Friday, August 19, 2011

DirecTV treats new customers much better than than they do their long-time loyal ones

If you watch television, by now you've seen the DirecTV ads featuring Deion Sanders that say you can get their NFL Sunday Ticket free if you sign up for their satellite television service.  I've been a DirecTV customer for over nine years, and estimate I've paid them over $5,500 in that time.  Do I get the NFL Sunday Ticket for free?  Nope.  Only someone who hasn't paid them anything yet.  That new customer also gets a much lower rate than I do. 

When I signed up for DirecTV in 2002, I was paying about $40 per month.  Over time that's increased to $60 per month for the same basic level of service.  New subscribers not only get the above-mentioned freebie, but they get a rate that's lower than I was paying nine years ago!

I e-mailed DirecTV about this.  Here's their response:
"Thanks for taking the time to write us.

As one of our loyal customers, your satisfaction is one of our primary concerns.

I completely understand your request to get the best programming offer for NFL SUNDAY TICKET. I appreciate being given the chance to respond to your concern and would be glad to provide you with the information that you need to continue receiving the best television experience from DIRECTV.

Please understand that the present free offer for NFL SUNDAY TICKET is only for qualifying new customers.

Though we are unable to give you this subscription for free, I've confirmed that you qualified for regular season price which is a great value at five payments of $66.99.

We also offer existing customers discounts and programming throughout the year, but will need to signup for email alerts. By signing up for alerts, you can be notified via email for any specials the account might be eligible for. Just visit and make sure you do not miss out on any specials that we are offering.

In addition, I have forwarded your request to DIRECTV management.While DIRECTV Management can not follow up with each customer individually, rest assured every suggestion and inquiry from our most important customers is reviewed to determine what changes should be considered.

NFL SUNDAY TICKET is now available at the regular season price of $334.95 (billed in five payments of $66.99). The NFL SUNDAY TICKET is an amazing service at a great value. Customers not only see the best plays, last second drives and season defining moments but they can get up to 14 games each week from outside their local area. The NFL SUNDAY TICKET has some innovative features that provide great additional value. This includes HD Games, Red Zone Channel, Game Mix channel and a Short Cuts channel. This gives the biggest selection of NFL games anywhere."

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Calling the Cable Company

I've frequently advocated for the senior executives and boards of directors to be required to use their companies' websites and toll-free numbers.

From: The Doghouse Diaries:

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Why you can't get good customer service at Office Depot

Many big box stores are known for delivering poor customer service.  In fact, service is the key way that small businesses can compete with the big boxes.  Last week I learned one reason that customer service in Office Depot is so bad.  In short, it's their hiring process.

The local Office Depot advertises almost every other month for departmental managers.  Either they're rapidly promoting people up the chain, or they've got astronomical turnover.  The same is true for several other large chains in the area.  Family Dollar is always looking for an assistant manager (more on that later).  Because I'm underemployed during the summer months, I applied for the Office Depot position.  I got a phone call inviting me to come in and take a computer-based personality test.  It had over a hundred questions, most of which were statements to which I had to indicate if I agreed or disagreed with them.  Many questions were rephrased and repeated often, either because they're deemed important or to gauge consistency in answers. 

There were several questions that left me rather puzzled.  I answered them honestly, because I'm just the most honest person you'll ever meet, and because I wasn't interested in "gaming the system."  Either they're going to hire me for being me or they're not.  One strange statement was "I like to take naps in the afternoon."  Hell yes, I like to take naps in the afternoon.  Not at work, of course, but the statement didn't differentiate between workdays and weekends.  So what does it mean that I clicked "agree" to this statement?  That I'm lazy?  Or that I'm honest?

Another question said something like "I've done something in my life of which I'm ashamed."  Again, I clicked "agree."  I can't think of a specific instance, however I'm pretty sure that sometime (or several times) in the last fifty years I've done something of which I'm ashamed.  Hasn't everyone?  Again, what does it mean that I answered the question the way I did?  That I'm honest or that I'm ashamed of my behavior?

Yet another statement was "I've broken some traffic laws."  I'm pretty sure I was speeding (at least a little) on my way to the store to take the test.  I probably didn't use my turn signal every time I was supposed to.  In fact, I would bet there's hardly a day that I don't commit a minor infraction of one sort or another.  Given that most people don't even know most traffic laws, it's safe to say that there's hardly a driver on the road who doesn't break traffic laws.  So, what does it mean if you click "agree" to this statement?  More importantly, what does it mean if you click "disagree?"  That you're a liar?

I suspect Office Depot uses this test because their store managers don't know how to screen applicants or conduct job interviews.  The fact that they've got such high turnover and that customers receive poor service in their stores underscores this fact.  They probably hired an expensive consultant to create this test.  The consultant probably has no knowledge of psychology other than a book or two he might have read.  He then sold them this test and convinced them it would help the hiring process.

