in the hope of saving money. She says their reasons for denying claims include “the information wasn’t properly lined up in the box on the form.” She assumes that the insurance companies are hoping most patients don’t appeal, and that claims will be processed if they are appealed – but for some reason that’s not making me feel better, given that my test was done back in May.

    These incidents make me worry that I’m going to have spend my future time making sure my family gets the money it is due and keeps the money it already has – rather than being able to spend my time saving money by spending less and making money via this blog and other ventures. I really hope this isn’t a sign of things to come – but I must admit, I’m not very optimistic.

    Update on Amazon’s customer service: They made things worse!

    As I mentioned over the weekend, Amazon messed up the payment of my order for an Aerogarden and seed kit and charged the entire amount to my credit card without applying the gift certificate credit that I had. I sent them two emails, which they ignored, so I actually called a toll-free number and spoke with a human being. That was on Sunday, and I was told that I would hear back within 48 hours.

    Right around the 48-hour mark, on Tuesday afternoon, I received an email saying that the payment would be reapplied, and in fact, my gift certificate balance was $0 and the online invoice indicated that the balance had been applied to my order. I was just waiting for my credit card to be refunded.

    Yesterday, I entered $30 of gift certificate codes into my Amazon account. So you can imagine my surprise when I checked this morning and saw that the balance was now $90.69. It appears that Amazon reversed their correction, but only credited me for the amount of the Aerogarden and not the seed kit. And the online invoice once again shows only a full payment by credit card.

    So they’ve made things worse! Because now I’ve lost $7.14 – the cost of the seed kit – in gift certificate credit.

    I immediately emailed them, of course – but given the lack of response to my previous emails, I’m more than a little concerned. I suppose I’ll have to call them after a reasonable amount of time has passed, say 48 hours. (The contact form says most emails will receive a response in less than 12 hours. That hasn’t happened.)

    What would you do?’s customer service leaves something to be desired

    You might have gathered that I’m a pretty big fan of I regularly buy things from them, and the only prize I’ve ever redeemed my Swag Bucks for is Amazon gift codes.

    When I receive my gift codes from Amazon, I apply them to my account so that they’re ready and waiting for me as a credit when I make a purchase. And I had about $65 in credits to use toward my purchase of the Aerogarden and greens kit two Fridays ago. The order confirmation page and the order confirmation email both indicated that the credit had been applied and my credit card would only be charged the difference of less than $5.

    But when my purchases arrived, the invoice indicated that my credit card had been charged for the entire amount. I used Amazon’s contact form to send a message asking them to correct the payment method but heard nothing back – even though the “message sent” page says a response will typically be issued within 12 hours. Three days later, I sent the same message again. Two days later, I’d still heard nothing back.

    So I went to The Consumerist and found Amazon’s customer service phone numbers. Amazon seems to be outsourcing their calls to India, but the representative I spoke to seemed pretty competent. Despite her heavy accent, her English was good and she understood the problem immediately. She even admitted that there had been a “technical problem” that resulted in gift card credits not being applied.

    She assured me that this time, the Gift Certificates Department would re-apply the payment and get back to me within 24 to 48 hours. We’ll see.

    P.S. I haven’t done much with the Aerogarden yet because I need an extension cord. But I will definitely give you an update when I have one.

    Mediocre customer service is worse than none at all

    Yesterday, I wrote a negative review of after they unilaterally canceled my order for two Britax Regents. When I mentioned my frustration to Marc, he said he’d recently read a suggestion that companies should either commit to fully satisfying their customers or just not answer their phone. And I think that’s exactly right – you can’t go halfway when it comes to customer service.

    But that’s exactly what EliteCarSeats tried to do. They could have just canceled my order and sent me an email explaining why. But instead they tried to go a step further by calling to let me know of the cancellation and in doing so just made things worse. By refusing to go another step further and grant my request for expedited shipping, they lost my business forever. I’m actually more unhappy with their customer service after having my request refused than I would have been if I’d simply gotten an email explaining why my order was canceled. And that’s why I say you can’t do customer service only halfway.

    I think as customers, we simply want to know what we’re getting. So if a store purports to have customer service, it had better be excellent. And if a store isn’t going to give good service, I want to know about that upfront. Woot! is a good example of a store like that. Their FAQ says upfront that you’ll most likely never get hold of a live person and that they don’t provide traditional customer service. So if you buy from them, you do so knowing the risks.

    I’m not the only one who thinks this way. Jeremy Schoemaker at Shoemoney says he’s never going back to what used to be his favorite teppanyaki restaurant because the chef served undercooked shrimp that made him sick. Jeremy concludes:

    It got me thinking a lot about how businesses work. Serving undercooked shrimp which are 85% done does a LOT more damage than what the modulus would make you think. It would have been much better if they would have done 0% and not served us at all.

    What do you think? Is mediocre service better or worse than none at all?

    Kudos to Kellogg’s & their customer service

    Kellogg’s has provided excellent customer service the last three times I’ve contacted them, so I thought it was high time to highlight them. The first two times, I used their online contact form to complain about their products. The first time, I opened a new box of cereal to find that the inner plastic bag was not sealed. The second time, I found a hard, dark object in a box of Mini-Wheats, and told them that I was throwing out not just the box I’d found the object in but also the other unopened boxes of Mini-Wheats that I already had.

    Each time, I provided all of the information that I thought they might need to identify the batch the cereal had come from, and offered to send the cereal back to them. Within a week of each complaint, I received an email thanking me and stating that I would be receiving something in the mail. The “something” turned out to be coupons good for a free Kellogg’s product, and the second time, I received four coupons to compensate me for the loss of four boxes of cereal.

    The most recent contact came in the form of the Fuel for School rebate, which took place in August through September. The promotion required the purchase of 10 Kellogg’s items, all on one receipt. You had to send in the receipt and the 10 UPC codes along with the rebate form, and you’d get a $10 check.

    I sent in my completed form and forgot about it, knowing that rebates usually take at least eight weeks to process. But about a month after I’d mailed in the rebate, I found a stray UPC code from a box of Rice Krispies treats on my desk. I pulled out my copy of the materials I’d sent in and sure enough, there were only nine UPC codes. I was so mad at myself, and for the next four weeks, I waffled between writing off the $10 rebate and emailing customer service to see if they would push the rebate through anyway.

    Kudos to Kellogg’s, because they pushed my rebate through without my contacting them. Much to my surprise, I got the rebate check a couple of days ago. It’s possible they didn’t catch the missing UPC code since nine pretty much looks like ten, but regardless, I really appreciate receiving my $10 even when I didn’t completely fulfill the requirements and they would have been within their rights to deny my rebate.

    As I wrote this post, I remembered a fourth recent contact with Kellogg’s, in which I sent in for a free book that’s part of their United Through Reading promotion. The book came quite quickly, and best of all, it came with a Target coupon for $1 off any book. I used the coupon the other day to get a free truck book for Alex from the dollar section.

    Thanks for everything, Kellogg’s!