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Category Archives: Consumer Rights

Buying vs Renting: The Great Debate of Society

I keep seeing articles about how Millennials aren’t buying homes and how it is hurting the housing market. Most of us know, however, that the reason most Millennials are not buying homes is that they aren’t in a place of financial security to justify making that kind of leap. So many of them just keep renting. I, myself, have rented five different homes and bought one home, but when I first got the idea for this blog post, I hadn’t gotten into even considering purchasing personal property for a myriad of reasons. Having now been on both sides of this issue, the benefits and detriments of each is pretty obvious. Here’s why renting or buying may be the best option for a person.

Benefits of Renting

You Can Leave a Little Easier

When you rent, the time that you’re stuck there is wholly dependent on the lease you signed, but there is always a clear end date. So if life changes on a person, as it is wont to do, such as a new job, a job loss, neighborhood goes to crap, or the rent goes up, a person only has to holdout until a specific date and after that date there are no more strings tying the person to the rental. Some people see this date as a detriment because they may not be able to hold out until that date, but it is better than owning a home in that regard because when a person needs out of the home they own, offloading that home could be immediate or take years, and in all that time the person will still have to pay their mortgage or property taxes, insurance, and utilities, even if they aren’t physically in the property anymore. So renting is definitely for people who are not sure about where they will need to be in the next year or even the next five or ten years.

What’s Included

A lot of rentals include extras. Perhaps water and trash are included. Perhaps they include internet and/or cable. If these things are important to a person, it can be helpful to shop around for those things per rental. But pretty much universally included is maintenance. Nearly every rental property comes with at least one maintenance person who will come to fix issues as they come up, like plumbing issues, broken large appliances, heating and cooling problems, and such. They often also include pest control. The reason these two things are most often included in a rental is that they help prevent the rental from being unrentable once the current tenant moves out. It is to the rental management’s benefit to maintain and keep the place free of infestations. Especially in the day and age of the internet review. One review that mentions flooding, heating, cooling, or infestation issues can drastically lower a rental’s value. Homes do not usually have this kind perk. Nothing is included. Maintenance and pest control are completely up to the owner and no home includes a utility. The middle ground for an owner is to get a home warranty, which is basically an extra cost that covers most pest control and plumbing, appliance, and heating and cooling. Depending on what a person is willing to pay, it may include more. This is must for the buyer who doesn’t know diddly-squat about home maintenance, but that doesn’t change the fact that the home owner has all their utilities and entertainment costs on top of their monthly mortgage.

Perks

A lot of rentals come with a few things that cost a lot of money to lay out in a home, such as landscaping, a gym, a playroom, a pool, or a hot tub. These are great things to have, but to put them in a home, a person needs a lot of extra square footage and acreage. This adds to the price tag of a home and getting all or any these into the home also costs a lot of money. Even buying a home that comes with a pool preinstalled costs more than a home without a pool. But there is more than just a financial cost to set these things up and maintain them. There’s also the time cost to maintain them. Pool and hot tub maintaince takes a lot of time, and knowledge. A rental can push all this financial and temporal cost off of a person with all of the perks of being able to use them.

Security

Some rental properties come with a security patrol and/or gated access. This can make it harder for something to happen to your car and can make you feel safer walking to the mailbox, gym, or pool. To get this in a purchased property, the price tag on the home goes way up. Most rentals have to have one or both of these to be competitive, especially in major metropolitan areas. In this same vein, delivered packages can be taken to the rental office to be picked up later, which helps prevent said packages from being stolen by neighbors. Homes often face issues with package delivery, but a big part of this is the delivery service itself. Some companies have no problem leaving packages at doors, whether or not there is an office at which to drop off the package instead. But a rental has a higher chance of safe package delivery with an office involved than a home without a secluded front.

Benefits of Buying

Less Rules

Rentals come with so many rules. To some extent this can be a benefit to the tenant, but some of them can just be frustrating. You know those perks I mentioned? Well, guess what? You can’t use the pool or hot tub after eight at night and you have to wait until eight in the morning to use them. They even lock up the pool area at night. What if you want to swim laps before you go to work? Well, too bad. So sad. Hate your kitchen? Better move. Would like a garden? You can have a max of three pots on your balcony. Want more than one pet? Not at this place. Purchased homes usually come with way less rules. Homeowners’ associations care about the front look of a home, but inside a private yard and inside the home, the owners can do anything they can afford. General laws still apply, so no loud parties or meth houses still applies.

Make It Your Own

There’s basically no reason to paint your walls in your rental. You’re going to have to repaint them when you leave or pay out of your deposit or above your deposit for the rental owner to do it. Even if you hate those beige walls, they will haunt you for months and months until you can’t stand it anymore and unfortunately, you know that every freaking rental you look at has those same beige walls. Look! There’s one that isn’t, but hey, they are prison grey, so that’s not really an improvement. Rentals are quite possibly the most average and least unassuming residences ever. They lack character. Nearly all of them. And there’s no reason for you to change it because you don’t own it. When looking for a home to buy, you can focus solely on the look of the outside because that’s the only part you most likely won’t be able to change. The inside? Paint the walls as black as your soul if you want; it doesn’t matter. Even if the previous owner painted all the walls chartreuse and your eyes feel like they might burn out of your skull, it doesn’t matter because before you move in, you can just paint them that lovely chocolate brown you’ve always wanted. Also in a rental, any minor damage you cause is immediately a castrophe. “They’re going to make me pay for that hole in the wall from me tripping on my bag!” Versus, the same minor damage isn’t great but doesn’t feel like a parent is going to come screaming out of the woodwork at you, demanding money to fix it. You can fix it at your leisure. It still sucks, but it doesn’t make you feel like a child.