As bad as the test was, it still was better than the one offered by Family Dollar.  They sent me a link to a similar test, but instead of agreeing or disagreeing to one statement at a time, their test presented you with pairs of statements, and you were required to choose the one you agreed with.  Uh, what if I don't agree with either?  Or what if I agree with both?  What if you were presented with these two statements: 1. I'm a bank robber.  2. I'm a child molester.  Which one would you choose?  Now, those weren't actual questions from the exam (or maybe they were; I quit the exam before finishing it).  They're the type of things with which I was presented.  Two statements that were equally negative in my mind.  I e-mailed their HR department and told them that I was positive if they asked their CEO to take this exam, he would tell them to stop using it.

In every job I've had, customer service is one of my top priorities.  I treat others as I would like to be treated.  And I define "customer" as each and every person with whom I deal.  It doesn't have to be a customer of my business, it could be a coworker.  I treated the guy in the mail room with the same respect I showed the CEO (he appreciated it, she did not).  If Office Depot had hired me, they would have seen an enormous jump in customer satisfaction at that store.  Just as with each and every other business in which I've worked, I would have made sure that every customer who walked through the door was taken care of and left pleased with their purchase.  Oh well, it's their loss (and yours, if you're an Office Depot customer).

Friday, May 20, 2011

Stop Shrinking My Food - the continuing saga

I've written about this before.  But, since new stories keep emerging, I'll keep writing.  

Food companies are shrinking packages as a way of increasing prices without actually increasing prices.  They say they're holding the line on price increases, but since you're getting less, the price per ounce is going up - often by quite a bit.

Among the problems with this are the increase in packaging per same amount of food, increasing the cost of freight, etc.  Personally, I think each food item has an ideal size, and that's what it should remain at.  What happens after they can't shrink anymore?  "New larger size!" they're sure to boast.  What they'll omit is that it's the same size they sold you five or ten years ago, but now the price is two or three times as much.

From The Consumerist:

Myron Reducto is at it again, turning his Grocery Shrink Ray Gun on Odwalla juice, zapping it down to 12 oz from 15. The price is the same. Like other food packagers, Odwalla is combining the shrinkage with a packaging redesign that it hopes will get more press. In this case, they are simultaneously rolling out bottles that are made from 100% plant based HDPE plastic.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Labels are there for a reason

Years ago, I read on the back page of Consumer Reports about the difference between regular and extra-strength decongestants.  One came in a yellow package, while the other came in green and was more expensive.  But both had the same amount of active ingredients.  Consumer Reports wrote a headline that read, "Yellow is for Sneezy.  Green is for Dopey."  

Labels have a purpose, and manufacturers who try to deceive their customers with misleading - or outright false - statements should be held accountable.

From The Consumerist:

Lawsuit: Campbell's "Regular" And "25% Less Sodium" Tomato Soup Both Contain 480mg Of Sodium

Here's a trick question: How much sodium does Campbell's "25% less sodium" tomato soup contain compared to regular Campbell's tomato soup? Would you believe that both contain 480 mg? And that the first one costs more? Four NJ housewives couldn't, and a federal judge has ruled that their lawsuit against Campbell's over what they call misleading labels can proceed.
Campbell's reply is that the "25% less sodium" claim is as compared to the average of "all varieties" of condensed soup, not tomato. "Campbell has complete confidence in the accuracy of our labels and our marketing communications and that they meet regulatory and other legal requirements," the company told Reuters.
regularvsreduced.jpgBelow the big yellow "25%" and big white "LESS SODIUM" on the front of the can in smaller yellow text it says "than regular condensed soup."
They may be right about meeting statutory requirements, but that doesn't mean a reasonable consumer can't still be mislead by the label on the front of the can. The lawsuit seeks class action status.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Nobody says you have to change prices every week!

My local City Market (Kroger) is the only supermarket in town.  Having a monopoly, they don't really try.

Not only are their prices 50% higher than the very same items at Target (about twelve miles away), but they seem overly challenged by the most basic tasks, such as stocking shelves, rotating stock, ordering condiments (they usually wait until they've completely run out before thinking about ordering more), and training of employees.  There's a handful of older employees who have lots of seniority and great benefits, the new ones rarely last long.

Today, however, I want to talk about their sale prices.  Except for those things I buy every week, I usually wait until something like rice, olive oil, tea, coffee, or paper goods go on sale before buying them.  Even among the meat and produce I buy every week, I'll allow sales to influence my buying decisions.

So it's very frustrating when I see a sale price, load up the cart, and then don't get the posted price at checkout.  There are two main reasons for this.  Either the item's sale price wasn't entered in their computers properly, or the sale ended, but nobody bothered to take down the sign.  It's the latter that really bothers me.  Because I either have to tell the cashier (or U-scan supervisor) to correct the price, or I need to go wait in line at customer service after my purchase to get a refund.  Either way takes up time.  You would think that all they need to do is walk back to the place the item was, look at the sign, and return.  Yet for some reason, they walk away and you wait so long, you wonder if they're ever coming back.

