Thursday, August 6, 2009

Free Doesn't Always Mean Free

by bill Kalmar

Our cable provider, AT&T, just offered us one month of free service for Encore and Showtime. Two months ago, we took the free HBO offer for two months. After two months of “Caddy Shack” and “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory” reruns, we decided to cancel. Now after just two days of Showtime we are ready to cancel again. What pushed us over the top was a rerun of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”... in July. So come tomorrow we will return to our regular programming. Frankly, we don’t need 300 channels anyway.

What I learned from previous experiences with cable companies is that if you fail to cancel within the allotted time of your free subscription, your account will be charged and it may be difficult to obtain a refund. In the case of AT&T, I canceled the HBO subscription within a week of the free deadline, however, our statement recycled prior to that date and thus we were charged a monthly fee. It was easily reversed but I think it points out that many companies are in a financial bind and may look for unusual ways to increase their cash flow.

One case in point is our health care provider. Our payments have been due the first of the month since my retirement in 2003. Then on July 16th we received a notice that our payments are now due the 25th of each month starting with the July payment—a nine-day window for payment. This was done unilaterally without notice to subscribers. I have written to senior management concerning this and hope to receive a response before my next column.

I pointed out to management that before decisions are made the question should be raised: “How will this affect our customers?” This is a basic quality concept that is often overlooked and one that generally results in adverse reaction from customers when ignored. What makes this decision so impractical is that our prescription coverage from the same company is still due on the first of the month.

It seems companies that have reduced their staffs are having difficulty with quality control. I wonder if anyone has weighed the cost of replacing defective merchandise with the cost of having an experienced staff on board who verifies the quality and proper response to orders. I would bet that having trained staff costs less than all the miscues that are occurring.

We just unpacked a ceiling fan for installation in our family room and as luck would have it, two of the light fixtures were shattered. A call to the fan company had replacements sent to us but when the new lights arrived, the wrong ones were in the package. Another call to a different rep caught the error and new lights are on the way. I’ll let you know if the second time is the charm, but normally it takes three times, doesn’t it? Also, a sports chair we ordered has a rip in the fabric, so back it goes.

Have you seen that some of the bailed-out companies are now prepared to pay extravagant bonuses to staff members? Senior management reconciles this idiotic practice as a way to “prevent talented people from leaving the organization.” If these people were so talented, why was the company in financial trouble? I say, prohibit bonuses and let these people leave. Then let them find a job, especially in Michigan where unemployment is at 15 percent and rising. When these so-called brain-trusts leave there will be thousands of qualified people seeking those positions.

Speaking of people leaving, here is where some of you will be counting me for sure among those dining on loco weed—but understand that I'm immune to criticism and am bullet proof. Just as in the business world where CEOs are obliged to retire at a predetermined age, most likely at 65 years of age, the same should be done in the political world. Do I really want some senator or representative in his or her 80s or 90s making decisions that will effect me or my children and grandchildren? Absolutely not!

It's time for these dinosaurs to pack up their orthopedic underwear and hit the road; and I say that as a senior citizen myself.

Now go ahead, write me, and tell me that I am discriminating against the aged. Candidly, anyone who is making laws in their 80s and 90s is discriminating against me, because he or she no longer identifies with reality and the world I'm living in.

Speaking of senior citizens, how about the run 59-year-old Tom Watson just made at the British Open? He forced a playoff after leading most of the time in the four-day event and then lost on the final playoff hole. But he provided loads of excitement and certainly outplayed many younger players. Maybe some of our octogenarian senators could caddy for him.

Well, time to give cable TV another try. They're showing “The Maltese Falcon” with Humphrey Bogart. Now that’s real moviemaking

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