Mortgage Payments

Comparing a mortgage payment to a rental payment for a place in the same area for the same square footage, a person can see how buying can be financially better. A thousand dollar rental can have a five hundred dollar mortgage. Of course, that doesn’t include any utilities, but does often include homeowner’s insurance, property taxes, and sometimes the home warranty. It does take a lot of research and a lot of smarts to make sure that the mortgage is the best one for the home and for you. Predatory home loans swept the market leading up to the housing market bubble burst and far too many people got taken for a ride. Mortgages are not something to be entered into lightly and a person should really get a smaller home to be able to cut their housing costs in half to make the purchase worth it. If done right, this switch can be very beneficial. Some may wonder why rental prices are so high. It’s not just what the rental may include, but the risk involved in renting to people. Another current issue effecting the prices of rentals is AirBNB and similar companies. People with the cash can make a hefty profit by renting a bunch of apartments and always have them on AirBNB. This lowers the turnover rate on rentals, resulting in a scarcity issue. With the same or possibly more people wanting to rent fewer properties, the value of each one goes up. AirBNB was not designed for this secondhand market wherein this was the only way some people make a living. It was designed so that people could rent out their homes more easily for short term stays as an alternative to hotel rooms. Rental companies are seeing a piece of the pie too, so they aren’t against it. In fact, some of the people doing this on the side work for the rental companies. This is mostly happening in major metropolitan areas, so rentals in smaller areas are only seeing the normal property tax and maintaince hikes that come with rising values and older properties.

Middle Grounds

Renting a House

A standalone rental house can give a tenant a little more privacy from the rental owner and neighbors. It still gives the benefit of maintenance but takes away the typical rental benefits of included bills, perks, and security. If privacy and a quieter environment are more important than those things and the ability to leave by a certain date is still a requirement, this can be a good choice.

Renting a Room

This is often done without contracts. I suggest that you demand a rental agreement with rules of conduct anyway so as to not get any surprises and that the person renting the room can’t just kick you out. Getting those two things will lock both the tenant and the owner into following the contract. It’s better for everyone if the lay of the land is clear from the beginning. A room rental also comes with nearly all lack of privacy. A bathroom is usually shared with other people in the home and parking is often a problem. It’s more like living with family or roommates in college and often results in arguments. However, it is usually cheaper than renting an actual apartment or a mortgage payment and can still come with some perks, such as a pool or some gym equipment if the owner has it.

Buying an “Apartment”

In other words, purchasing a condo or townhome. Some of the responsibility of maintainance falls on the HOA, and they do enforce some rules. Certain specific renovations might be against those rules and some may need to be approved. It may also come with a gated community, a pool, a hot tub, a playroom, landscaping, and trash service. The home owner gets the benefit of the lower mortgage payment, the “make it your own” mentality, and sometimes even a yard at smaller condominiums. It’s like buying a mini-home, except it also usually comes with the close neighbors. HOA fees go up and down depending on how much they have to maintain; gates and pools cost more, so the fee is more if the community has those things. The only utility that’s usually included is trash. Everything else is up to the homeowner. A middle level of privacy and enforcement of some rules are the biggest factors in if this is right for a person.

What Should You Do?

At different stages in our lives, we are ready for different characteristics from our homes. Figuring out which is a higher priority and what we really want is a very personal thing. It is effected by the market and what you need right now. Still in college? Rent. Looking for a job out of state? Rent. Got your dream job? Start shopping for a home. Dream job doesn’t pay that well? Shop for less square footage. Want all the perks but don’t want to take care of them yourself? Get an apartment. Want privacy and need to be able to leave? Rent a house. You can see how it really depends on you. I do not suggest buying a place unless you are financially ready and are settling down. People often say that buying a home is the right thing to do once a person is out of college or once a person gets married. That is typical, but if you aren’t typical, there’s nothing wrong with that. It is okay to not ever buy a home. It is okay to wait to do so as well. It’s really up to you. Make the decision that is best for you.

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Posted by on March 18, 2018 in Consumer Rights, Social Issues

 

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AdNonSense: The Poor Logic of Advertising

Advertisements are everywhere. You can see them walking down a city street. You hear them when you listen to free music. You turn on the TV, and even if you don’t pay for cable or satellite, you’ll probably still see an ad or two. All the products in your home are pretty much an ad as well as they are what you bought or were given. But the majority of the time, the ads we see now are on the internet. They’re in our apps and on almost all our websites. The ads on our videos and websites are the ones I see the most of the time. So here is why those ads are a useless waste of my time and a waste of the company’s money.

Non-memorable Ads:

I can’t tell you about the ads I’ve seen that aren’t memorable because, well, I can’t remember them. This obviously is bad for the product or service that the ad is trying to sell. Obviously, ads don’t work if they don’t have any impact. Now let me tell you about the ads that are memorable to me years after I’ve seen them.

1) Taco Bell had a Bacon Ranch Gordita Crunch item a few years back and I saw one ad for it that killed me. Two women are in an upscale bar, their clutches on the bar top and one of them smells the air and asks about the smell. The second woman opens her purse to show the gordita and says “Oh, it’s the Bacon Ranch Gordita Crunch. Men love bacon.” Then three men come up to them and one says “What’s that smell? It’s . . . intoxicating.” Then the commercial goes into the typical explanation of the new product. I remember the vendor and the name of the product. I never bought it, but I also recited the commercial to other people. I don’t like ranch so that’s why I never bought it.

2) Around Christmas a couple of years ago, RadioShack had a very effective commercial about the games they carried. A young boy runs downstairs on Christmas morning all excited for his presents. His father is standing there, leaned over, with his hands behind his back. The kid asks what he got for Christmas. The man pulls a video game out from behind his back, saying “I got you this game!” The boy raises one of his arms and cheers. The man pulls out a second video game from behind his back, saying “And I got you this game!” The kid raises both arms and cheers. Then the man pulls out a third game from behind his back with a third arm and says “And this game!” There is a long pause before the boy raises both his arms and then a third one and cheers. I laughed so hard. Now, there weren’t any RadioShacks anywhere near me, so no, I did not buy games from them. But again, I told other people about this commercial.

If a person can remember a commercial, especially the important components of vendor and product or service, then the commercial has done its job.