It is Kroger's policy that if you don't get the posted price, you get the first item free, and the rest at the posted price.  That's if the employee knows the policy.  I had one young lady tell me that the sale expired and refused to do anything about it.  I insisted she contact her supervisor, who told her to give me the difference between the posted price and that which I paid, and I had to e-mail Kroger customer service to get the rest of my refund.

Now you might take the side of the store, and say "but they change prices on thousands of items every week, how can you expect them to avoid mistakes?"  My answer is that nobody asked them to change prices every week.  It's their decision.  And if that's what they want to do, they ought to do it right.  Also, given that nearly every week (and sometimes two or three times a week), I buy something and do not get the sale price, how many items are they goofing up?  My purchased items reflect a small percentage of the items they carry.  If I encounter problems every week, that means that hundreds, if not thousands of items are incorrectly priced at any given time.

Now lately I've been making my fruit purchases based on sales.  Why pay $2/pound for apples when you can get them for $1/pound?  But when the sale is over, they rarely take down the sign.  Yesterday I saw that the apples I bought last week still had the sale price, even though the "end date" was three days earlier.  I pulled the sign out of the holder and handed to an employee, saying "this sale is over."  Later, when I was checking out, she told me the sale was still effective.  I didn't want to argue with her about proper labeling of signs, but then she went further and told me not to remove the signs but to point them out.  I asked her if it was inconvenient for her to have to replace them, and asked her if she thought it was equally inconvenient for me to have to wait in line at customer service every week because they can't keep their signs current.

Interestingly enough, this morning they had a sale sign next to their fish sandwiches.  They make a good breakfast, so I grabbed a couple and didn't get the sale price at checkout.  The same employee who made a fuss the day before was working the U-scan, so it was with great pleasure (and some annoyance) that I told her I wasn't getting the posted price.  I had to wait several minutes for her to walk back to the deli, then come back up front, then push a bunch of buttons, but I finally got the right price.  I thanked her and she said nothing.  I hope she appreciated that my point was proven.

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Consumerist announces the brackets for Worst Company in America

From The Consumerist:

For the sixth year in a row, we asked Consumerist readers to send us their nominations for our Worst Company In America tournament. And this year's response was the greatest by far.
The 32 companies listed in the above bracket are the result of thousands of nominations. Once again, the two most represented fields are telecom — including reigning champ Comcast — and banking/credit, each taking up six slots.
One area that saw a cut in the number of nominated companies is airlines, which dropped from four nominees in 2010 to only two this year. This might come as a surprise to some given the number of negative headlines about air travel in the last year. We chalk the decrease up to three factors: 1) That the increase in fees was attributed to the airline industry in general rather than any specific carrier; 2) That voters didn't blame the airlines for the TSA's procedures; 3) Two of last year's nominees — United and Continental — are now one flying behemoth.
Among the businesses new to this year's tournament is BP, whose public image was tainted by its troubles in the Gulf of Mexico. And then there's newcomer Johnson & Johnson, whose McNeill division must have set some kind of record for the sheer number and variety of brands recalled from store shelves in a single year.
Starting tomorrow, we'll be posting two matchups each day until we get down to 16 companies, and then 8, 4, 2 and ultimately the company that earns the right to hoist the golden poo.
Best of luck to everyone and may the worst company win!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

It's time we stop redundant and superfluous packaging

The next time you're in the supermarket, convenience store, or co-op food store, take a closer look at the packaging.  Things like corn chips, pretzels, and potato chips come in bags, whereas crackers, cookies, and most cereals come in bags that are in boxes.  Why the redundant packaging for nearly similar items?

The increased cost is just one issue.  A bigger problem is the energy and resources needed both to produce and transport the products, as well as the demands superfluous packaging puts on landfills.  All that's really being done here is creating more waste.

This has been a pet peeve of mine for years, but may have reached a level of inanity yesterday, when I read that Del Monte wants to sell individual bananas wrapped in their own plastic bags.  

If bottled water is a ridiculous product (and more people are realizing that it is), then unnecessary packaging of products is equally silly.  An increasing number of municipalities are implementing bottled water bans, encouraging citizens to drink tap water (which is essentially what most bottled water is anyway), filtering their water, or using reusable water bottles to meet their hydrating needs.  Packaging needs to be on their agenda as well, since the excess cardboard boxes and plastic wraps add no value but increase the cost of cities to transport and dispose of trash.

The twenty-first century needs to be the era when humans learned to live sustainably.  If future generations are going to enjoy the same standard of living we do, then we need to adopt practices that don't place an unsustainable burden on the Earth and its scarce resources.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

You can have any flavor you want - as long at it's grape

I drink a small glass of orange juice each morning while making my coffee.  Other than that, it's rare that I buy fruit juice.  I tend to think of it as "nature's soda pop," and I doubt my body needs the extra sugar.

