Screwing The Customer
The battle between producers and consumers is an uneven one. It's like Tyson against the 5 year old girl next door; there's no contest, not even the semblance of a contest.
image by Nick Youngson - source: Creative Commons Images
Today my heart broke and after that my temper followed suit. I work at a technical helpdesk for an Internet provider that shall remain nameless and fameless in this post, the customer shall remain only nameless. It's not that the company I work for broke the law or anything like that. What they've done to this customer and many more like her isn't even regarded immoral or wrong; what I'm going to describe happens every day in many businesses around the world.
Customer: "Hello, I'm Miss Customer and I have a question about the bills..."
Me: "That's no problem at all, could I please have your zip-code and house-number please? Just so I can get your records on screen."
Customer: "Well, I'm not sure if you'll find anything because, and that's why I'm calling, I haven't had a subscription to your services for over three years now." I've been here before, so I brace myself for the message I'm going to have to give to her shortly... She continues: "It was at my previous address," She gives me the data I asked for. "...and my question is this... I know it may seem careless, but I usually don't check my bank-account well enough. You see, three and a half years ago I met my current husband, and we decided to go live together in his house."
My training and years of experience in talking to our customers told me to give this lady all the time she needed to get her message across, so I interrupted her only with "Mmmm hmmmm", an audible nod of my head, to acknowledge my understanding of what she's saying. "I really thought I terminated all payed services at that old address and I never really got involved with the household money during my time with mr. Customer; he took care of everything. Sadly, we separated three weeks ago, and for the first time in years I looked at my bank-account..."
I already felt terrible, as I knew what would follow; I already felt the disappointment I would have to become in her life. After a nod through the phone-line she concluded: "As you can imagine perhaps, my life's kind of a mess right now. I'm trying to keep my head above water here. Now I don't know any legal stuff, but I would like to ask if there's any possibility of me getting refunded the monthly fee I've been paying for three years now, when I actually never used it, I never even knew I still got it. I calculated it roughly and it would add up to an amount of several hundreds of euro's, euro's I could use right now since I'm essentially starting over... And since you automatically withdraw the money every month I thought... Well, I know I gave you permission to do so years ago, but you must have noticed the account hasn't been used for a long time now. So maybe..."
image by Harsh Agrawal - source: flickr
What followed wasn't pretty. Tears were shed. Curses were yelled. And all I could do was explain the companies policy in cases like this. We are legally obliged to look back three months. The law says that we only have to repay dear miss Customer the most recent three monthly bills. This is because the law assumes an individual responsibility of every citizen to take care of their own finances. The company is allowed to repay more, but will only do so after the customer applies for such in writing and only on very rare occasions.
Miss customer is the loser. A loser. Her finances are her responsibility and she shouldn't cry about having lost that money, because apparently it wasn't important enough for her to guard it with more care. Don't come crying when you lose your money because of your own carelessness. This made me so angry afterwards, as it always does. You see, the company is also an individual, a person. Not a natural person, but for the law a company has many of the rights we persons have, but almost none of the duties or responsibilities we have.
For us natural persons there's another law that says that if you find money, like in a wallet lying in the bushes or on the street, you are legally obliged to turn that in at the nearest, or your local police station. It also says that if you get wired to your bank-account an amount of money of which you can reasonably assume doesn't belong to you, you're obliged to inform both the bank and the authorities. Now isn't that funny how that works. The law says I have to be honest, and rightfully so. But apparently this doesn't fly for companies. Different rules apply for them. They don't have to be honest. If they get wired money they can reasonably assume is not theirs, they get to keep it after three months. They get to point their finger and say "you're a loser, take better care of your responsibilities crybaby"...
I must add that I don't have any actual numbers on what percentage of these cases actually get refunded all their money. I do know that also happens, especially the ones that get broadcast on tv as part of some customer protection program. And I'm glad there are some cases in which justice prevails. This doesn't take away the injustice incorporated in the law; many customers won't even file a complaint and will therefore not even have a chance of ever seeing their money back. And that's what "they" are betting on. In court it would be one person against another person, only one of them is a company with a legal department and loads of money and the other one is a regular Joe, or miss Customer. We're screwed.
Well, that's off my chest. Thanks for listening, as always. I hope you don't ever have to experience what miss customer experienced today. I do hope to see you all back here tomorrow. I hope miss customer files an official complaint as that's the only chance she has to gain some measure of justice. And I hope you file a comment, dear reader, and let me know your opinion on this sad tale.
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