Nonsense Ads:

Like an unmemorable ad, an ad that doesn’t make any sense, in that you don’t know what it is for, also hasn’t done its job. I see billboards around town that just say one word. I don’t know what the ad is for. I’m not going to look it up because I don’t know if it will be a waste of my time to do so. Also I’m busy, forget about it, and can’t be bother to care that much. I’ve seen commercials like that too. It’s not clear what the product or service is and I’m not going to go look it up. I shouldn’t have to. Advertising should put the important details at the forefront, clearly expressed with all the pertinent details presented as well. Sometimes if the text or audio of the ad is so stylized that, again, the product or service and details are lost. I don’t see why a company bothers with the ad if the ad is not clear. It’s much like that earlier episode of Bob’s Burgers where Gene wins the mascot race but can’t remember the name of Bob’s restaurant but tells people to eat there. If an audience member doesn’t know what the ad is selling, that’s the worst result. If an audience member doesn’t know how they can get the product or service, as in the store info, possibly even just the name of the store, is missing, then that’s a bad result too.

Annoying Ads:

Some ads are just too annoying to live. Once I started to get banner ads on all webpages for Outback Steakhouse, and while I like that place, these ads drove me insane because they would flash continuously. I ended up clicking the offensive option on all of these until they went away. The same kind of in-your-face tactics with audio components are the quickest way for me to hit the mute button. The idea with these ads is to get a person’s attention no matter what because then they’ll see what you’ve got to offer. The problem with this tactic, however, is counter-intuitive because the first reaction is to get away from the ad as soon as possible and creates animosity for the company the product or service is from.

Misdirected Ads:

Ad tracking is supposed to display ads related to a person’s profile based on their inferred interests from what they watch, read, and sites they visit. I’m a thirty year old woman who has never bought baby stuff. In the last year, I have had more ads than I can count about my poor fertility. I hate these ads so much. I’m Childfree, not infertile. It is very insulting. The tracking system is pretty sure I’m a woman and knows my age. In systems where I can turn down ads related to motherhood (and makeup), they suddenly start showing me ads for new cars. First of all, a person has to be super set financially to purchase a new car. Secondly, I can’t drive. I may never learn. So these ads mean nothing to me. I believe, since I declined traditionally feminine ads, the tracking system then thinks I’m a man, because I also get ads for men’s razors and deodorant mixed in with the cars. I suppose I’m hard to sell to. I’m not a mother, and not going to be one, I’m already married, and I don’t wear makeup. It’s not as if I don’t have interests: food being the largest. Just give me ads for restaurants and food delivery services. There, solved. But one day I got four or five ads telling me how great real milk was over almond milk, even though I’m lactose intolerant. So then there’s that waste of time. My point is that if an ad that is insulting or has nothing to do with the person seeing it, then the ad is a waste. The vendor paid money to make the ad and have it displayed. To have it displayed to the wrong person is a waste of their money. It’s also a waste of my time.

Useless Ads:

If you can’t purchase what an ad is for then the ad is useless. In the last ten years, the number of these ads has increased because somehow advertising companies have convinced pharmaceutical companies that advertising their products would increase their sales. Considering that a person cannot go out and buy a medication that is prescription locked, the majority of these ads don’t have an effect. The ads tend to be twice as long as a typical thirty second commercial because of half of the run-time is devoted to fine print. Pharmaceutical prices have gone up recently for a lot of medications, but the costs of goods sold hasn’t increased dramatically to match the new price tags, though it has gone up marginally because of the absolute waste the companies are now spending on advertising. A company cannot possibly see a matching increase in sales for the effort and cost of these ads because the majority of people this advertising works on, hypochondriacs and other neuroses sufferers, are often told by their doctors they don’t need the new medication they saw an ad for while watching their favorite TV show.

Redundant Ads

Every once in a while I get an ad for Netflix, like I don’t already have a subscription. It’s okay to see an ad for something you might need to buy again, but when it is for subscription services or something you only buy once in a long while, then it’s not all that useful to see an ad for it. That in itself isn’t much of an issue since ads are trying to hit a wide variety of people. The problem comes when it is a time consuming ad that does not allow skipping. A billboard isn’t an issue, but a commercial before a video or between scenes of a TV show or movie that has no skip feature is annoying especially if you already have the specific product or service.

Conclusion

I believe advertising can be effective and enjoyable at the same time. I believe that good advertising companies can create memorable and interesting commercials that help potential customers keep specific products and services in mind and even purchase them. But for every effective ad out there, there are more than a dozen misses around. But advertising is just one piece of the puzzle: the needs of a potential customer and their budget are bigger factors in whether or not the product or service will be bought. For example, I remember Geico ads like nobody’s business, but when it came down to it, I bought insurance from a competitor simply because they were half the price with the same quality of service. I see ads for Taco Bell all the time and I remember them, but I don’t like Taco Bell, so it doesn’t matter how many ads they bombard me with, I’m not buying from Taco Bell. Advertising is to inform potential customers of services and products they haven’t heard of before. Getting them to take out their wallets? That’s a different story.

 
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Posted by on March 2, 2018 in Consumer Rights, Social Issues

 

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Customer Service: The Make or Break of a Company

We deal with companies every day. We have to. Often we have to speak to customer service, or even just a representative of the company. Typically, the reason why we are talking to them is that the company has failed us in some way.How they handle our questions, feedback, and complaints is very important. Customer service doesn’t have a direct monetary value to a company. It has a non-direct value that is hard to track with hard data. A customer who parts ways with a company because of poor customer service may not ever state that’s why they left, though if you look at Yelp, you’ll find that the majority of negative reviews are based on poor service and not poor products. This is why it is so important for representatives of a company to give good customer service and why it is even more important that a company values good customer service. Let’s take a look at the few ways in which poor service can drive a customer away or lead to poor reviews.

One Way Communication

In today’s internet world, it’s crazy to not be open to communication from customers. Customers like to voice their concerns and feedback. They like having the opportunity to talk to a rep of the company that they may or may not give money too. Spotify does not give a phone number or have a live chat on their website. This is a big no-no for a company that holds on to credit card information. If you peruse the support forum, you will find many people who have had their card charged when they shouldn’t have been, such as a free trail of premium (which to my mind, any company that asks for payment information for a free trail is trying to trick you out of money by autocharging you once your free trail is over) or people who have been doubly charged. If Spotify had a call center or a live chat, these problems wouldn’t be posted as often as they are to the support forum. They have a contact ticket form. I had tested this form out nearly a year ago, putting in several tickets, and I never once got a response (yes, I checked my Spam/Junk folder). Finally, after doing a Google search, I found an email for Spotify Support. These actually got responses. A customer should never have to do a web search to find contact information. “Contact Us” should be on every webpage of the site and should have multiple forms of contact. But the main point is, any company that actually takes your money should have a way to contact them immediately.

