Blogs > Jim Collins' Editor's Notebook

Jim Collins is editor emeritus of The News-Herald and also serves as executive in residence at Lakeland Community College. His popular weekly column appears each Sunday in Comment in The News-Herald.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Calm words can help solve an expensive problem

Today we will delve into the mysterious subject of consumer advocacy. It is mysterious because few people understand it — and few care. They have other things to do.

But wait! Last week I promised to put first things first, and first was to reinforce my opinion that Brandon Weeden would never make it as an NFL quarterback.

Enough of that. My point is made. Let’s move on to the second thing — helping to protect consumers.

Many papers have columnists who write volumes on the subject. I delve into it only occasionally, because I also have other things to do.

But I had a recent consumer experience that, thanks to my persistence and understanding of the problem, led to a favorable outcome.

(My first bit of advice: Always study the problem, gain a thorough understanding of  it, and then proceed hell-bent-for-election, never hinting that you are not in complete control of the situation.)

My beef, if you will, was with Sears. It is a company I happen to like a lot. My problem was of my own making. But I digress. Allow me to proceed.

I went to Sears at the Great Lakes Mall and bought an oil filter for my tractor. It cost $19.10. No big deal. I can handle it.

I put it on my Sears card. The bill soon arrived in the mail.

My long-standing policy is to pay every credit card bill that comes in the mail by return mail. I do not like outstanding debts.

I wrote the check, put the envelope in my inside coat pocket, and took it to the college the next day. I do that a lot. They pick up outgoing mail every day in our office, and it arrives at its intended destination within a few days.

One problem: I forgot to put it in the mail.

I didn’t wear that sport coat again for about three weeks. When I put it on, I found the check for Sears in the pocket.

“Oh oh,” I exclaimed. Possibly I said, “son of a gun,” or some other mild expletive befitting the situation.
I put it in the mail immediately, but you know what happened, don’t you? Right. It didn’t get there in time.

In a few days I got another bill from Sears. It was for $40.20. All for mailing a check for $19.10 just a bit late.

I studied the new bill carefully. (I study all bills carefully.) This was the breakdown: I owned $19.10 for the oil filter. Fair enough. But I also owed a late fee of another $19.10 (a bit excessive, I thought) plus $2 for a minimum interest fee, which I felt was rubbing salt into the wound. (They were kind enough to inform me that I could come in and charge another $3959, if I wanted to, but I was not in a mood to do so at the moment.)

I did what any patriotic young American would do. I called Sears to ask why their penalty was so excessive. After pushing the usual buttons, I got a very nice lady on the phone.

I explained the situation to her. I had carried the check around in my pocket for three weeks. So it wasn’t my fault it was late.

Actually, I knew very well it was my fault, and so did she. I asked why the penalty was so severe. She said that’s just the way things are.

I appealed to her sense of fairness. It didn’t work. They don’t have a court of appeals at Sears.

So I tried another tack. “Look me up in your computer,” I said, with great composure. “You will see that I have purchased a tractor, I don’t know how many lawn mowers, a stove, a refrigerator, a washer, a dryer, a fancy new stove top that the lady of the house adores and keeps immaculately clean, several gallons of paint and a bazillion tools at Sears.

“Let me assure you of two things,” I continued. “No. 1, I will send in the check for the balance today. (They had already received my first check.) No. 2, you will never again, ever, see me in Sears at the Mall. Never. Trust me. There are plenty of other places where I can go.”

“Mr. Collins,” she said, in the sweetest voice imaginable, “you have no balance. Your balance is now zero.”
“Would you say that once again?” I asked.

“The late fees have been erased,” she said. “Your balance is zero.”

“Thank you so very much,” I said. “You are a very nice person to deal with. And of course I will be back at Sears. Count on it.”

I would have added that she is probably very good looking, but I don’t like to deal in gratuitous compliments.

And that, folks, is how you handle consumer complaints. Go straight to the source and make your case. And always be kind and understanding. The person on the other end of the line has a job to do, too, you know.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home