Sunday, February 14, 2010

Why I Refuse to take the OFA Volunteer Pledge

It's no secret on this blog that I was (and am) an enthusiastic Obama supporter and that I find many of the political tactics and gamesmanship techniques of the GOP to be scandalously hypocritical and corrosive.

But in the last two weeks I've received several e-mails from OFA (Obama For America) asking me to pledge volunteers hours to campaign or work for candidates who come out in favor of Health Care Reform.

The argument goes like this...the Republicans are spreading all sorts of dirty tricks and misinformation about those who come out in favor of Health Care Reform. True enough. Blue dog democrats are afraid that this will be a polarizing issue that may be used against them in elections. Therefore, if there is a groundswell of support from people saying, "Do this, and I'll promise to work for your re-election" that might embolden scared or worried Dems to do the right thing.

Um...sorry, but shouldn't it be the other way around? I vote for people who actually do what they say they will do. Do the right thing, even in the face of opposition, and I'll work for you. Don't tell me that if I pledge to work for you, you'll do the right thing.

One fundamental issue I have with the pledge drive is that it implies that if the volunteer pledges fall short, the Congressmen and Congresswomen are somehow justified in not voting for health care. This basically acknowledges what everyone already thinks: that the driving principle is always and only my own relection. Politics as usual, anyone?

I have a question about the Obama White House. Forget the Republicans, can it get tough with its own party? In issues like Lieberman's chairmanship, the Obama administration has sure looked to me like it is more concerned with preserving a coalition than actually using the coalition to advance an agenda. The GOP knows that and thus continues to patiently play the politics of obstruction--who cares if that means playing chicken with the economy or hurts those they claim to represent? But here's the thing, the moderate Dems know it too, and it is human nature to take the path of least resistance. Where's the upside of taking an unpopular position if I know that my own party isn't really going to push back at me if I refuse to do so?

Hey, OFA, you want me to work for you, then fight. Don't tell me you'll fight if I promise to have your back. I worked for you already. I canvassed in the last election. I got the word out, I offered my time for voter registration and to take people to the polls. And Obama carried North Carolina by the slimmest of margins. If you are a coach or a leader, then sometimes the biggest enemy is not the opposing team but the starter who sits on the bench and says "I refuse to play because you are drawing up a play for Tony Kukoc." If there are Dems that are worried about being unpopular by coming out for health care, don't try to appease them by asking me to work hard for them (and thereby give positive reinforcement to negative behavior), say instead: "Fine. Try winning the election without party support. We'll back a primary challenger who is willing to vote for Health Care reform." Worst case scenario, that splits the vote and a Republican wins, eating into the meaningless (because unused) majority. Best case scenario, you have a candidate who is not a weasel and, maybe, one I am willing to volunteer for.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Borders, Welcome to the Customer Service Hall of Shame

On occasion I use this blog to point out the shockingly bad customer service of various companies I've had the displeasure to do business with.

Today's entry has to do with Borders.

It always surprises me, although it probably shouldn't, how so many of the companies that make this list are second or third banana to some major competitor. One would expect, as the slogan goes, for number two (or three) to "try harder," to attempt to make up in service for what they cannot match in price, location, or convenience. Alas, no.

Through taking some online polls, I got a reward of $15 in "Borders Bucks" added to my Borders Rewards card. I waited until I received my e-mail confirmation and headed to the store--about a twenty minute drive.

After perusing the shelves, I took my items to the cashier, who swiped my rewards card and told me that I did not have any Borders Bucks on it. I told her about the reward, and she said that this had been a problem--if I had a print out of the e-mail she could "give it to me." (Hmmm, "give it" like a gift, see.) Of course there was no printer or e-mail access there, so I went home and printed the e-mail.

The next day, my friend and I were going to the movie, so we stopped at Borders to pick up a book for my wife. I got it, took it to the cashier, who again told me that despite my e-mail confirmation, my card had no buck on it. I explained that I had been in there yesterday, had been told to bring a copy of the e-mail, and presented it. She then informed me that the e-mail was not acceptable because too many people printed them off and tried to use them to double dip. Why had I been told to bring it, then? (Perhaps to get me back in the store in hopes that, when I had book at cashier I'd just say, "Oh well," and pay cash?)

She said I had to call Borders "customer service" number. I used my cell phone, and well, you know that score. Some call center in India with a voice activated menu that told me call volumes were high, my call was important, but it could be a thirty minute wait to talk to a representative. Couldn't miss the movie, so for the second day in a row, I left without my item. (My wife wanted the book, so I actually went down the street to Barnes & Noble to buy it.)

Anyhow, I finally called the customer service center and spoke to someone. They took my card number and said, yes, my account had $15 on it. Why wasn't it showing up at the store? Well, I had put the money in around the 20th of the month. Borders Bucks expire at the end of each month. (That this is so is, in and of itself, a horrible customer service thing, but let that pass...). Since many people did not know they expire, Borders decided to wait until the first of the next calendar month for my reward to be available. That way, the representative explained, I had a whole 30 days to spend my bucks before they expired unbeknownst to me and there would be fewer people who showed up at the store only to find out that their bucks had expired. Wasn't that nice of them?

Well, no.

For one, I can't imagine the majority of the people don't go to the store (or the web site) soon after they get their bucks. For another, this wouldn't be an issue except for the stuff expiring to begin with. But the real issue is, why not just TELL the customer when the reward is issued? My e-mail specifically said the reward could be redeemed for 30 days after the date of issuance. Silly me, I thought that meant the next 30 days, not some random 30 days after the issuance. Gee, what we meant is that we pick 30 random days without telling you in the year 2015 and they'll be good then. Those are, after all, 30 different days AFTER the date of issuance.

Again, could it be that their hope is to get people in the store who will then buy something because they are there and come back later to use the bucks? I sure think so. Sad thing is, they achieved the exact opposite--due to lousy customer service, my resolve is to never shop at Borders again unless I have to. It's not worth the headache, and why reward a company for treating its customers so shabbily?