Not Listening

Some companies make it really easy to contact them, and they respond too. But their responses are useless because they didn’t actually read or listen to everything the customer said. This one happens a lot and a lot of companies do this. For example, I recently contacted StarzPlay to tell them that while I knew that they didn’t currently offer StarzPlay for individual pay, if they were to offer it separate from a cable/satellite bill, that I would pay for it (when you want something from a company, it’s a good idea to ask for it). The reply I got was a pat “we don’t offer it except through cable providers”. Since I didn’t ask if they did or not and in fact, stated that I knew that they didn’t this was an infuriating response. There is almost nothing more frustrating than feeling like a company didn’t read everything you wrote. This happens a lot on Microsoft support forums. The most common one boils down to “Dark Grey for MS 2013 is not dark enough” with a moderator stating “To change the theme, go to Options, select Dark Grey.” They are missing the point. This happened to me once when I couldn’t log in to my Live account. I kept trying to get help on this. The problem was that the login page in a browser would say that I signed in too many times with the wrong password, so I had to fill out a CAPTCHA. I’ve told part of this story before. The CAPTCHA was always read as wrong, no matter what. I told this to the account help team. Their reply? “Enter the CAPTCHA correctly and you’ll be able to log in.” I lost it a little bit and replied in all caps that the CAPTCHA was broken. They had no actual help for me, and randomly, my login stopped asking me to fill out the CAPTCHA. The point is that trying to get help or give feedback to a company and then getting a response that means they obviously didn’t read or fully hear what you said is the height of stupidity. At that point, the company may as well not have a way of contacting them because their support and CSRs are trained so poorly or have so little care as to not be there. Microsoft is trying to improve their reception of feedback. In my recent post about Windows 10, I said how annoying it was that there wasn’t a universal dark theme and how tasks didn’t even show up in the Calendar app. In a recent update, the Mail and Calendar apps now have a dark theme, and while you still can’t add tasks from the Calendar app, you can at least view tasks, even those seen from Wunderlist. It’s great that the Feedback app actually got comments to Microsoft and that they actually acted on those comments. They need to keep this up, but direct Windows support still needs work. I think, at least, they are moving in the right direction. Listening to your customers and actually making an effort to comprehend and act on what they are saying is very important to making a customer feel as though they matter to the company.

No Follow Through

The unfortunate thing about a call center, be it in America or not, is that a customer almost never talks to the same person twice. This often leads to promises made then broken, because one CSR makes a promise, and another one won’t follow through on the promise. Once I needed Cox to come out to check my internet, I made the CSR (CSR A) assure me that it wouldn’t cost me anything. After the tech came out, a fee was added to our bill. The second CSR (CSR B) and supervisor we talked to wouldn’t remove the fee despite what CSR A had promised. After calling a second time about getting the fee removed, I got a third CSR, who removed the fee immediately. I really don’t understand how this happens. If a CSR makes a promise to a customer, they are representing the company’s word. I take a company at their word, and I will force them to follow what their representatives promise me; otherwise, I have no faith in that company. When the second CSR wants to refuse to fulfill the promise and they state that the first CSR was wrong or made a mistake, with the logic that I shouldn’t hold them to that mistake, my blood boils. It’s not my fault as the customer that the company’s CSR was wrong. I shouldn’t have to pay for their mistake. The company should take responsibility for the CSR’s mistake and meet what expectations the customer was led to believe would be met, despite the incorrect statements. This is just ethical. Especially when the customer is trying to confirm prices before committing to anything. I brought this up in my Health Care post. Some people disagree with this idea because it damages the company. In response to that, I say it damages the individual customer more and if a company is in trouble and repeated mistakes are made, then they don’t deserve to stick around. Repeated failure with or without good customer service will cause a company to fail, but especially without good customer service. With good customer service response to a mistake, the company has a chance to improve their financial standing.

On a side but still related note, when I set up internet at my current residence, we wanted the internet set up the day before we moved. When we moved in, it wasn’t working. The call center CSR said it was turned on by a tech and that to have a tech come out we would be charged a fee since it was a “customer error” based problem. I don’t know how they can determine such a thing over the phone, but the tech came out again four days after the internet was supposed to be turned on (meaning three days later than we needed it) to discover that the internet had been turned on at the wrong location. So. Not customer error. Tech error. They still tried to charge us for having the tech come out, even though they were giving us a credit on our next bill because of their screw-up. When I had Cox in a different state, the service was great and the quality of internet I received was ten times better than AT&T. Understand that in different locations, the customer service you receive will be different. Different states practically equals a different company because of regional and local management.

Apathetic Attitude

One of the worst experiences in customer service is when a customer is at a restaurant or store and can’t get help from anyone. You’re sitting at the table waiting forever for the waiter to take your order or you’re walking through a store looking for something and there are no employees around, or they ignore you, or they make the minimal effort to help you. This is very annoying. Two big instances come to mind for me. The first happened at a cafe/bar/restaurant (yeah, trying to do everything). We had gone there to try their coffee. We waited at the front counter that had no line and no employee. Someone finally came out of the restaurant/bar area to take our order after five minutes. When we got our coffee, we sat down in the dining area and decided we wanted to order food. When we flagged down the one waiter, we got menus, then he never came back. In fact, it didn’t even look like he was in the building, so we left without ordering and never came back. The place wasn’t set up all too well and was understaffed. It was dead when we went in there, but we still couldn’t get any real service, even though there were three employees, two of which just disappeared. No service means no customers.