This morning, however, was one of those times that I was in the mood to buy some juice to keep at work.  Having read about the health benefits of pomegranates and cranberries, I liked the idea of a blend of those two.  Unfortunately, while many labels prominently featured those two fruits, a closer look at the ingredients revealed a disturbing trend in the juice aisle - you can't get what you want.

If you want pure apple or grape juice, you're in luck.  There's plenty of that.  Everything else, however is either a "juice cocktail," which may contain some concentrated form of the fruit you seek, but the first two ingredients will be water and sugar, or it's 100% juice - but mostly grape or apple, and only a little of the fruit you want.

The next time you're in the supermarket, pay a quick trip to the juice aisle (yes, there's a whole aisle devoted to juice), and look at the choices.  In addition to pomegranates and cranberries, there's raspberries, blueberries, grapefruit, pear, apple, and of course grape.  But look more closely.  If the bottle doesn't say it's "100% juice," it's not.  It's going to be a "juice drink" or "juice cocktail," and the primary ingredients are water and sugar (if you're lucky, that is, and they're not using high-fructose corn syrup).  If the label does boast that it's "pure juice" or "100% juice," turn the bottle around and see what type.  I'll bet that the first two ingredients listed are not the one or two featured on the front of the bottle.  The fruit in the big colorful pictures?  They're in there, but in much smaller quantities than the manufacturer would have you believe.

Now, I know there are a few companies out there making "designer juices" or the pure products that I would like to consume.  But they charge an arm and a leg for it.  We complain about paying $3 per gallon for gasoline.  How about $5 per quart for pure juice?  Who are you kidding?  I like my body, but before I spend that much on juice, there had better be gold flakes in it.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Philadelphia homeowner 'forecloses' on Wells Fargo


It's not clear how this story will turn out, but right now Patrick Rodgers is living a pay-back fantasy probably shared by millions of struggling U.S. homeowners.
Frustrated by a dispute with Wells Fargo Home Mortgage and by his inability to get answers to questions, the West Philadelphia homeowner took the mortgage company to court last fall.
When Wells Fargo still didn't respond, Rodgers got a $1,000 default judgment against it for failing to answer his formal questions, as required by a federal law called the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act.
And when the mortgage company didn't pay - does something sound familiar? - Rodgers turned to Philadelphia's sheriff.
The result: At least for the moment, the contents of Wells Fargo Home Mortgage, 1341 N. Delaware Ave., are scheduled for sheriff's sale on March 4 to satisfy the judgment and pay about $200 for court and sheriff's costs.
Rodgers has even written his own headline: "Philadelphia homeowner 'forecloses' on Wells Fargo."
Has he really? Not quite. But Rodgers, who lives in the city's Wynnefield Heights section, won at least a momentary upper hand in a fight with Wells Fargo that began nearly two years ago.
Before you leap to conclusions, let's get a few things straight.
Rodgers isn't unemployed, or a deadbeat. He's a music promoter who owns Dancing Ferret Concerts - if industrial, electronic, or goth is your sound, maybe you've been to one of his gigs. He says he's paid all he owes under the terms of his seven-year-old mortgage.
And there's no reason to think that Rodgers' house is "underwater" - worth less than he owes, in banker jargon that has sadly entered Americans' everyday lexicon.
Actually, it was the value of Rodgers' home that apparently sparked the dispute - not what he paid, or what it would fetch if he wanted to move, but what it would cost to fully restore the house if, say, it was struck by a meteorite and burned to the ground.
Rodgers owns a three-story, six-bedroom Tudor on a beautiful street not far from City Avenue. He paid about $180,000 for it in 2002, and for years handled his mortgage without dispute.
But in mid-2009, his insurer delivered troubling news: His homeowners premium would more than double, because Wells Fargo was insisting that he insure the home's full replacement value - about $1 million worth of coverage, the insurer told him.
Rodgers loves his home, neighborhood, and adopted city - he moved here about 17 years ago, after growing up as a child of American parents in the Bahamas.
But he knew that he paid a fraction of what his home would command elsewhere, such as across City Avenue in Bala Cynwyd. That's one advantage of living, as he says, "a short clip away from the wrong side of the tracks."
In such situations, most lenders require a homeowner to insure for a total approximating a home's market value - a good thing for large swaths of Philadelphia, where a home's market value may have little relation to what it would cost to rebuild stone by stone or feature by feature.
Wells Fargo takes a different tack.
"Generally, we require hazard insurance that is equal to full replacement value of the property and structure," Wells Fargo spokesman Jason Menke told me.
Menke insists that the requirement "is primarily there to provide benefit to the customer." Without full-replacement coverage, he says, a total loss "would have a significant impact on a homeowner's ability to rebuild or replace the property."
Some consumer advocates beg to differ, noting that a homeowner might be willing to move elsewhere rather than to reconstruct a home to century-old standards.
"It's a completely unreasonable demand," says Irv Ackelsberg, a mortgage expert at the Philadelphia law firm Langer, Grogan & Diver. "Their interest is in protecting their mortgage, not ensuring that the house is rebuilt."
Rodgers' next step put him at some risk, he concedes now. He refused to renew the higher-cost policy. Instead, Wells Fargo bought him so-called forced-placement insurance - a policy that typically costs much more than ordinary coverage and only protects the mortgage-holder's interests.
But he fought back with his suit under the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA). Last month, Wells Fargo sent him more than $1,000, and Menke says it intended to fully satisfy the judgment. "We had considered this matter closed," he says.
What about Rodgers' four-page letter demanding answers about how much Wells is trying to charge him - charges that have added $500 a month to his statement?
Menke says Wells Fargo sent a written response "within the last month." As of Monday, Rodgers hadn't seen it.
But he did have his sheriff's levy. Even if it's just a trophy, it may be enough to make him a national hero.

