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Carl Kanowsky: Don’t let a battle cost you the war

Posted: June 8, 2012 1:30 a.m.
Updated: June 8, 2012 1:30 a.m.

Sometimes, my clients do exactly the wrong thing to anger their customers.

They’ll put up a big fight over $75, or they won’t apologize when they’ve done something wrong.

On the other hand, some of my clients have an innate sense of how to keep their customers happy, returning for more business and offering them glowing recommendations to other potential customers.

I always counsel my clients before we begin any kind of battle, “Are you sure it’s worth it? Which would you rather do, send some money to your customer, or spend more with me?”

Yes, there are some fights worth the battle. But eventually, most cases settle before they go to trial. So, choose your wars carefully and be aware of their unintended impact.

Recently, I’ve had the pleasure and the annoyance of being on both sides of this type of confrontation.

Two weeks ago, our Cuisinart coffee maker stopped working. Clearly, the wife had abused our home kitchen device to point where it rebelled. So, I wrapped it up and took it back to Bed, Bath & Beyond (or, 3B), where we had bought it two years before.

I walked up to the customer service counter and laid down the deceased pot. I explained what had happened and waited for the service rep’s response. She could have said, “Well, since you don’t have the receipt, we can’t help you.” Instead, she showed me where the new models were displayed and instructed me to select a replacement.

I did that and brought it back to her. She gave me current value credit for my failed Cuisinart, without deduction for age. I left a very satisfied customer. Terry and I will be returning frequently to 3B.

On the flip side, the Kanowsky household has enjoyed DirecTV for more than four years.  We spend way too much money for our channels. Thankfully, we’ve had few problems.

But last Saturday night, I recorded the Kings’ Stanley Cup playoff game. When we got home from the Boys & Girls Club Benefit Auction, I was set to enjoy the Kings’ second victory on their way to the cup.

But everything was on the fritz. We’d experienced similar problems a few days earlier. DirecTV guided us over the phone on how to repair their equipment. However, my efforts only worked for a few days.

So, I called the customer service department. They suggested that I take the same steps as I had done earlier in the week.

I told them that I had tried them without success. I requested that they send out a technician to handle the problem. They agreed and were about the schedule the visit. I asked, just being cautious, “There’s no charge for this, right?” The reply, “Oh, yes, there is.”

The rep explained that since I had only spent approximately $6,000 with them over the past four years, I had failed to pay them an additional $6-per-month fee for equipment coverage. She told me it would be another $50 to have someone come out.

I asked to speak to her supervisor. The best she could offer was to cut the service call cost to $25. When I explained that Time Warner did not charge for such repairs, her response was that I could have gotten the same protection by paying an additional $72 each year.

I asked her if she wanted to lose a customer who faithfully sent in over $100 every month over a $25 dispute. She said her hands were tied. She said they had remotely tested my receiver, and that it was functioning properly. If that had not been the case, then the service call would be free.

I told her that the other receivers in the house worked, but not this one. She insisted I would have to pay the $25. I asked to speak to her supervisor.

I went through the same routine with this third DirecTV rep.  She divined that I had lost my patience so she got to the point. If I would agree to the $6 monthly protection for one year, she would credit me $10 each month and make the call no charge. Finally, someone more interested in customer service than making a point. The repairman came out and said that my receiver was shot.

The lesson is, that companies sometimes ask for their own headaches. A policy like DirecTV’s leads to people filing class action lawsuits, which, of course, cost the company a great deal more than $25.  Pick your battles carefully.

Carl Kanowsky of Kanowsky & Associates is an attorney in the Santa Clarita Valley. He may be reached by e-mail at Kanowsky’s column represents his own views, and not necessarily those of The Signal. Nothing contained herein shall be or is intended to be construed as providing legal advice.


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