The other time I remember well was in a Total Wine. It was a Friday at six in the evening. The place was packed, but they had stopped doing the tastings (yes, because people aren’t just getting out to stores on a weeknight at six–oh, wait, that’s exactly what happens). Worse than that, there were absolutely no carts available for customers. None in the parking lot, none in the cart area, in fact, almost none with actual customers. Where were they? Littered around the store filled with stock that no employee was actually putting on shelves. They were prepped to exchange stock after they closed but had all the carts in use for it during a peak customer time. That’s poor management. We were planning to buy a lot but saw that there were also only two cashiers open with lines stretching into the aisles. We weren’t going to stand there forever holding a lot of very breakable products. Tons of employees seemed to be walking up and down the aisles and studiously ignoring the customers, including one person who looked like a manager. When we finally asked an employee about getting a cart, he looked around and said, “It looks like none are available.” Then explained they were prepped for stock shuffle, but then offered us no more help. We left. We also called Total Wine corporate customer service to report our dissatisfaction. The CSR was very understanding of how inappropriate the situation really was. The management had set a precedent that night that customers didn’t matter, which is funny and horrible since that’s the only thing that sustains a business, so the employees didn’t notice the problems, let alone try to help customers by solving them. We haven’t been back to that location. I’m sure most people have a Walmart story like this, which is why most people avoid Walmart whenever possible.

Not making an effort to help the customer because well, you just don’t care, makes you a bad employee, and frankly an unempathetic person. Because service industries are based on–gasp!–service, employees and managers should act and manage in way that a company that they would want to do business with would act and manage. That’s empathy. I’m sure most of these people would be upset if they were the customer and had experienced the same situation. I understand that not all companies and managers value empathetic service, which is why many employees are apathetic. They’ve learned that empathetic service is not rewarded and that they can get away with apathy or that they shouldn’t bother trying. This can come from a corporate level, like with Walmart, from a more local level, such as regional management, or even from just one manager, causing one store or certain shifts in a store to be worse than others. This is a behavior that employees learn from their supervisors, and it’s hard to change without changing out all the employees and supervisors that are part of it. It’s also the number one reason customers avoid a store or chain and write a bad review.

Arguing with the Customer

I hate having to argue with a CSR. Obviously, I had to do that with Cox a few times. It’s not that contradicting a customer is wrong. It’s how the CSR does it. If they are dismissive, talk over the customer, interrupt the customer, or are generally combative, then they are arguing. This is when they enter inappropriate behavior for customer service. If I’m just voicing feedback, I don’t want the CSR to tell me that my feedback is basically stupid and they aren’t going to make a note of it. That just makes me not want to deal with them or give their company my money (it is, afterall, hard earned). This is especially bad when making a suggestion. For example, that UPS shouldn’t ever leave a package at a person’s door in an apartment complex unless instructions state otherwise. I literally had a UPS employee arguing with me over this suggestion, and he was combative and used the word “stupid”. Here’s a good tip: Don’t ever call your customer stupid, even if they are being stupid. Seems like it doesn’t need to be stated, but there you go. In the same vein, an employee shouldn’t ever hang up on a customer. This has happened to me. I was already upset when I made the call, and I wasn’t angry. I was just upset. I ended up calling the main office of the company and explained what happened with the phone call. They were really embarrassed and upset that I went through that phone call and did everything to fix the problem I was having, which is the correct response. If a company cares, then they should remember that how their employees treat, or in these cases, mistreat, a customer is very important. When they hear that an employee is being combative, instead of just contradictory, then they need to respond by correcting that employee’s behavior. There is nothing wrong with being firm or trying to represent the policy of a company. There is a problem with being rude.

No Choice

I’ve mentioned in my Health Care post how a customer not having a choice lowers an industry’s standards. But it isn’t just true in the Health Insurance world. It can get worse in the private utilities world. Why don’t I switch from Cox internet to something else? Because I can’t. I used to have a different provider and our internet never went out, so I never had to call. Their customer service could have sucked way worse, but if you never need them except to turn it on and turn it off then you really have no way of knowing. Cox has given me problems from the jump, but I’m stuck with them until I move. But internet isn’t considered a utility. Power is. I’ve had the same power company for the last two years, and I hate them. I don’t have a choice in the matter because my city has power districts that are run by a few power companies. In my current residence, my power has gone out at least twice. According to their CSRs, it is company policy that they don’t give credits for when the power goes out accidentally. As if because it was a mistake, they shouldn’t be held accountable for the outage to their customers. They said that we pay for usage, but after looking at their net profits, I figure they aren’t just charging me for my actual usage, but that included in their pricing formula is a profit amount. So I know they can afford to give me a break on my next bill because of incompetence. But I can’t threaten them with going with a competitor because they don’t have any real competitors. When I tell McDonald’s that I’m going to Burger King next time, that’s an action I can realistically take, but I can’t tell my power company that I’m going to switch to a different power company. They say these are not monopolies because there are other power companies in the area, but that’s BS when a customer can’t choose their power company separate from their home or business. Because of this, a company that’s gotcha won’t even try to provide good customer service because there is no need to. This needs to stop. I understand that it is easier for certain grids to be managed by a specific company, but it would be better if the grid was managed by one company (maybe the local government) and that different and separate companies handled their customer service, essentially outsourcing customer service and billing to more than one company. This would at least give the customers a kind of choice. Either way, the current system is stacked against the customer and good customer service. Minimonopolies are still monopolies. They still shouldn’t be tolerated by the government, the industry, or the customers.

In the End

All that matters is that both customers and companies value good relationships. I try never to be rude to a CSR because I know they are a person and that they didn’t necessarily have anything to do with why I’m angry or upset. I also understand that most of the above customer service issues are based on company culture or management. This won’t stop customers from getting frustrated though. All companies should understand that good customer service is good for their profit margin, even when they are refunding some money. Some of the companies I frequent have awesome refund policies, like refund and replacement on products, and they continue get my business because I feel like they understand that it’s not easy for a customer to part ways with their money and that the product or service they receive should be worth that money. When this isn’t the case, the company and it’s employees should do everything they reasonably can to get the customer to return. They should make it easy for the customer to spend their money, which is where poor service or apathetic attitudes get in the way. The number one reason I don’t go back to a store or avoid a company is because not only were their products and service not up to snuff, but that the straw that broke the camel’s back was their response to my issues. When I have a choice, I don’t give money to a company that I can’t stand working with. When I don’t have a choice, I will call repeatedly with my complaints, including that the last person I talked to was rude or unhelpful. That’s what a customer should do. A company should hear their customer and potential customer complaints and suggestions and work to improve themselves, even and especially in harder economies.

