Big Business: Don't try to figure it out

Friday, August 3, 2012

It started, like so many things, small. That was before it became a Big Deal, at least for me.

Here's what happened:

Last week I received a letter in the mail from a huge, national service provider. My wife and I have been customers of this Big Business for nearly 50 years. We have been loyal. We have always paid our monthly bills on time. We have added new services as they became available. We have been top-notch customers for a long, long time.

In its letter, the Big Business said that because we are such good and loyal customers it had a great deal for us. The letter covered two pages, much of it in full color with illustrations of products provided by the Big Business but not part of our current service plan.

However, the letter did not, at any time, disclose what the great deal was. I read the letter more than once to make sure I hadn't missed the pitch. It wasn't there.

What was there was a suggestion that I should (a) call this number, (b) go to this Internet site or (c) go to one of two outlets in Cape Girardeau, one an authorized dealer for the Big Business and the other one of the retail stores operated by the Big Business.

Oh, and the letter provided a special-offer code that would, I thought, reveal the nature of the special deal that I, a good and loyal customer, was being offered.

Thinking the authorized dealer might be less congested and willing to provide a higher level of customer service, I went there first. Sure enough, three employees were waiting for someone to walk through the door. I showed them the letter. I pointed to the special-offer code. I asked if they could tell me about the special offer.

This was their response:

See that blank space? That's nothing. That's what I got.

One of the employees helpfully suggested that he could call the Big Business and ask. I thought that made sense. However, whoever answered the phone at the Big Business had no knowledge of my letter or its special-offer code.

I excused myself and drove to the retail store operated by the Big Business. It was extremely busy. It looked like I would have to wait more than an hour. A store employee who checks in new arrivals looked at my letter. "We have specials every day for everyone," she cheerfully announced.

I pointed out that, according to the letter, I wasn't "everyone." I was a special loyal and valued customer. Did that mean I might get something extra? Like a straight answer? Sorry, she said, she had no idea what the letter was all about.

So I went home and tried other options. I went online. I went to the site recommended by the letter. Nothing.

I dialed the number of the Big Business. I have called the Big Business enough times over the years to know that it invented the automated phone system. You know what an automated phone system is, right? It's a system where you talk to a computer that offers you all kinds of options -- except the one you want.

I've found that if you push "0" often enough during these calls that you are likely to be switched to a live person. Or disconnected. It's really a crapshoot.

When I finally got a real person, she said I had called the wrong number, but she would transfer me to the right person. When that fellow got on the line, I told him my long, sad story about The Letter from the Big Business and how I hoped to get some clue about my special offer.

He said he would try, and he did, but he had no success whatsoever. He apologized.

Then I told him what I really wanted. I wanted to switch some of my services. My objective was to both improve my services and save some money. He took pity on me and helped me every way he could. In the end, I was, once again, a satisfied and loyal customer. He did his job well. I am proud to be a special, loyal customer of this Big Business.

But I still have no idea why the Big Business sent me a two-page, full-color letter. No one can tell me. I'll bet the Big Business sent millions of those letters. Am I the only one who bothered to ask?

And I just got my monthly bill from the Big Business. I noticed the rate for one of the services I enjoy has gone up. Makes sense. Sending millions of useless letters must cost quite a bit.

Joe Sullivan is the retired editor of the Southeast Missourian.

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