As much as I'd love to resolve every consumer gripe that comes my way, the fix sometimes eludes me. Even after several e-mail messages, hours on the phone and days of mediation between warring parties, we can still end up with bupkis. Without a lot of patience, good communication and a willingness by all parties to compromise, resolution can seem almost as likely as winning the lottery without buying a ticket.
So I appreciate all those who call in, who take my calls and who cooperate with me, and in some cases go out of their way, to give a smidgen of hope to cynical consumers.
Nothing warms the cockles of my heart like a happy ending. Here are a few to warm yours, too:
The Gripe: Dolores Coulson of Essex called in recently after her son bought a $69.95 wet-dry vacuum cleaner from Home Depot in June that offered a $40 gift card with a mail-in rebate. Unlike many dawdlers, Coulson mailed in the rebate information a week after the purchase and then waited for her gift card. It was supposed to take a month.
June flew by. July came and went. In August, when there was still no word in the mail, Coulson decided to call Home Depot. She was informed that her card was mailed to an address that she did not provide. She was asked to mail the information again. Good thing Coulson made a copy before she mailed the original.
She tried again. Still nothing.
When she called back two weeks later, Home Depot told her it never received the second copy.
"It's not my fault they lost two copies," Coulson said. "They told me there was nothing they could do about this. My son paid for the wet-dry vac with cash so we have no other proof we purchased it. It just infuriates me."
The Fix: I e-mailed Don Harrison, a Home Depot spokesman, about Coulson's gift-card glitch. Harrison replied that Home Depot immediately called Coulson and left a message apologizing.
"We're sending out a gift card for $40," Harrison said in his e-mail. "She should receive it within 7-10 days. We left a contact number for her to call back one of our resolution specialists if she wishes."
Coulson's glad she finally got the card, but says she still hates mail-in rebates. (Memo to retailers: Dolores is not alone!)
The Gripe: William Sur is a very tolerant man. Capital One recently sent the Bel Air resident a bill that said he was past due on his Visa bill for August. Surprised, Sur said he usually pays his bills in full "almost the day they come in. I never got the statement."
So Sur said he called Capital One on Oct. 18 and that customer service rep Rajah promised to fax it to him. Sur wasn't disputing that he was past due; he just wanted to check the statement. He received no fax.
Sur said he called back Oct. 19 and CSR Joanna promised him a fax. On Oct. 20, CSR Meredith kindly pledged the same. CSR Dennis and then his supervisor, Tracey, told Sur a fax would arrive by 5 p.m. Oct. 21.
When no fax appeared, Sur wrote to Jory Berson, executive vice president of the company's U.S. card business.
Four days later, with no fax in hand, Sur said he called back and demanded his statement. CSR Ross and his supervisor Be agreed to fax, Sur said.
And still, Sur's fax machine sat idle.
"Words fail me in trying to express my total and utter contempt for the manner in which I have been treated," Sur said, a sentiment he also voiced in his letter to Berson. "I've never dealt with such bad customer service. They're supposed to be there to make the customer happy, not to make you cantankerous."
The Fix: I called Capital One on Oct. 24. Spokesman Diana Don returned my call the next day on voice mail. I played phone tag with her twice on Oct. 26 and left information about Sur's problem. I left one more message on Oct. 30 and received no reply. Crushed by my failure at completing what I thought would be a simple task, I prepared to deliver the bad news to Sur.
The following day, however, Sur called to say Capital One's corporate office had finally faxed the August statement to him. That's eight business days after his initial call, and a not-so-delightful dozen if you count weekends.
Sur added that later on Monday afternoon, he also received a fax from the customer service department with his August and July statements. How thoughtful.
For such rapid response and high-quality customer care (insert eye-roll here), Sur said, "What a shame Capital One is so dysfunctional, sloppy and careless. I wonder how many other of their customers are treated the way I was treated? I'm going back to using my American Express."
The Gripe: Sheri Vizzi read in this space about Baltimore County resident Clifford Dorr's battle with Cingular over being wrongfully charged a Baltimore City cell phone tax, and immediately felt a connection. Vizzi e-mailed that she has been fighting with Sprint for a year and half since moving from Baltimore to Pikesville, in Baltimore County.
Although she is no longer a city resident, Sprint was still charging her a $3.50 monthly city cell phone tax.