 
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Posted by on October 15, 2015 in Consumer Rights

 

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A Gamer’s Complaints: Mechanics and Trends I Wish Would Change in Today’s Video Games

I play a lot of video games. I’m not very good at them though and am a very big fan of getting to 100% completion on a game (including all the grindy stuff). On most games, I hit a snag and stop playing, but I tend to play the same one for months. I play for months because I really only play on about three days out of any given week. I have other stuff to do. None of this means I don’t have an opinion on game mechanics and trends. Of course, I do, and I’m going to express them here. I’m not going to talk about poor quality craftsmanship in gaming but am going to discuss some social mores and features that bother me. I know what you’re thinking, oh, she’s going to go all Gamer Gate on us. I’m not, but I am going to get that sticky topic out of the way first.

Gamer Gate: Bioshock Infinite

I find Gamer Gate distasteful. For the most part, the “problems” they see are imaginary or are not a sexist issue. For example, the idea that images of women in games are almost always unreasonably represented. This is true in a lot of games, but guess what? The images of men in games are also almost always unreasonably represented. Women are overly sexualized, what with their armor that is more about showing off their bodies then protecting them in combat, and men are overly masculinized, what with the giant, overly muscled meatheads that wear bandannas, smoke cigars, swear like they have a quota to fill, and spit every where they go. So I ask, how is this sexist? Maybe it is, but it isn’t misogynistic. Games that do this, and it’s not all of them, are misrepresenting both sexes. They objectify and show unreasonable images of both sexes. So I don’t see this as a female crusade, so much as stupid fantasy. It is a stupid trend, but it also is an understandable one from a business standpoint since gaming is a form of wish fulfillment since gamers are literally putting themselves in the point of view of an avatar with a better body than them, better sexual prospects, and a much more fun life. I don’t see why it is wrong for some of the games on the market to meet this wish fulfillment. Saying that these games pervert male understanding of relationships is a leap to me since most peoples’ understanding of relationships come from their parents and how those parents react and teach on media. The same principal applies to violence in games. Media really only reinforces what a person has learned in their childhood from their family; otherwise, people wouldn’t develop a dislike for certain types of media. If violence and possible sexism in video games really did result in life copying art as much as people say, things would be a lot worse since millions of people (male and female) play video games. It’s not a billion dollar industry on a few weirdos.

A lot of people are hopping on the Gamer Gate trend, including humor website, Cracked. Lately, Cracked has replaced their Saturday Photoplasties with rehashes from their articles with images created by AutieMeme. And while I’m not going to get into why that is a problem within itself in this post, I will bring up one they did related to this subject: 19 Surprisingly Sexist Messages in Modern Pop Culture. Not all of them are on gaming, and not all of them are off the mark. Lara Croft’s reboot is pretty spot on, and Yahtzee already mentions this problem when he reviews the 2012 Tomb Raider and the newer Metroid main character. But immediately following the good examination of Lara Croft, we get a major reach in the description of Ellie in The Last of Us.

Now, I know that I would collapse in tears upon seeing the first non-zombie person after the start of an apocalypse, no matter what my age. In fact, it is believable that any one of any sex or age would do this, but especially a child. Children cry a lot when things aren’t apocalyptic. I’m actually freaked out by children who don’t cry when something terrible happens to them. Isn’t that one of the first forms of expression we have as humans? It’s one we go to when happy, sad, angry, or relieved. Of course, she’s crying! There is nothing unreasonable or sexist about this.

Then there was the crapstorm of number one on the list: Elisabeth from Bioshock Infinite. The idea that Elisabeth was ever sitting and waiting to be rescued is a laughable misrepresentation of the game. Elisabeth learned to pick locks in her many attempts to escape. She could tear portals in time, yes, but her prison was weakening her powers, making them useless in escape attempts. This is one of my favorite games. The story is amazing, the characters are well developed and believable, the mechanics are fun, and the mind-bending plotline is just great. Trust me on this, if Elisabeth had not been a strong and capable character I wouldn’t like the game half as much as I do. She is a very powerful figure in the story, stronger than Dewitt, not just in terms of raw power but also as a person, showing much more strength of character, much more integrity. She is both McGuffin and a powerful lead affecting the arc of the story and even resolving it. The interpretation from the picture is distasteful in its misleading bent and omission of other information. It is highly frustrating to read as someone who has actually played the game and connected to the characters. Both of the interpretations on Ellie and Elisabeth show someone searching for something to complain about. They lack in depth examination and an understanding of reality. Women can be both strong and vulnerable in video games, as can men. Men are much less likely to show vulnerability in video games than women are to show strength. But reality demands a balance between the two in both sexes which is why I can’t support Gamer Gate. It calls for women in games to be sexless and invulnerable, while neither of those things is real.

Most of the time, I don’t hear backup to the claim that video games are sexist. Instead, I hear that claim repeated ad nauseam. When I do hear some backup, it’s typically a major reach, such as the two examples from Cracked. I find this very insulting. I enjoy video games and the majority those play don’t feel like they are attacking me as a woman. Women actually play more roles in video games than one would first think. In fact, they tend to take up all the same roles as men. Games that go for realism don’t often have female cops or soldiers, because the rate on the first is low, and the rate on the second is even lower (remember the US doesn’t have women in combat roles). So for the most part, I don’t see what they are talking about.

Real Sexism: Marvel Heroes

I play a lot of MMOs. I enjoy most of them. I’m also a very big Marvel fan. As such, when Marvel Heroes went to open beta, I was all over that. I had a lot of fun too. Now, there are a lot of problems with Marvel Heroes. Some have been addressed. For example, at first a player couldn’t playtest a hero before buying them, which was crappy because no matter how much you like a hero doesn’t mean they won’t suck to play. Now all heroes are playable to level 10, which is great. Try before you buy. However, every time I get back on Marvel Heroes, I have to reallocate my points because they keep messing with the play of the heroes. That is so annoying. I want to play not spend ten minutes assigning points any time I log on. But all this is besides the main point of this section. Still had to get those out there. The real problem is the gender swap enhanced costumes. Okay, if you’ve never played this game (which you totally can as it is free to play), you pick one starting hero and level them and can unlock other heroes with Gs (which you have to pay for) or Eternity Splinters (which you can find while playing). So one way is paid and another is free. You get the standard costume when you unlock a hero, whichever one that may be. Costumes cannot be unlocked with Eternity Splinters. So if I want to play female Hawkeye, Ghost Rider, Black Panther, God of Thunder, Deadpool, Loki, Punisher, Spider-man or male Warbird, I have to pay. The base playable characters includes 38 male characters and 12 female characters. There are not a lot of female superheroes in Marvel Comics. Why would you make 8 of them only unlockable with real money? This is crazy unbalanced. They are adding ShadowCat, which will bring the total to 13, but I bet anything they will add American Dream as a costume.