The Consumerist's 2011 Valentine's Day Garden Of Discontent

From one of my favorite sources, The Consumerist:

On Valentine's Day, we are expected to show loved ones how much they mean to us by giving them dead plants. For extra style points, we pay strangers to bring these dead plants to the recipient for us. However, florists are unfathomably busy on Valentine's Day. So busy that we almost feel bad criticizing when things go wrong. Almost.
The Consumerist's annual Valentine's Day Garden of Discontent is a collection of flower or gift deliveries that aren't what the recipient had in mind—and sometimes aren't even close.

David picked out an adorable and incredibly thoughtful monkey-themed gift package from 1800Flowers for his wife, who loves Curious George. The local florist who put together the order made a very pretty flower arrangement that has absolutely nothing to do with the package that David ordered. He writes:
“My wife likes all things related to Curious George. So for Valentine's Day, I ordered her the "Crazy for You" package from 1800Flowers. I've attached an image of the package since it's no longer listed on their website. It comes with a plush monkey holding chocolates and a red rose, two red heart helium balloons, two helium balloons with "Crazy for You!" written on them, and a giant mylar balloon shaped like a monkey. I really wanted my wife to feel special, and I was picturing her walking through her office with all the balloons as she brought the gift back to her desk.
Well, she called me at 4:30 on Valentine's Day to thank me for sending her flowers. She said they were lovely - some tulips, a daisy, and some roses. I paused and asked her what she got. She told me she received a small red vase with about 7-8 flowers in it. That's it. No monkeys, no balloons, no candy. I called 1800Flowers to ask what happened. They told me that the florist asked if he could "substitute an equivalent product" to ensure delivery. Equivalent? See the attached photo of what I actually got, and tell me if that seems to be equivalent to you.
What I Ordered.jpgWhat I Got.jpg
Upon viewing the photos, a friend of mine commented, "It's lovely ... but there is a distinct lack of monkey."
To their credit, they didn't even argue. I got a full refund plus a $20 credit on my next order.
Yeah ... somehow I don't think I'll be using that credit any time soon.”
Brian was rather disappointed in his Proflowers order The red tulips in the arrangement arrived looking a little limp.
"I paid almost $40 to ship $39 worth of flowers w/ guaranteed valentine's day delivery," he wrote. "Glad they showed up looking like this!"
ProFlowers has promised replacement flowers for tomorrow that Brian hopes will be a little perkier.
R. paid FTD $80 for a big, beautiful arrangement for his mother.

“What would you do in this situation? I went onto to order flowers for my mother for Valentine's Day. I was supposed to get the flowers in Photo 1, but the bouquet arrived and she got the flowers in photo 2. I'm not the "asking for a refund" kind of guy, but I think this is a little ridiculous, right?
Oh, by the way, the flowers were $70.”
That's not even close. On behalf of moms everywhere, please contact FTD and ask for either a refund or a replacement flower arrangement that's as nice as what you actually paid for.

Friday, February 4, 2011

The original reason the Aspen Skiing Company will never see another penny of revenue from me

When I moved to Colorado in 2001, I was advised to purchase a "Classic Pass" from the Aspen Skiing Company.  At that time, their four-day pass cost $99.  This season, they offer the Classic Pass only in a five-day version for a price of $259.

If that seems like a big price increase, it is.  The average per-day rate jumped from $24.75 to $51.80 - and increase of 109%

During that same time period, the Consumer Price Index (CPI), or inflation rate, increased by 23%.

Why is the Aspen Skiing Company raising prices at nearly five times the rate of inflation?

When they jack up prices so high that the choice is between a day of skiing and buying a week's worth of groceries, I'm opting for the groceries. 

Yet another reason the Aspen Skiing Company will never see another penny of revenue from me

From The Aspen Daily News

Ousted ski instructor banned 
from all SkiCo properties

Lee Mulcahy, a former Aspen Skiing Co. instructor who was fired on Monday, also has been banned from the company’s four ski areas and its privately-owned properties.

