Money Talks

by Larry Teren

Money talks. Who’s listening?

A book written more than a decade ago presents, for example, two case studies on the:

  1. Financial consequence of being lazy or tardy.
  2. Financial incentive to cheat.

The first case involves a day care center where parents are habitually coming to pick their child(ren) up well past the 4pm closing time. A not-too-happy employee is obligated to stay at least once a week a half hour to an hour late without pay because of the inconsideration of these parents.

The owners of the day care center make a decision to charge a $3 fine per each child when a parent arrives late. The fine is tacked on to the monthly bill. Before the fine system is instituted, maybe a handful – four or five- parents a month are habitually late. A couple of months after the fines begin to be assessed, it turns out that more than twenty parents are now late and being assessed fines.

The increase in the number of late parents are the result of a couple of unintentional actions by the day care center management. Assessing a late fee becomes a validation for such action. It also places a value on being late for which the parent then can decide if it’s worth it. In other words- one can be late and this is how much it is going to cost.

There are parents who most likely wanted to be late but until the penalty comes into place are afraid to do so. They see that the day care people recognize it as a fact of life and place a financial worth to it. This validation gives these parents the impetus to change their personal time management, even at a cost. There are also parents who probably feel guilty about being late but now that they are being fined their guilt is relieved. They see it as an extra service fee worth it as a sacrifice to their budgeted time.

This is no different than public library users borrowing books. The vast majority return their books on time but there are a few who for whatever reason let the deadline slip. The library publishes the late fee and the borrower knows in advance how much to expense against their tardiness. Everyone goes home happy, hopefully.

It’s the same with paying off credit card purchases. Some people pay their bills in full- others know the consequences in advance of late payment and make those decisions recognizing the cost of the consequence.

The other case involves the Chicago Public School system which about a dozen years ago sensed that there is cheating going on. All of a sudden, evaluation tests show a marked improvement in class-wide scores.

The highest level administration is convinced there is cheating. Statistician analysts are brought in to review the grades on the multiple choice tests and the pattern they detect becomes obvious. The cheating is not being done by the students but rather the teachers. The instructors are erasing the marks made by their students and systematically marking a range of answers with the correct solutions. The intention is not to be too obvious and create a glut of A students but to reduce the number of D and F students percentage-wise. Why? Because teachers are given financial incentives for improving the average grades in their classrooms.

The result is that those teachers are identified and fired. Of course, the Teacher’s Union protests but facts are facts. No one wants cheaters to be teachers.

In the early part of the 2010s decade, the Chicago schools are still using the same testing system. By 2013 or so, they shift to a test system authored by the Common Core State Standards Initiative, which is used in most other states. There is a dramatic shift in several school’s evaluation of entire grade ranking compared to the same grade around the country. It has gone significantly down.

Some schools are put on warning of closure, others do indeed close. It is a case of throwing out the baby with the bath water. The thinking is that a school’s sense of educational worth has become so polluted, it is better to shift those students to nearby schools. Fumigate the culture by vacating the school building into obsolescence.

Our first example shows that having enough money helps make it easier for some to perpetuate a personality fault- being late for an obligation. The second example exposes that financial incentive may lead to unethical action that unfairly causes the rest of us to spend more money.

Yes, money talks and we all wish we can control the conversation.

An Unexpedited Delivery

by Larry Teren

Ok, so you know me by now- I’m a hot head, a reactionary. But I’ll hold off on how I’m gonna tell this one until I cool down.

An hour has passed. So this is what happened. On the eighth of the month (pick a month) I ordered a pair of socks online. No, not any simple pair that you can buy at Walmarts and save the aggravation. These are relatively expensive compression socks.

I forgot to mention that I placed the order online in the early evening. Anyway, the next morning around 10am I see that an email arrived indicating that one of the colors was backordered and I should let them know if they should ship what they have. So I dialed up their customer service department.

I spoke to a “support” person. I told her to go ahead and send the one pair and when the other was available in a day or two, to send that one as well. After all, it wasn’t going to cost them that much more as I chose the Slow Boat to China free shipping method.

She said I was too late. That I should have been sitting breathlessly at my computer and guessed when her company was going to send an email about availability. ‘Cause now both items were out of stock.

I raged about why they didn’t use their high school education to realize that it was okay to send what they had and backorder the other. She said it was company policy not to. (I think she also meant it was company policy to screw up an order as much as possible. Wait- maybe I wasn’t being fair- maybe they only had a policy to screw up one order a day and I won the lottery.)

So I told them to let it be. When the socks would come into stock, just send them. Obviously a mistake on my part or the story would end here.

A week later, still no socks. In the meantime, I went online and checked out my credit card status and saw that those jamokes billed my credit card even though they never sent anything. So I called the customer service people at the socks place and had the pleasure of speaking to another member of their staff.

I pointed out to her that they had honored me with being the one order in their company they permanently keep on backorder but added insult by billing me for it. Reading from the same script book, she replied. “but it’s company policy, sir”.

I asked to speak to a supervisor who came to the phone after a three minute wait on hold while the customer service clerk gave her my vitals and disposition. Their conversation probably went something like this: “take this call. There’s an as..le on it.”