What is this problem exactly? The problem is games that have gender options that are partially locked. Older Diablo versions and Path of Exile had static genders for characters, and a lot of non-MMOs or top-downs have gender locks because you are a specific character in a very specific story, such as a lot of FPS games. That’s fine for FPS games. But why would you ever make a gender option and then not actually give it to your players? Do you know how frustrating it is to have that dangled in our face? Marvel Heroes needs to stop this gender swap enhanced costume BS and let the players choose their sex when they get the hero; and let us choose it for heroes that we received when we didn’t have a choice. I’ll pay for an enhanced costume that gives a different dialogue or voiced by an actor from the movie, but I’m not going to pay for what should be a different freaking hero.

Flirting Mechanics: SWTOR

Flirting mechanics can be interesting, especially when the designers of the game put in negative responses. But I hate the fact that there isn’t a flirt response option for every character I speak to. They decide that I wouldn’t flirt with certain people. That’s stupid. I could, in theory, attempt to flirt with everyone I meet in the real world–doesn’t mean I should, but I totally could. In fact, I could attempt to flirt with a rock. Not that it would get me anywhere. So why do games with flirt mechanics tell me who I’m willing to flirt with? You don’t know me! Maybe I want to flirt with the big lizard companion. You know, just to see how he’d react. Flirting isn’t always used as a sexual ploy. Sometimes it is used as a method of teasing. I think that would be pretty interesting in a game. Also, why stop at flirting? There should be an option to insult everyone. Hell, there should be an option to punch everyone! I’m not saying that you should actually do these things in real life or even in a game, but as games keep trying to add more “reality”, they just keep showing us how not-real they are. An artificially limited flirt option just shows a player that they are playing a game and takes them out of the immersion. So go whole hog with social interactions in games! I know that’s hard to do, but work to it. (Also, Sims woefully underestimates the player’s desire to make their Sim punch other Sims, especially when they come into our homes uninvited.)

Morality Scales: SWTOR Again

Morality scales are a lot like flirting mechanics, as in incomplete. But also just weird as hell. Not every decision made has an effect on the scale, which everything should. But also, they often don’t make sense when you combine them. On Alderaan there are two such missions with morality choices that are just messed up when both are considered. These are pretty early on for a Republic player. You meet a reporter whose partner has run off and joined the rebels (they really are scum this time) and she wants you to get back their footage. You also run into an older couple whose son is believed dead, but mom has her doubts and wants to check if the rebels have him. You run into the other reporter and the son in the rebel stronghold pretty much one right after the other. The son says the rebels kidnapped him, forced him to take drugs, then used him as a soldier. They apparently have been doing this to other teenagers as well. Your moral choice is to let him leave the planet, telling his parents some lie, or to tell him to go home to mommy and daddy. The first is light side points and the second is dark side points. Now, I will discuss why that’s a problem in the next paragraph, but first on to the reporter. Upon meeting him, he says that if you give the footage to the other reporter, she will cut it to make the rebels look bad and that their plight is actually very dire and they need supporters. So he gives you the choice to let him keep the footage (light side points) or take it from him (dark side points). Now, first of all, I don’t believe that he’s going to give an unbiased cut of the footage to people either. But I can’t see him as anything but freaking insane for taking the rebels’ side after hearing the kid’s story. The lineup of light side and dark side in these two missions don’t make any sense when compared to each other. I don’t feel any sympathy for the scum that is an African warlord who kidnaps children and forces them to fight for him either, and I’m certainly not going to feel any sympathy for the reporter who tells me he’s not a bad guy. That’s insane.

The other problem besides morality not matching up among separate choices is the lack of a grey area. It’s neither bad nor good to help or force the son to go home. It’s kind of just a personal choice based on your upbringing. It’s also not good to help either reporter because neither of them is unbiased. So why have such black and white choices? Yahtzee’s biggest cripe against morality scales is that you have to be all good or all bad to see anything good come out of it. I agree that that makes the choices a little superfluous, because you could just choose an alignment at the beginning of the game instead. They are just making you choose it again and again throughout the game. Because of this, games with morality scales should include middle options that also give a player some benefit. Otherwise, it’s just too childish.

Forced Multiplayer: LOTRO

I hate playing with other people. I am a loner. I like to play by myself with no one else in the room. I like MMOs though. I don’t join groups, I don’t join guilds, I rarely trade with others, and I don’t chat. Why play an MMO then? Well, I like the character creation and build that comes with MMOs. There aren’t a lot of single player games with those features, namely Oblivion, Skyrim, and a few non-Elder Scrolls games. So I play a lot of MMOs, I beta-tested LOTRO, Marvel Heroes, and The Elder Scrolls online. I played City of Heroes/Villains, Champions Online, WOW, and a few others I can’t remember. I play LOTRO, Marvel Heroes, SWTOR, and DC Universe Online. All these games try to make you play with other people. I get the fact that they want to utilize that millions of people are playing, but they shouldn’t make it impossible to play solo (Han Solo). SWTOR only gives F2P players one crafting ability, when you need two to make something useful. That’s more about them trying to make F2P into Pay to Win players, but F2P players could conceivably trade with others for the stuff they need. LOTRO gives everyone all three of their crafting abilities, but they are set up that you need stuff from a fourth crafting skill to complete some items. I’m crazy, so I created four other characters on each of my servers to make them all craft the stuff I need (now I have to do some shuffling because of the server shutdowns) and just mail it to my other characters. I hate to have to do this, but I really don’t want to be forced to play with other characters. It’s worse when it is about quests. Ugh. I just level up on side quests until I can do a group quest on my own. I know, I’m antisocial, but don’t act like I’m the only MMO player out there that would rather play alone. I assure you I’m not.