SkiCo spokesman Jeff Hanle confirmed Wednesday that Mulcahy has been banned from the ski areas and all company-owned property since Dec. 30, when he distributed fliers to guests in the SkiCo-owned Little Nell and in the Silver Queen Gondola Plaza criticizing the ski school’s pay policies.

Mulcahy slid the fliers under hotel room doors and distributed them in the Little Nell’s dining room during one of the busiest days of the season. The fliers criticized SkiCo’s owners, the Crown of family of Chicago, for allegedly not paying a living wage to beginning instructors while the company reaps profits from expensive lessons.

The move was the straw that broke the camel’s back for SkiCo officials, who say they’ve had performance issues and behavioral problems with Mulcahy since 2006. As a result, he was terminated.

“Lee is currently banned from all Aspen Skiing Co. mountains and property, until we make a decision otherwise, for his inappropriate behavior and harassing our guests,” Hanle said, adding the ban is indefinite — “until he proves that he is not going to harass our guests or employees.”

Hanle added that Mulcahy hasn’t proven that he can hold civil discourse when it comes to his issues with SkiCo.

Mulcahy was suspended with pay for a week and then three weeks without pay for passing out the pamphlets on company property, which also advertised his group “People 4 a Living Wage,” which is in favor of unionizing ski school and other mountain employees. Currently, only the ski patrol is unionized among SkiCo divisions.

Mulcahy, an instructor since 1996, said Wednesday he found the ban on him “fascinating.”

The ban doesn’t allow him to buy a lift ticket, hike up the mountains, eat in any of the restaurants or step foot on anything owned by the SkiCo; all the base areas of the four mountains are private property.

If he does enter SkiCo property, Mulcahy will be arrested for trespassing, Hanle said.

Hanle said because the SkiCo leases land with the U.S. Forest Service, the public land is under SkiCo’s purview. He added that people have been banned from SkiCo property in the past.

Mulcahy last year ramped up his effort pressuring SkiCo to increase the starting wage of $69 a day for beginning instructors, since the company charges $625 for a full private lesson, even if taught by a rookie.

In recent weeks, his campaign has become a bitter and public dispute between him and his bosses, as well as the community at large, through the opinion pages of local newspapers.

Mulcahy this past fall filed two charges with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in Denver, claiming the company violated federal labor law.

One charge claims that SkiCo “unlawfully” restructured its ski school in 1993. In the second charge, Mulcahy says he was taken off the “Diamond Pro” team “in retaliation” for his discussions about unionizing.

The complaints are currently under investigation by the NLRB.

SkiCo maintains it has acted within the law.

Mulcahy, who has hired an attorney, said his performance and past behavior as an employee is not the issue, and that he is being unfairly targeted for speaking out. He added that for many years, he was the top revenue producing instructor at SkiCo.

“I don’t have anything to lose,” he said. “Everything I did, I stand behind it.”

Here are just two of the many letters-to-the-editor supporting Mr. Mulcahy:

(This letter was originally addressed to Auden Schendler, vice president of sustainability for Aspen Skiing Co.)

I was gonna wait until we could have lunch to visit but...

I will choose my words carefully because of our long friendship and our positions in the Valley community.

Lee  Mulcahy has been my ski instructor for about 10 years. We would go out three or four times a year except this year because of my back surgery. He is singularly responsible for giving me the confidence to go into the double black areas and back country that before I found totally intimidating. I would never have attempted this without his expertise and the confidence, which he instilled in me. I would bet that I was not the only one he affected this way.

He was in no way anything other than a totally professional instructor. I never heard him say anything derogatory about SkiCo. He always checked on anyone who had fallen, knew everyone on the mountain and was extremely polite to any and all we encountered. I think he has a doctorate in philosophy from the University of Texas and we talked a good bit about the struggle his Dad had with cancer and our respective families, especially my wife and daughter. I find it very disappointing that SkiCo could find no other way to resolve this situation but by his termination. In my estimation this does not speak well of SkiCo — which leads me to the second bone I have to pick with SkiCo.

That would be the insistence of having outside live music events at Elk Camp until midnight or after in the summer? This was despite a request from Department of Wildlife (DOW) to limit them to 10 p.m.

After I read about this in the paper I spoke with several DOW people and others about the health of the elk herd nearby the cow/calf ratios, the other wildlife etc. You and I even exchanged e-mails about this. I was especially disturbed when one person who I have a great deal of respect for, told me “SkiCo doesn’t give a damn about wildlife.” Somehow it seems to me that SkiCo may be getting a little out of touch with the community that it serves, and that also serves it. A strain in the symbiotic relationship if you will. Say it ain’t so Mr. Kaplan. 

Auden, please do not feel obligated to respond to my concerns but I would appreciate you forwarding this to the powers that be so they can hear from a down valley local who heretofore mostly skied Snowmass and whose teenage daughter was at the X-Games for three days. I still look forward to that lunch at Woody Creek we have been planning. SkiCo’s turn to buy.

