Main Street: Feb. 6, 2019

February 7, 2019

Editor’s note: This is the second of a two-part series. Today we will focus on some bad practices that need rethinking.

“Honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom.” — Thomas Jefferson

Two weeks ago we focused on three practices that businesses and organizations need to use more. They included: Deliver more than is expected; have knowledgeable employees that go the extra mile to help out the customer; and finally, make your business and employees dedicated to long-term relationships.

Now the other side. Some businesses and organizations employ short-term revenue and profit enhancers that irreparably damage their reputation. The trouble is, though, in most cases they will not even know it until it is too late.

They seem to think, well, if we lose a customer or two along the way, so what. We are still busy these days. The tragedy of Sears, Circuit City, Eastern Airlines, and hundreds of other companies who have had death or near-death experiences can be tied at least in part to short-term thinking.

Two caveats up front. First, when I see great examples of customer service, I will name the organization, but in the case of harmful practices I do not. But you can likely figure out who the culprits are.

Secondly, the idea that government should regulate everything is a bad one. In some cases it may be necessary, but in a free market economy a business within reason should have the freedom to employ both excellent and stupid practices if they so choose. My task is to merely point them out.

First is the practice of up-charging a customer excessively and unreasonably. A few weeks ago we went to a local restaurant that had nice décor. The food was delicious. I did notice, however, a rather foolish statement on the menu to the effect, “We serve the right portion for one meal. If you want to split the order and have an extra plate the charge it will be $6.”

Give me a break! I understand there are extra costs, and a dollar or two is reasonable, but not six. Many people, especially older customers or a parent with a child might want to share a meal.

My response (hopefully on behalf of some of you) is, “Would you rather have some of my business and make a reasonable charge, or not have it at all?” So be fair and reasonable, and we’ll come back to enjoy your restaurant. Either way I tend to tell 10-15 people at minimum about such experiences.

Secondly, some businesses make unreasonable charges and fees for changes. A few weeks ago my daughter and her husband, who frequently travel to Europe, made reservations for a round trip to London from O’Hare Airport with one of the large airlines based in Chicago.

She is a very experienced traveler, but anyone who has made reservations realizes that sometimes it is easy to make a “reverse trip” mistake. She inadvertently booked London to O’Hare and then O’Hare to London. A mistake, but an honest one.

Had this been a reservation with Southwest Airlines it wouldn’t have been a problem. But this major airline wanted to charge $700 to make the changes. They finally walked away from the money they had already spent, took their losses and rebooked on American Airlines. Although I was not involved in the transaction, I simply will not ever give that airline a chance unless it is the last possible option.

Third, the total chaos of pricing in the medical and pharmaceutical fields. Sometimes I get medication with my insurance, and I pay say $35 for on an imaginary retail price of $175. But the pharmacy says my insurance “saved” me $140. Really? It could be the insurance company only paid $50 making my “savings” $15.

Or the same medicine can be purchased skipping my insurance company and using a coupon from a place like GoodRx for $20. But the cruelest part of this scheme (and I use that word deliberately) is someone without the coupon or insurance would be charged the full $175.

In some cases, medical clinics and hospitals are even worse. A billed rate of $6,000 for a 30-minute surgery gets discounted down to $2,200 by Medicare, and then the insurance company pays another $400. I understand the need to make a profit, but the unfair pricing game is absurd.

It has gotten so bad, that the new Republican governor of Florida is pushing legislation to demand transparency in pricing. Car dealers don’t say, “We have this new Cadillac for $60,000, but if you insure with XYZ Insurance Company we will sell it to you for $8,000.”

Voluntarily, the providers, insurance companies, government and other concerned parties need to get their act together, or we will have more regulation which usually makes things worse.

Finally, robocalls on anything from credit card rates, to duct cleaning services, extended car warranties and dozens more have gone from irritation to, in my opinion, a scam.

Remember the early days of having a cell phone. These were rare or never happened. Some people even dropped their landlines because of these junk calls. Despite registering on the do-not-call list, the calls keep coming. One trick is they “hijack” an available 815 area code number and make the call look like a local call.

In many cases, they are coming from overseas call centers which do not obey U.S. laws. If you tell them never to call again, it’s to no avail. I think this will require legal action and legislation. Only if thousands of people nationwide complain to our senators, congressmen, and the Federal Trade Commission will we stop this outrageous waste of our cell minutes and more importantly our time. So join me in fighting back.

By and large, most companies and organizations are honest and fair, but when you see an unfair, lousy practice, let the company know that you will not tolerate it. Reward the honest and ethical companies, shun the bad ones.

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