Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Free Enterprise is an Oxymoron

Let me just state for the record that I support the principles of free enterprise. In my book, the less Government interference in commerce, the better. I firmly believe in the right of any business to make money hand-over-fist so long as the market is willing to shovel the money into their coffers. Long live Capitalism!

Now, having said that, let me belly-ache about profiteering, money-grubbing, greed-swilling corporate capitalist pigs. If I may.

Two examples will suffice to support my rant today.

First up (I'm changing the names to protect the innocent - me - from said greed-swilling corporate pig lawsuits) is a company known as OldDeadRelatives-dot-com. Some enterprising person or persons thought there was money to be made in the world of genealogy as more and more information became available publicly via the Internet (a.k.a. Al Gore). The idea is to buy up the digital rights to countless books and other resources, then charge through the nose for researchers to be able to use those resources from the comfort of their living rooms. Terrific idea. I myself have been a willing subscriber.

There are a few problems, however. First of all, they keep changing their pricing policies. Your subscription will change, sometimes twice in a year, to include less information for the same price. They then re-bundle the data and attach a price to it. The end result is that a subscription that gave me pretty much everything I really needed last year for around $170 will now cost me nearly $300 if I buy every package where they've spread those resources.

I won't even get into the horror stories of trying to cancel your subscription. I figure the cheapest way is to let my credit card lapse and never renew it. Once they figure out they can't get my money, they'll cancel my account. It's no use trying to talk to their so-called customer service reps. These are probably (based on my trained ear) BYU co-eds who have no idea how the company operates and wouldn't even know who to talk to about the fact that the ONE CENSUS IMAGE I'VE NEEDED FOR THE LAST THREE YEARS STILL HASN'T BEEN REPAIRED. I always say that in capital letters when I talk to them, and I keep getting the same perky "have a nice day!" in response.

My second example occurred just this morning. Mrs. Woody and I are dedicated homeschoolers. That is to say, Mrs. Woody is a dedicated homeschooler and I am the dedicated support and all-around rah-rah Daddy. In any case, Mrs. Woody has spent a lot of time and energy in developing a curriculum (being a teacher by training, in her case). She is constantly on the lookout for materials and programs that will help her teach our two little sponges.

For reading, she settled on a nationally recognized phonics program called something like (remembering my fear of lawsuits a few paragraphs back) Addicted to Small Syllables. We bought the full package a couple of years ago, and got Daughter Number One started on it in earnest at the beginning of the last school year. Daughter Number Two got her start this school year, and both girls have become reading whizzes, without having even finished the program yet. Number One has even read (age seven, first grade remember!) the first book of the Harry Potter series.

We have been very satisfied with the program. So what's my beef?

When we got the program, we realized that we would need an additional set of workbooks and posters so that we could use the basic program for both girls, and each could have their own progress charts and so forth. After the materials were delivered, we realized that something was missing. Mrs. Woody called the company, spoke to a very friendly person, and the item was shipped post haste.

Now, a year later, we realized that one of the posters for Number 2 was missing. Mrs. Woody called them this morning to order one, only to learn that now it (a barely more than letter-sized progress chart) would cost us $9.95. Not including shipping! Seems that because we're no longer considered "new" customers they can no longer just ship us whatever we may lack without charging us for the privilege. Mrs. Woody pointed out that they receive quite a lot of free advertising from us in the form of recommendations to friends and family about the program and how successful it's been for us. Well, they say, we appreciate that, but we're really doing you a favor by even letting you order just the one poster. Had you called only a week ago, we would have had to charge you for a complete set of workbooks and posters at $49.95!

No thanks, and have a very Merry Christmas (emphasis by Mrs. Woody). You can bet we will not be advertising for your company any longer. Terrific product, lousy customer service will be our advice from this point forward.

Yet another example (or two) of corporations being so beholden to their stockholders' bottom lines that they cannot justify offering good old-fashioned customer service anymore.

Sad. Very sad.

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