Thursday, August 02, 2007

Corporate America: Declining Quality, Fraud as Policy

Astute reader Colin from Cape Cod reports on AOL's unstated policy of outright fraud:

"I would like to give you an idea for a blog post. I just got off the line with the service department at my bank. I was trying to block AOL from taking $26 each month from my checking account. I have have been talking to AOL for 8 months to stop them from charging me a fee because I am no longer a member. In fact I was never a member- I was a trial member.

The funny thing was the service rep at my bank had the same problem. He told me after he canceled AOL they would bill his account different amounts each month so it wouldn't be caught. One month they would charge 19.99, then the next month it would be 19.97, then the next 20.01, and so on. Then he light-heartily said, "You got to watch them--they are crafty". What has happened to our society to make blatant corporate stealing so light a matter?"

An excellent question, Colin. Why anyone is still a customer of AOL remains a mystery, undoubtedly one based on their relentless marketing rather than on their actual service.

The decline of quality is another fact of life which garners little attention. Could the last five years of "record corporate profits" have anything to do with cutting corners on everything but marketing? Longtime correspondent Mark D. filed this report on a water heater which only lasted a few years:

"I had another appliance nightmare. my hot water heater went out. Combination of vent dusting up, leading to flame arrestor lint build, leading to oxygen starvation, leading to sooting, leading to pursuit of knowledge. appears our government helped us out by requiring the flame arrestor, and in typical fashion, the first few designs suck.

I can't really figure out if there is a class action lawsuit or not, but i don't care, the lawyers will get all the money not allocated to having plumbers try and fix them, they can't, and replace them. i ended up purchasing a Bradford White Defender model which has the entire bottom made of an arrestor with stainless steel rather than the thing which is similar to a catalytic converter.

I have defaulted to called repair shops to get recommendations on appliances. i guess when they have no work, they will recommend the one's they like to repair. by the way, i was quoted 1350 dollars to replace mine, with some minor upgrades, which also included the pressure relief valve to be piped outside, as it's TOO DANGEROUS to have it routed like it was before. what a load of crap. The board appointed by the governor to recommend code changes is full of plumbers, architects, builders with NO representation for consumers, and even if there was one, there would obviously be no balance.

They are of course motivated to maximize cost of labor, or minimize it if it includes illegal aliens, as the cost of what they install has all the margin taken out of it as it's made in china, or mexico etc. blah blah blah. bottom line. don't purchase an appliance at sears, osh, home depot, lowes etc as they only sell the low margin appliances made with iffy designs. Investigate recall and complaint sites.

I took apart the old water heater and inside, the burner was sooted, massive soot was building up on the underside of the tank, a huge fire hazard way worse than leaving the pressure release valve where it was. can't believe the code board isn't banning the sale of these heaters. they are more worried about increasing the cost of building a house so they can make profit on high labor component changes after a home is built.

As a builder you probably have a comment. the hot water heater was a sears energy miser 9 or something like that."

Mark had previously written about his refrigerator expiring after an all-too-short working life:

"My fridge just went out over the weekend. called repair to find out the compressor is broke and will cost ~$600 to fix it. this is more than a new fridge. I'm sure this was factored in as a motivator by Congress when they went to the "energy" efficient fridges and ac units.

So anyway, the repairman says ever since they went to the energy efficient design, they only last 7-10 tops, which is more than you can get a warranty for, which is about 100 bucks, which is stupid obviously. so I call my sister with this info, as she has a Subzero, which supposedly last, but they also have the same issue. so anyway, she says she just replaced her AC unit. it lasted 4 years and would cost 4k to fix. a new one is 2k.

So into the landfill at a rate 3 times what old appliances used to last, all just to feel good we are wasting electricity. but what we are really wasting is a lot more and not just landfill. we are killing our competitiveness, cause we need a better paying job to buy disposable freezers and AC units.

I have a theory, if an appliance is beautied up, it's essentially disposable, as the cost is in the marketing and packaging, rather than the design. Talk about wasting resources. so then i called my two useless environmentally sensitive Senators' and guess what? the staff is so clueless they get bored with my story, but at least they tell me they've never heard of that before and it was a refreshing change. it obviously went nowhere with them, so i thought of you, a man of action, and see if anyone has similar stories. by the way, I have two unused fridges in the garage unplugged which I'm going to keep when the next one goes out."

For a builder comment about big-box store quality and service, here is a report from frequent contributor Bill Murath:

"I was at Home Depot the other day...which I absolutely hate and try to avoid if at all possible. I was buying a lot of Oak ($700.00) to trim the inside of some windows. I had all sorts of different lengths and dimensions and profiles. It took a while to scan all the trim and measure the lengths etc...

Then I asked the woman for a pen so I could write a check. She says " a check, and you haven't filled it out already?" I said "Huh!" She said "yeah they time us on each transaction." For an attosecond I was in disbelief. She wasn't having a good day and it was obvious. I asked her in a derogatory tone not directed at her " Am I at McDonalds?". Since she was distressed and I was in really no mood to hear this from a store I hate in the first place, I asked her to get me a manager so I could tell them to shove their time-tracking up their ass. I said this all in a manner as not to offend this women in the least and maybe even lighten her up a little bit.

And on top of it they have the crappiest oak. The crap they sell is high dollar shiny crate material at best. Since I am buying a planer/jointer and a 1/2" collet router tomorrow I have sworn to myself that I will no longer lower myself to buying the crap from HD. I will go buy rough sawn sanded 1 side material from small local dealers and make what I need and charge a 30% or more premium over HD prices. I am not anal like a furniture maker on the dryness of wood but I swear I could feel the moisture in the wood with my bare hands. I truly hope my existence here lasts long enough to watch all these community busting box stores go tits up. It would truly produce one of the largest grins on my face that I could imagine!!!"

Welcome to Consumer Paradise, brought to you by "record profits" Corporate America: disposable appliances, disposable houses, corners cut in everything but profits and packaging, deceptive if not outright fraudulent practices, and all offered under the brainwashing banner of "customer service." If this is "quality," and "customer service," I wonder what shoddy goods and lousy customer service look like.

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