I long ago figured out a way to abruptly end many heated political discussions. Before the person on the other end of the conversation escalates his criticism of a public official into full-on offensiveness, I ask him if he cast a vote in the election that resulted in this official getting into office. It's amazing how many times the answer is "no."
"Then I'm afraid I'm not interested in your opinion. You haven't earned the right to complain," I explain as nicely as I can.
Consumers earn the right to complain -- and more importantly, the chance that a problem will be rectified -- when they purchase something.
Yet the increasingly common practice of outsourcing takes those rights away from consumers, contends New Zealand Herald columnist Deborah Hill Cone. She uses her own experience of a move riddled with screw-ups from a broadband provider, an appliance store and a moving firm -- several of whom attempted to foist the blame onto contractors.
There is "little point" in complaining, she writes, "because most likely I am not talking to an employee of the company anyway and the service I am complaining about is not provided by the company either."
I had a similar experience recently when canceling a credit card I've had for more than a decade. The card issuer, a bank, outsourced its card operations to a large corporation in 1998. That corporation in turn sold out to a big bank in 2005. I assume it took this big bank a while to move the original system to its platform, because it's only been in the last six months or so that I've experienced service blips with the card.
Despite my best efforts, I was unable to get electronic statements. While I am not the most tech-savvy person around, I've been able to successfully do this for other accounts. The paper statements kept arriving and often ended up getting misplaced. After paying several late fees, I decided to simply cancel the card.
When I called the customer service line, there was no option for a human being. After several minutes -- and finally just defying the automated voice system by hitting "0" -- I got a human being. That agent forwarded me to two other people. When asked why I wanted to cancel the card, I explained my problems with customer service -- up to and including our very discussion. The agent didn't try to keep my business. Her reply was so scripted, it set my teeth on edge.
It feels very similar to Cone's experience. I know it makes good financial sense to outsource non-core aspects of a business. But I would like to think that companies doing so invest enough pride in their brand that they care about the quality of the services offered by outside parties in their name. Too often, that just doesn't seem to be the case.
As Cone writes:
... There is no point wasting time talking to people who don't have the responsibility to close the deal. That's the beauty of this outsourcing malarkey - no one is responsible.