December 21, 2014

CT Watchdog: Customer Service

When I judge a company’s customer service, I look not only at the number and kinds of complaints, but at how the firms respond.

 All companies make mistakes, employees have bad days, and there can be communication problems.

 But once someone at the top is made aware of a problem, it needs to be resolved real soon to get an A from me.

 The following are two examples of companies that deserve praise for the way they have handled complaints:

 Mike Bennett of Windsor Locks wrote to me about a beef he had with Puritan Furniture of West Hartford.

 Bennett  paid $2,000 for what the saleswoman promised was a large, well-built reclining sofa with a matching loveseat two years ago. A month later, a clip that had held a spring failed. Puritan sent a repairman out and fixed it. Sixteen months later the stitching began to unravel on one of the footrests, and then the recliner mechanism wouldn’t work.

 “Unfortunately, the sofas have only a one-year warranty on labor. Puritan does not fix sofas, nor do they involve themselves in the process, instead they give you the phone number for someone that does,” Bennett wrote me in his complaint. “I called the repairman and I was told that it was going to cost us $40 just to have someone come look at it, we would then have to pay even more on top of that to have them fix it. I realize that this is not the repairman’s problem and that he surely deserves to be paid for his time, but we do not have hundreds of dollars to spend on fixing our new couch.”

 “The people at Puritan were completely unbending when it came to offering any help. They are your best friend when selling you the furniture, but boy are things different when there is a problem! You’re on your own then,” he wrote asking for my advice.

 I looked up Puritan on the Better Business Bureau (bbb.org) site and saw that the company, which has been in business for more than 70 years, had only a few complaints filed against it and had the highest possible rating.

 I suggested to Bennett that he write to the president of the company, Bruce Singer, and to give him a chance to make amends.

 “Well, as I expected, your advice was spot-on! I got a phone call from Mr. Singer and he was very pleasant with me. He apologized for my troubles and offered to replace the mechanisms on both sides of the couch, plus fix the stitching in the footrest, all at no charge,” Bennett wrote me.

 Town Fair Tire stores have an excellent reputation for customer service. My friend Denis Horgan recently had a relative visiting at his West Hartford home. The relative’s car had flat tire and Horgan, our travel blogger on CtWatchdog.com, took him to the West Hartford store. For $4.95, they fixed the flat; no charge for the two coffees Horgan had.

 But that is not the experience that Kevin and Melanie Logan of Colchester had at the Norwich store. The Logans, longtime customers, say they had a terrible encounter on July 30th when the two complained about wear on their tires.  They said they got into an argument with the staff and were treated rudely by an employee when they asked for a partial refund, which was denied.

 The couple wrote a letter to the company president:

 “You need to seriously consider sending in someone qualified to re-train your staff, because this behavior is unacceptable and we simply cannot be the only ones to have been abused by him or others in this location before. I would not be able to rest if I did not bring this to your attention as I not only felt like I was being verbally abused, but his physical demeanor was threatening as well. If I were there alone, without my husband, I would have been not only shocked, but also scared for my own well being. He was menacing, simple as that. He would not provide us with his last name… however he did wear a ring with skulls on it if that helps,” the couple wrote.

 No one responded so the couple asked me for my advice. I contacted Rich Allen, customer service coordinator in East Haven, who conceded that the letter did not reach the president. But he quickly reacted, apologized to the Logans for their experience, and offered them a refund much larger than is provided by the firm’s warranty.

 Frankly, I think the Logans are still so furious that they won’t be back to Town Fair, but I would recommend the company to anyone that asked.

You can reach The Watchdog at George@connecticutwatchdog.com and he will answer as many emails as he can. Please check out his site, www.ctwatchdog.com for comprehensive consumer, health, finance, media, internet, computer, travel and education tips.

CT Watchdog: How to Protect Yourself Against ID Theft

The call from Tyler was scary. He had been in a car accident in a rental car in Montreal and needed money to pay an attorney and fly home.

Dorothy Cheo, 81, of Niantic, was so upset on hearing her grandson was in trouble that she couldn’t think straight.

She quickly went to a local grocery store and wired $935 to Montreal through Western Union.

It was only after receiving the second phone call asking for more money that she began to question whether she had really talked to her grandson.

Nope. According to East Lyme resident state police Sgt. Wilfred Blanchette, she was at least the second local victim of this type of scam in the past year.

Cheo contacted me, asking that I tell her story as a cautionary tale to other parents and relatives, and she had a suggestion that Sgt. Blanchette endorsed: create a secret word for the family to use only if they are in trouble.

Cheo said she fell for the scam because the boy identified himself as Tyler and was coughing so hard it was impossible for her to know that it wasn’t really him. And then, when a second person got on the phone explaining he was Tyler’s attorney, she knew she had to act fast.

“If he had said ‘this is your grandson’ I would have been suspicious,” Cheo told me. “But he said he was Tyler and he sounded sick.”

After wiring the money, Cheo said she called her son, but couldn’t reach him. And the more she thought about it, the less sense it made. Her grandson was only 16 and she wasn’t even aware that he had a driver’s license. And what was he doing in Montreal instead of being in Massachusetts.

So by the time the “lawyer” called back saying he received the $935 but needed more money, she said no.

“Somehow the caller knew my grandson’s name and relation to me, so pretended to be him with a bad cough and desperate sound. Then a so-called lawyer explained that he was in jail in Montreal due to an auto accident that was not his fault.”

She then got contacted her son, who reassured her that Tyler was safe at band camp and had never been in Montreal.

“It was dumb,” she said, “but I was so worried.”

She said if they had set up a secret code word, this would not have happened.

Cheo said she has no idea how the scammers knew her telephone number and her grandson’s name.

She filed a complaint with the East Lyme police, and Sgt. Blanchette said he wasn’t surprised.

With so much personal information on the Internet, he said, it’s easy for crooks to put family information together, especially using sites like Facebook.

But, he said, “so far, how they picked out this family is a mystery.”

He said the first complaint he saw was very similar, where the call also came from Montreal.

“This is the crime wave of the future,” he said, adding that similar scam take place with hijacked email accounts.

HOW TO PROTECT YOURSELF AGAINST ID THEFT

Thanks to Consumer Reports for its effective suggestions on how to diminish ID theft.

I will start with my personal recommendation, which may be counterintuitive for those who don’t trust the Internet to do on-line banking.

Use on-line banking to pay your bills. Its free (nothing is really free but most banks offer it as long as you meet other requirements like automatic deposits). Effective. You have all your documentation in one place.

And you can set up alerts – this is crucial – to tell you when a new payee is added or a payment is made. It’s a tremendous way to have instant knowledge of what is happening with your bank account.

Other suggestions from CR – the trusted place for consumer tips:

Do not fill out surveys on warranty cards beyond your name and address and product info.

Stop unsolicited pre-approved credit card offers at www.optoutprescreen.com or call 888-567-8688.

Put your name on the Federal Trade Commission’s Do Not Call registry at www.donotcall.gov or call 888.382-1222.

When you move only fill out a temporary change of address with the U.S. Postal Service that lasts for six month.

To get your name off mailing lists, go to the Direct Marketing Association’s consumer web site, www.dmachoice.org. Click on “Register for eMPS” to opt out of unsolicited junk email.

The Privacy Rights Clearinghouse lists data brokers that offer opt-out policies at www.privacyrights.org/ar/infobrokers.htm.

You can reach The Watchdog at George@connecticutwatchdog.com and he will answer as many emails as he can. Please check out his site, www.ctwatchdog.com for comprehensive consumer, health, finance, media, internet, computer, travel and education tips.