Frosty Merriott


SkiCo’s response to a diamond level instructor trying to help his less experienced co-workers receive a higher percentage of the lesson fee is reprehensible. Paying employees approximately 10 percent of the lesson fee is absurd and I, as a patron of the mountains operated by SkiCo, am outraged. SkiCo receives not only lift ticket revenue but also 90 percent of the lesson fee? SkiCo may not like instructors trying to support each other, but isn’t that exactly the type of employee you would want helping you — both on the mountain and off?

Dale Keats Lipnick
Washington, D.C

Thursday, January 20, 2011

One man's experience becomes an internet embarrassment

From Seeing The Light

Why No One Should Go to Brakes Plus in Colorado Springs

This is an open letter to the president/CEO of Brakes Plus over a recent episode I had at their store on 740 Abbot Lane in Colorado Springs.
I am recommending that if you need your brakes fixed, go somewhere else.

Larry Pisciotta
Brakes Plus
6911 South Yosemite Street
Centennial, CO 80112
Dear Mr. Pisciotta,
I am writing in regards to some really poor and disrespectful treatment from your Colorado Springs store at 740 Abbot Lane.
1. I was lied to mulitples time about different things
2. My intelligence was insulted and I was spoken down to
3. This store lied to and tried to manipulate my girlfriend
4. It was insinuated that I was not welcome to wait
First, I have strong knowledge and experience as a mechanic. I’ve rebuilt cars since I was a kid helping my dad in the garage fixing a 67 Mustang front end. Then some more experience rebuilding Chevy, Volkswagen, and Jeep engines; transmissions; transfer cases; drive shafts; re-gearing axels; rebuilding complete brake systems; rebuilding carbs; and repairing & rebuilding suspension systems, including lifting Jeeps for extreme off road use. I have also taken classes in auto mechanics, engine rebuilding, electrical repair.
Before my current career, I was in the U.S. Navy as an electrician’s mate specializing in motors and control, electronics, air conditioning systems, ship’s electrical generation, and power distribution.
Second, I am a college graduate with minors in mathematics and physics. Courses I studied for fun while earning a BA in photojournalism. My IQ is in the 140s.
My residence is in Seattle, Wash. I am here in Colorado Springs visiting my girlfriend. As I live in Seattle, flying here with all my tools would be silly.
While driving her 2002 Mercury Sable around Colorado Springs, it developed a groaning noise in the left rear. I knew the brake shoes were rubbing so I went to the parts store to get the necessary parts, including a new wheel cylinder, drum, springs, adjuster, and shoes. Pretty much a complete brake rebuild. The total cost from NAPA was $110 for everything for both rear wheels.
As all my real tools were in Seattle, I borrowed what we could find at her house and her father’s home. We also planned on going to the store if needed to get any extra tools.
When I started to work on her brakes, I was unable to get the drum off the shoes. So we decided to take the car in to Brakes Plus which had the $99 deal for a complete rebuild.
We took her car in to the Brakes Plus at 740 Abbot Lane in Colorado Springs. I called the store and talked with Dale about the issue. I knew the brakes needed changing due to the noise. He said bring the car in so they can look at it.
We took the car in and dropped it off. Dale made a print out for me to read and sign. I noticed there was no indication of the problem I was experiencing that I discussed with him. I asked him why and he replied rather rudely “I’ll inspect the brakes, don’t worry about it.”
He seemed quite upset that I brought this to his attention and even more so when I took a moment and wrote the problem down on the sheet. He seemed unnerved. After all, how are you supposed to diagnose the problem if you don’t listen to your customers, and how is the tech supposed to diagnose the problem if there are no notes?
I stressed I wanted the $99 special as I knew the grinding would indicate that the rotors would need turning, or replacing. I understand the extra cost if the rotors needed replacing. Dale had my phone number as the primary contact, and my girlfriends the second.
Leaving the keys with him, I asked about how long until I would know what is wrong. He said one hour. So I left with my girlfriend to go have a cup of coffee. We felt rather uneasy about leaving the car because Dale kept asking if I was going to stay at the shop.
In less than half an hour, my girlfriend’s phone rang and it was Dale from Brakes Plus. He quoted to my girlfriend the price of $1300. Yes, Thirteen Hundred dollars. He explained to her that the front end needed all new tie rods and needed to be aligned. Dale said to her “All the tie rods are bad which will cause the tires to grip the road and separate which will cause an inside rubbing and you just don’t want that.” I’m sorry, that’s biggest load of crap I’ve heard in years. And for having such a bad front end, it drives pretty damned straight and smooth at 75 mph on the interstate. Maybe everyone should have bad tie rods.
Dale lied about calling me first. I received no such phone call. My phone was sitting next to me on the table as we drank our coffee. “I hope it’s OK I talk to you as I can’t contact Paul.”
The sheet Dale gave me had my phone number correctly printed on it. So they had it.