I explained the issue to the supervisor- the two major flaws in her company’s policy. She apologized and said that the item was backordered. I didn’t call her a liar- okay, i did- sue me. I told her that the items I wanted were popular and could not believe that they allowed the stock to not get replenished for a week. She agreed that the order should have been filled and didn’t know why. (Yeah, sure- she didn’t want to admit I was the lucky permanent backorder customer)

She promised to expedite the delivery by having it shipped directly from the manufacturer. Four days later the items came with a packing slip indicating next day delivery. An email came the next day from the supervisor apologizing once again and that she decided to take the next day off so she didn’t get to my expedited promise until two days later. (Yeah, it’s company policy to take a day off after you promise to expedite the solution to a problem.)

Righting Two Wrongs

You know what they say- two wrongs don’t make a right. But one right can correct two wrongs- or in this case, three. At least that’s what my buddy Vince says. By the way, this guy has seen too much television and thinks of himself either as a member of the Sopranos or that guy who used to do standup comedy wearing a leather jacket and biking chain.

Vince tells me that three wrongs happened, that he subsequently made a couple of phone calls- bada bing- and they’ve been corrected. At least he thinks so and we’ll know in a couple of weeks. It happened like this:

He wrote two checks to pay bills. Put the correct amount on each one, to the correct companies and signed them. But he accidentally switched envelopes. You got it- each company received a check for someone else for an amount not due to them. Both companies didn’t bother to examine the checks. (That takes too much time and someone to think about what they’re doing.) So, both companies deposited the checks. His bank didn’t care. (Too many checks to look at on a commercial deposit ticket. Both are electronic deposit anyways) Three mistakes- his switching the checks and both companies not examining what they got and just going ahead and processing it.

So, he makes a call to one of them- a hospital corporation- and explains that they cashed a check for the wrong amount and for the wrong party. In fact, it was a couple of hundred more than they should have received. The customer service lady told him to hold on while she checked the records. After a few minutes, she came back on the line and said that her supervisor said they were refunding the entire amount. He told her to hold it- why not just refund the overpayment? The lady said that he said that he wanted the money back. He told her that he never said that. She said that it was too late to change it- the refund process started. So, he asked her when he could expect the money? She said that it would take one to two weeks. He didn’t want to create a bigger hassle so he told them to go with the plan, that he would send a new check for the correct amount of what he owed. Bada boo.

The next call was made to a bank institution that also has a credit card. When Vince got their customer service person on the phone, he had the feeling he was talking through a United Nations interpreter and that she was in a far away country. She probably felt likewise.

He explained to her about their cashing a check that they shouldn’t have. He also pointed out that he was charged $5.87 interest because the payment didn’t cover the full balance owed. He also looked at when they cashed his check through his online banking site. He told them that they deposited the wrong check ten days before it was due and that they could have called him and said that they would tear up the check and a replacement would have been sent in plenty of time. So, he should not have been charged interest for paying less than the balance due.

Vince asked for the $5.87 fee to be dropped. The customer service rep told him that she tried to submit his request and it was denied. That’s when he explained to her that it was fraud to cash a check written to someone else claiming to be that person or entity. All of a sudden, whoever else was giving her advice told her that she now had good news to tell Vince- that the $5.87 was being dropped. He was happy.

Vince stopped in at his bank and asked them why they would record deposits on checks that were not properly written to the recipient. They said they could not give him an answer because their computer was down and would he like a coffee mug for his inconvenience? Anyways, he’s counting two weeks to see what happens. Bada bing, bada boo.

No One Listens

By Larry Teren

The other day a voice in a radio commercial said that no one listens to customers anymore. Ya think?

1. My mother’s land line telephone went out on a Monday night. She called me on her cell phone. I came over and validated that we needed to call the phone company for repair service. I called the repair number, punched in all the requisite information and an automated voice responded indicating that the earliest response time would be Thursday, three days later.

This is the attitude of a major player in land line phone service? To keep a customer waiting for three days to use their service again? I called them the next morning and this time spoke to a human being. I played the senior citizen empathy card explaining to the customer service agent that my mother had a lifeline pendant that tied into her phone service. If no phone, no way would her emergency alert signal work.

That opened the magical door. The agent told me that he would try to push her closer up on the repair wait list. I received an automated call less than a half hour later that a repairman would be out to her place that day. The repairman called me an hour later. I warned my mother of his arrival and within two hours her phone was fixed.

But what about the other customers? Why should anyone have to wait so long to get phone service restored? What happened to customer service?

2. I decided it was time to have a blazer dry cleaned. I went to an establishment that was new to me but in business at that location for several years. I brought the jacket to the young lady working the cash register. She asked for my phone number but I quickly realized she wasn’t asking me out on a date. The next part of the conversation took about two minutes longer than needed because rock music was blasting in the background. I told her that I couldn’t make out half of what she said. She looked at me as if to wonder why I wasn’t in a nursing home where I didn’t have to worry about dressing up.

Next, she asked for immediate prepayment rather than when I returned for pickup. I asked why- she said because sometimes they had to try two or three times to get out stains. If the effort wasn’t a success the customer might not want to pay. So they demanded the money up front.

It must be tough to be in a business where going in you don’t trust most of your customers. Are you listening?

Do Not Call List is a Joke

The Do-Not-Call List is a joke. Telephone communication technology has advanced to the point where it has practically eliminated the abusive prank caller whether it’s 2am or 2pm. You can thank the genius who invented caller id. But it seems as if each step forward has a corresponding step or two backwards. Yes, I’m ranting about about those companies who seem to have permission from the authorities to still harass us.

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