Who Hijacked Our Country

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Ripped-Off Customers: Light at the End of the Tunnel?

According to this Business Week article, 2007 might be remembered as the year angry customers started fighting back. We all heard about the 76-year-old woman who came storming into her local ComCast office with a hammer and started swinging. After damaging a keyboard and a phone, she yelled out “have I got your attention now?”

And last Spring a pissed-off Apple customer made a YouTube video of himself smashing his Macbook with a sledgehammer after Apple refused to honor a service warranty. So far over 340,000 people have seen the video. (And Apple has agreed to replace his defective computer.)

The author, Jena McGregor, says: “Consumers already pushed to the brink by evaporating home equity, job insecurity, and rising prices are more apt to snap when hit with long hold times and impenetrable phone trees.”

She uses the term Consumer Vigilante. Even if you don’t settle your grudge with a sledgehammer, more and more people are discovering that there are other options besides sitting there waiting on hold all afternoon because both operators are busy.

The e-mail carpet bomb is becoming more popular.

Last October a National Public Radio host created a website called ComCastMustDie.com. The article has a few other examples of pissed off customers who settled things their own way.

And occasionally the courts come through. A few days ago, one of those slippery HMOs got hit with a crushing left hook to the bank account. In 2004, Health Net canceled a woman’s medical insurance while she was undergoing treatment for breast cancer. She was left with $129,000 in unpaid medical bills. A judge has ordered Health Net to repay the $129,000 plus $750,000 for emotional distress and $8.4 million in punitive damages.

As conservatives are always saying, severe punishments are the only way to deter criminals.

Health Net is also being sued by the City of Los Angeles for illegally canceling the health insurance policies of 1,600 other patients. The company had an incentive program: administrators had to meet a certain cancellation quota, and if they exceeded their quota they'd get a bonus. (See, this isn't just something Michael Moore dreamed up.)

Maybe these are just isolated incidents, or maybe there's a positive trend. No matter who or what gets elected next November, maybe this 21st Century Gilded Age is starting to wane.

cross-posted at Bring It On!

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Anonymous Kvatch said...

I'm about to do a similar job on the USPS. About two weeks ago they just stopped delivering mail to our building "cold turkey". When asked for an explanation they responded, "that was the supervisor's decision". When asked why we weren't informed, they responded, "I dunno". Two weeks later 3 calls to said supervisor, two calls to the district Postmaster, and we're still not getting mail.

The mind boggles. I'm prepared to tell the USPS that I don't need 'em anymore and to shove all that junk they deliver up their collective asses.

February 27, 2008 at 11:35 PM  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

Kvatch: Ah, the post office. Your story should be surprising, but I can sure relate to it (I'm sure everybody will).

My wife and I own a commercial building; we live upstairs and there are 2 stores on the first floor. When we moved here 3-1/2 years ago, it was like pulling teeth trying to get the post office to grasp this mindboggling fact that yes, people are now living in this building, and HERE is their mailbox. We ultimately got everything straightened out, but Jesus God, it was like trying to explain calculus to a slow 3rd grader.

February 27, 2008 at 11:59 PM  
Blogger Carlos said...

My mother passed away in 2004. Most companies I dealt with were very considerate. Compuserve, however, was not. I called on the 3rd of the month to cancel the service. Despite my request, I was charged the full current month – despite only being three days into it. Then I had to explain to the offshored customer service rep why my mother didn’t want to keep the account open for the rest of the month since it was already paid. He just didn’t get it – nor did his supervisor.

Similarly (and stunningly), I was not allowed a waiver for a late fee on payment (in full) of a United Mileage Plus credit card balance.

It infuriated me to no end.

February 28, 2008 at 4:04 AM  
Blogger Randal Graves said...

And the best way to punish evildoers - like that, Chimp? - with money is to take away their money.

How the fuck can you just stop delivering mail to an occupied place? "We don't want to." Well fuck, there's a lot of shit I don't want to do. Fuckers.

February 28, 2008 at 6:04 AM  
Anonymous rockync said...

You hear these horror stories all the time and then everyone is shocked when someone loses it and resorts to violence or destructive actions. We are so completely unprotected from big business. They can do pretty much anything they want and, until they step on the wrong toes,the government protects them. We need to start a grassroots movement to push legislators into tipping the scales back for a more balanced relationship between businesses and consumers.

February 28, 2008 at 7:48 AM  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

Carlos: Sorry you had to put up with such corporate sleaze at a tragic time like that. It's definitely infuriating.

Randal: Yup, that's the only language these companies understand -- a blow to the pocketbook. And when it comes to the post office, anything is believeable. And unfortunately they make a great soundbite for conservatives' "limited government" rhetoric: "If you like the post office you'll love ____________________."

Rockync: You're right, the government protects big business from consumers, environmentalists, laborers, etc. I don't know if there's any chance that lawmakers will fix this, since most of them are bought and paid for by their corporate donors. It's more effective when people do it themselves (legally of course). That e-mail carpet bomb (linked in the post) sounds pretty effective. And I think there's online information on how to get past a phone tree and go straight to a live person (I haven't looked but I've seen articles about it).

And I hope that judge's ruling against Health Net will set a precedent. If you've seen "Sicko," that's exactly what these HMOs have been doing.

February 28, 2008 at 11:15 AM  
Anonymous JollyRoger said...

The "gilded age" is already at an end. Chimpy and the people who created it for him know this. Expect to see a lot of Americans switching countries in the next year or so, and not a few of them will be chums of the moronic monkey.

February 28, 2008 at 3:37 PM  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

JR: Switching countries, I wouldn't doubt it. Places like Dubai and the Cayman Islands (among others) would probably be a paradise for some of Bush's puppetmasters after their puppet is gone.

February 28, 2008 at 4:39 PM  
Anonymous Jo said...

I got screwed over by my medical insurance. While i was in college, i had to get an out of state insurance. I had to go in for a heart check because i was passing out like crazy when i played sports. Anyway, I go in for a check-up and a week later I'm stuck with a $7,500 bill. Now I have two health insurances, one in MA and the other in NY albeit different insurers. Well, i get the back and forth from both companies...basically, the NY insurers tell me since I have the MA insurance, they should have to cover everything. The MA insurance says that NY insurance should have to cover some of the fees. Moral of the story, I get stuck having to pay $3000 in medical fees.

But this is only the tip of the iceberg compared to the crap that these companies throw at us.


February 28, 2008 at 9:53 PM  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

Jo: That really sucks. I've heard of stories like that too. If you have 2 different insurance companies, they'll each point to the other one and say "that's their job" and the customer ends up holding the bag. It shouldn't be legal, all the shit that companies keep pulling.

February 29, 2008 at 12:48 AM  
Blogger Candace said...

"As conservatives are always saying, severe punishments are the only way to deter criminals." Heh. Brilliant.

Maybe we'll have a new term: "going consumer," instead of "going postal."

February 29, 2008 at 7:41 PM  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

Candace: Yup, that court case will probably be the one time that conservatives will sympathize with the criminal, and plead for reason and understanding.

"Going consumer" -- let's hope. That would be a positive trend.

February 29, 2008 at 7:49 PM  

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