By Ishmael Von Heidrick-Barnes
Recently, I had to book a flight on a major airline using miles I had accrued with the carrier. What should have been a simple transaction turned into a time-consuming labyrinth of automated answering machines and passive-aggressive procedural dead-ends. I suspect the process was designed by lawyers to deliberately frustrate customers into giving up using the air miles awarded them.
After three days and six hours of attempting to penetrate the airline’s technological gatekeepers, I can’t say the obstructions I faced were resolved to my satisfaction. The psychological energy required to deal with Draconian obstructions and logical fallacies left me physically exhausted (which, I will wager, was something the architects of the airline procedural guidelines were deliberately hoping to evoke).
I don’t wish to bore you with the finite details of my experience because, the fact is, it is not an isolated occurrence. It is becoming increasingly difficult to deal with any major corporation. I have had similar encounters with cell phone carriers, cable television companies, insurance agencies, and a pharmacy (which twice has given me the wrong medication).
The maze these businesses have institutionalized as a part of their so-called “customer service departments” could not have existed prior to the proliferation of computer automated answering machines and the Internet. Technology has outpaced social mores, laws, and common sense. The age where companies trained their personnel with the adage, “The customer is always right,” is vanishing. The new business model in America seems to be: “Avoid the customer at all cost.”
If capitalism goes down the drain, it will because the idea of fair business was flushed down the toilet by the one-sided greed of CEOs and upper level management. How long will consumers put up with a system that is evolving towards the same corrupt ends associated with Communism? The disparity of wealth between consumer and company management is just one symptom of the disease of greed that regulations and social mores used to keep in check.
At the heart of this legally manufactured covert takeover is a lack of accountability. For the sake of illustration, I’ll use an example from my recent airline debacle. This particular problem began because air miles credited to me by the airline weren’t in the company’s computer. The initial conversation with an agent seemed promising. He assured me that the miles would show up in their system overnight.
I was instructed to reserve a seat on a flight as soon as possible before the plane was filled. The agent assured me that in the morning my miles would be downloaded to their computer network and I could confirm the reserved flight. I followed the agent’s instructions and went to sleep, confident I would have a ticket the next day.
Early the next morning when I tried to use the miles credited to my account to confirm the flight I had reserved, I found that there was no option to redeem miles showing on the computer. So, I called again and was told by a different agent I could not use air miles on the flight I had reserved. I explained the previous agent’s instructions but it was to no avail. The agent and her supervisor claimed I must have misunderstood what the other airline representative had told me.
After an hour of negotiations I was offered three options:
A. Take a flight from another airport over 200 miles from my home that would not reach Connecticut for me to be on time for the residency program I was attending.
B. Pay for a different flight, or
C. refuse service
I asked to speak to someone higher in the company and was told by the supervisor there was no one higher in the company who could help me.
I didn’t wish to go on record as accepting any of the three options so I asked the supervisor to put everything she had just told me in writing and mail it to me. I was tired of one agent telling me one thing on the telephone and another agent saying something else. Without anything in writing, I had no way to document what different representatives had promised me.
The supervisor claimed she had no paper to write a letter to me. I expressed my disbelief but she insisted her airline had no paper. This ridiculous assertion and the refusal to put words in writing infuriated me. Call most major businesses these days and a message on their call waiting system is likely to say, “This call may be recorded for quality assurance purposes.”
The airline I was dealing with had such a recording policy. They were entitled to keep a voice record of my conversation with them, yet I was denied any equal record of the company’s dialogue with me. The airline’s refusal to put their verbal contract with me in writing enabled them to be unaccountable for their actions.
This lack of accountability is pervasive throughout American business today. It is how companies get away with treating their customers and employees with contempt. The effects of these immoral business practices are reflected throughout our society. Take away accountability and you get housing crises, poor roads, and pharmacies that maximize profits of their CEOs at the expense of their work force, thus putting the public at risk of paying for medicines that were not prescribed to them.
In almost every sector of American society (whether it be airlines, medicine, religion, or communications) the consumer is losing his or her voice in holding companies and institutions accountable for their actions. The result is a country in decline. If America isn’t willing to put its mouth where its money is, it will not be the great beacon of light it once was. Our country will be just another burned out light bulb no one cares enough to replace.
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