Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Complain to Gain - Assertiveness is good

We all know this. There are sayings, e.g. "The squeaky wheel gets the grease." "Stand up for yourself," "Fight for your rights."

It is nice to see some reinforcement of this though. Here are a couple of recent examples from my family.

Not long ago, we went to a restaurant in Dublin, California called Stacey's at Waterford. (Scott Adams of Dilbert fame is one of the owners). During the course of a very pleasant meal, everyone had basically finished but one. The waitress came to remove the plates and took all but the one plate. Etiquette 101 says not to do this because the slow eater in the bunch then feels rushed. After we got home, my wife called the restaurant back to point this out to the manager (we did not want to make a fuss at the restaurant). We weren't looking for anything, but at the end, the manager ended up sending us a coupon for money off on our next visit. This worked for us, because we got some cash equivalent, and it worked for them because they (maybe) learned something, and we did go back and spend about $100 on a subsequent visit. I feel confident that they made money on the deal.

Another recent example was with Sprint cell phone accounts. We had activated texting for the kids on their cell phones and gave them a 500 message limit after which they would pay 10 cents per message. To digress a little bit, this is the biggest rip-off in the history of telecommunications. Text messages are very low bandwidth and not real-time. I am so opposed to the charges on them that it makes me see red. The kids can't live without them, etc. Blah blah. End of digression.

So one month, a week into our billing period, my daughter was at 350 messages. We called Sprint and asked them to suspend messaging. It was that way for two more weeks, then we took the hold off. Two days later she was up to over 1000 messages. This seemed insane to me. It also meant that we would have owed over $60 for the text messages. (600 messages x 100 characters max < 60 k bytes), that represents less than 1 second on my cable modem. But I digress again.

I called Sprint to find out what the deal was with the texting. Was she receiving, sending, when was this happening, and overall, 750 text messages in two days seemed ridiculously high? I wanted verification of that. I told them that if they could send or fax me a statement, that would be fine. They would not or could not do that.

The people in their call center could pull up screen by screen and tell me what time the messages were sent and received and the number that they came from or went to, but they did not want to make a print of the whole list. So I raised it to the manager. She started to read the time, date, and phone number of each one of the texts. After about 10 minutes we got to about 50 or so, and I was entering every one of them. She asked me to hold and we got disconnected. I called back, and the operator with whom I spoke informed me that there was a $60 credit on my bill.

I wasted a lot of time running around with Sprint on this, but in the end, got my money back. It was worth it, and I wonder how much money Sprint makes off less assertive people.

In any case, unless you are a self employed person who charges by the hour, it usually pays to spend some time to get what is due to you. If you are self-employed, have your secretary do the negotiating or at least the phone sitting.