MMO Stalkers

Yes, I’m antisocial, but let’s face it, pretty much every MMO player doesn’t like to be stalked. It happens to people more when they play female characters I bet, but that doesn’t always seem to matter to the stalkers. A player that stalks others sees a player they don’t know running around, completing missions and starts to follow them. Maybe they don’t say anything or send invites. Maybe they just want to steal your kills. This happens to me a lot on Marvel Heroes. They don’t want to play with me, they just want help not getting mobbed or want to take the quest kill from me after I’ve killed all the baddies between us and the big baddie (happens way too often in SWTOR and LOTRO). That isn’t much of a problem in DC Universe Online (or as it is called in my home “DahCooniverse”) because that game is set up that if you land one blow in the fight (not the first one, like other games) you also get credit for the kill and get loot too. That sounds like forced multiplayer but it’s more sharing than forced. It makes gameplay a little less frustrating when you get a stalker. My problem with the silent stalker is that I feel crowded out of an area. It’s more obvious in a top-down game like Marvel Heroes where you can see that other player following your every turn. I quit playing when that happens.

The other kind of stalker doesn’t last as long but can be more annoying. This is the person who sends you multiple invites in a row. When the area is crowded, I can understand how they may have accidentally sent me a second request. But sometimes no one else is around and they send three to five. Or once in SWTOR a person sent me 15 requests. One can only guess that person had to be five, because only five year olds ask the same question that many times in a row. So I hightailed it out of that area and the range of their social ineptitude. No means no, even in MMOs, people.

The Dominance of the Sandbox and FPS

I’m not sure if it’s obvious to most readers at this point, but I don’t play a lot of FPS or sandbox games. First of all, I’m not a console player. I’m a PC gamer. FPS games seem to work better with a controller. I’m not very good at these games. I tend to die very quickly. Bioshock and Bioshock Infinite weren’t too hard for me (especially when I realized that I could just use the wrench to beat down the squirrely doctor in Bioshock), but Oblivion (which has some broken leveling) and Skyrim lost some of their fun being in first person (yes, I know you can do third person, but the feel of those games and the mechanics are made for FPS styles). Then I tried Speck Ops: The Line. It’s brutal and the story is great, but I still suck at it.

I’m also not all that into sandbox gaming. “You can do anything you want!” But what should I do? “Anything you want!” Okay. My point is that sandbox gaming tends to lack focus and it’s hard to tell what you’re supposed to interact with. Complete sandbox is also a turnoff for me. Mostly I don’t like sandbox gaming because those games seem to have the same kind of story and that story will usually just pause while you are futzing around, completely losing all urgency. While Fable 3 was somewhat sandboxy, once you knew about the dark monster coming for you, the story was on a clock (this is one of the only games I beat, note that it was 3rd person) and that lent more realism to it. Some games keep the story going even though they are also sandboxes, but they don’t warn you that the story will keep going (i.e. Oblivion). This is a low down dirty trick. “You can do anything you want! (but the problems you’re supposed to fix will still happen)” What was that? “Anything you want!” Yahtzee talked a lot about these kinds of problems in some of his videos, so why don’t you go watch those too?

I don’t think FPS and sandbox gaming is just a problem because I don’t like or am not good at them. The problem is that there are so freaking many of them. Thank you so much GTA! I’m not saying don’t make them, but how about you make other kinds of games too, triple A game companies? This is why I tend to be excited by indie games. They have more variety.

The Fall of the (Turn-based) RPG: The Lord of the Rings: Third Age

My favorite kind of game is the turn-based RPG. I do not like JRPG, so don’t suggest any to me, though I loved Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete. That game was fun. A million freaking disks and tiny little characters and an interesting story. I beat that game too. The second one was harder. I like turn-based gaming because I’m a fan of strategy and building a character. I’ll play RTS games, but they’re not my favorite. My favorite game of all time is The Lord of the Rings: Third Age. Turn-based, six characters, the entirety of the story all from the movies, its own side story, and pretty good graphics for the PS2 engine. Now, I’m a little OCD. Each character had two power sets you could level up by doing a move each time in battle. I had each character completely leveled up by the end because I would park my butt in Helm’s Deep and go into battle for hours, prolonging the fights to get in as many moves for each character as possible. My spouse thought I was crazy since I wasn’t advancing the story at all. Then he realized I was also smart because in some of the later battles all of your characters have to fight two different battles at the same time and if you didn’t level up your second stringers, they were just going to die. The only thing I didn’t level up completely was the crafting ring. It took too long. I got 100% complete on that game, twice. That’s right twice. Each saved game had about 99 hours of playtime on it, which means I spent a total of 198 hours playing that game. The only reason I’m not playing it now is that I don’t have a PS2 anymore. But I miss that game. It’s the last really great turn-based game I can remember, especially one with modern (for its time) graphics. Now, it seems only the Japanese companies and indie developers are making turn-based games because all the other companies are so busy making their FPSes and sandbox games. Ugh. So when you hear about a turn-based game, please drop me a line. I’m always interested.

The Point of It All

Maybe it’s a good thing that I have so many issues with video games: it stops them from becoming an obsession that takes up all my time. These aren’t all my problems with video games (ex. crappy controls, poor story, freaking autosave!, lack of instructions, WASD explanations–really? you’re going to explain that but not how your battle simulator works?), but they are the ones that bother me most. I know that companies don’t have to satisfy just me, but I also know I’m not the only one who is put off by the issues on this list. The biggest issue seems to be the lack of variety coming out of big video game companies. It seems sometimes that more money and time are spent on graphics rendering than on gaming concept and story. Sometimes testing even goes out the window, looking at you, Arkham Knight for your PC version. Maybe this time it won’t suck quite so much, or at least not crash computers.

Got any trends or mechanics that bug you? Tell me about them in the comments. We’ll talk shop.

 
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Posted by on September 30, 2015 in Consumer Rights, Social Issues

 

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