He also stated that the front brakes had a small amount of pad left and needed to be changed. Also “that all 4 rotors needed to be replaced because they had deep grooves and sure you noticed that when driving the car.” My girlfriend stressed the car had been parked for over a year and a half. Dale responded with “They need to be replaced anyways.”
Also, the car does NOT have disk brakes all around. It has disk brakes in the front, and drums in the rear. It is a 2002 Mercury Sable.
He also said the master cylinder was bad which was causing all 4 brakes to leak fluid. Excuse me, but if the master cylinder is bad, the peddle would not hold it’s position (which it was doing) when sitting at a red light. It would slowly go to the floor as you keep applying pressure due to the worn out rings. Also, the brakes will feel a bit spongy, almost like there is a bit of air in the system.
All this time she was floored and relaying the information to me. She told Dale I would call back.
I called the store back and talked to the supposed mechanic that worked on it. He straight lied to me on several occasions.
First, I told him who I was. Second, he never mentioned anything about the front end, brakes or steering components. He quoted me $495 for just the rear brakes, but brought it down to $308. What happened to your $99 special?
I asked how bad the brakes were and he said “the shoes are metal to metal and the wheel cylinders are leaking.” I told him I had taken the rear tire off and attempted to remove the drum. When I had looked at the shoes, they had a good 1/4″ brake material on them and that there was no indication of leaking fluid. He stuttered and changed the story.
I was, and still am, furious he lied about even inspecting the brakes. There is no way he could have taken the drum off.
I told him to take it off the rack and that I don’t want them touching it.
When I went to get the car, Dale made a print out of the repairs and an estimate. One glaring mistake: I was quoted for repairing the “rear brake calipers and rotors.” The car had rear drums, shoes, and wheel cylinders.
We then took it over to a more honest brake shop. When I relayed what happened, he just shook his head and says he gets a lot of customers that say the same thing.
The mechanic took the car, lifted it on the rack, took all 4 tires off and then spent 20 minutes just trying to remove the left rear drum. As I watched, I just said to myself that there was no way the mechanic at Brakes Plus took it off to inspect it. And I know of no reputable mechanic that will guess at what is wrong without thoroughly investigating the issue.
The mechanic took me into the garage and showed me the front brakes were fine and the pads had plenty of lining left, the steering linkages and tie rods were actually tight, and “well within tolerance,” and that the rear brakes do need changing and that the one rotor needed to be replaced. He also showed me how the return springs were a bit weak and recommended I change them. I agreed and left the vehicle for him to work on.
I am pissed that a company such as Brakes Plus will lie to its customers. I am flabbergasted to how blatantly I was lied to multiple times, how my intelligence was insulted in that I didn’t know automobile mechanics and brake systems. But I am especially pissed on how they lied to and attempted to swindle my girlfriend.
This matter will be brought to the attention of the Colorado State Attorney General’s Office, the Better Business Bureau, and the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection.
I have also written letters to the editors of several major newspapers, local daily newspapers, online blogs, online consumer sites, and posting this letter and any response I get onto personal websites.
I will not be disrespected by anyone in your company again.
Thank you
Paul Conrad

Monday, January 10, 2011

Qwest doesn't "get it"

Is there a worse company, when it comes to customer service, than Qwest?

I have dozens (yes, dozens) of negative personal experiences with this company, and could devote an entire web site to describing just how bad they are.  In every business at which I've worked, there have been Qwest horror stories.  As a residential customer, things are no better.

I'm going to tell just one today, however.  Last fall my neighbor requested a new line for his fax machine.  The Qwest technician connected his phone to my line.  I discovered this when I picked up the phone one evening and had a party line with my neighbor (who was making a long distance call on my line).  I called and e-mailed Qwest, asking them to correct the problem, and several days later they sent someone out who disconnected my phone line.

The next day, I called Qwest from work and told them how their technician's error only made the error of the other technician even worse.  They said it would be fixed that day, but it wasn't.  I called them again the next day, and said they really needed to correct the mistakes their employees kept making.  They told me someone would be there between 11am and 3pm.  That's quite a wide window, but I managed to get home for it, so I could talk to their repair guy and make sure he did it right. 

When nobody showed after four hours of waiting, I drove to the General Store to call them.  The person who answered the phone wasn't the least bit sympathetic, more than a little curt, and told me that the four hour window was "an estimate."  What?  Are you kidding me?  Telling me "he'll be there at 2 pm" is an estimate.  Giving me a four hour window during which I have to put my life on hold to wait for their nincompoop isn't an estimate! 

At 6:30, over seven hours after their four hour window began, two of their techs drove up and fixed the problem in about thirty seconds.  So, six days after one of their people attached my neighbor's phone to my line; five days after I reported the problem; and three days after they disconnected my phone, it was finally working again!

I e-mailed Qwest to complain about all the problems - problems they caused and made worse - and was told that "due to the high volume of service calls," not everything can be fixed right away.  Well, forgive me for pointing out the obvious, but if you didn't screw things up in the first place, and make them worse by sending incompetent technicians out to fix them, you wouldn't have such a high volume of service calls!