Rogers: boob behind the tube

When I signed a 2-year digital TV contract last July with Rogers, it was following a long and painful price negotiation with their customer service department. Unhappy that they had increased their prices last summer, I argued to get it at the previous price. Plus additional discounts for invoicing screw-ups. Now, 9 months into the contract, this month’s invoice displayed a sudden hike in the amount due. Of course, I called them up immediately.

(Following several minutes of unbearable Muzak)

Me:  Hi. The amount on my invoice is higher than usual, and I’d like to know why.
Rep:  Yes. Rogers has increased the price of some of their programming packages, including the one you’re subscribed to.
Me:  When I signed up, I agreed to a particular price. I’m not interested in, nor do I intend on, paying more.
Rep:  Unfortunately, they’ve decided to increase the price. Rogers is constantly making improvements to the levels of service they offer their clients.

(Play along. Benefit of the doubt.)

Me:  Okay. Can you tell me what these improvements are?
Rep:  Well, um, Rogers is always bringing improvements to existing services, to better serve their clients.
Me:  Yes, I got that part. Can you tell me how this will benefit me, specifically, in my day-to-day experience, when I watch TV?
Rep:  Um, unfortunately I can’t really say… specifically…
Me:  That’s what I thought. Once again, I was already paying more than I’d like for cable, and I have no intention of paying more. So please change my invoice to the price I used to pay.
Rep:  Unfortunately, I can’t change the price of the packages.
Me:  Sure you can. I’ve negotiated with you guys before to get better pricing.
Rep:  Yes, I can see you have discounts on your invoice.
Me:  Yes. So just adjust that so that I don’t pay more. You can call it a credit, or a discount, or whatever label you need to on your end, as long as I don’t see an increase. Look, it’s simple. I know I’m screwed to stay with you for the 2-year duration of the contract. But you have a choice: you can keep me at the increased price and know for a fact that you’re losing a client after the contract, or you can work with me and keep me as a client.


Rep:  Okay, here’s what I can do. We have a promotion right now, on the package you currently have. It’s 20% off for 12 months. But your current discounts will no longer be valid.
Me:  That’s OK, because the 20% off more than compensates for it. (Translation: in the end, I’m still paying less, which is what I wanted)

(Note: Always ALWAYS repeat what you THINK they’re saying, to make sure you’ve understood correctly.)

Me:  So you’re telling me that for 12 months, as of today, I will keep the exact same package I currently have, and I will get it for $X less than I am currently paying.
Rep:  That’s correct.
Me:  Great, let’s do that.

But clearly isn't.

But clearly isn't.

In conclusion:

–  Never, ever accept a random change in service levels or price unless it’s in your favour.
–  Never, ever accept their initial refusal or dismissal. Push back. I’ve never called anywhere without getting something in return, with varying degrees of success.
–  I’m appalled that it would take a client threatening to leave before being offered a better deal. Shouldn’t the better deal be offered automatically, as a thank you for clients’ continued business? Oh wait. That would involve some notion of customer service.
–  I’m still getting my package for less. Again.


Stop and smell the espresso, part deux

Come to Momma!

This morning, UPS delivered a relatively large parcel to our home. Finally – after two years of dutifully accumulating Air Miles, and thanks to SuperJan’s commendable customer service, we are now the proud owners of the highly anticipated, the one and only, this-is-what-espresso-should-be-like Jura Ena 5 espresso maker!

See how right and cozy the machine looks on our kitchen counter?

Our new Jura Ena 5

Our new Jura Ena 5

The other coffee accessories took to it right away: the espresso spoons hanging from their magnetic plate smile down warmly upon it; the chocolate dust anxiously awaits to be sprinkled ever so deliciously upon each cappuccino’s steamed milk; and the Kicking Horse Cliff Hanger espresso coffee (certified organic & fair trade), which by the way is the best damn coffee I’ve tasted so far and worth every penny, happily sacrifices itself in its duty to help create a fine cup of coffee.

Excuse me while I wipe a tear from my eye.

So before signing off for a little over a week, I’d like to thank SuperJan and Air Miles once more – not only for the Jura Ena 5, but for giving me hope that exemplary customer service from major corporations may not be as endangered a species as I thought.

Stop and smell the espresso

I don’t give out my loyalty to a brand or company easily. In fact, I have pretty high standards when it comes to customer service, whether that be from a restaurant, a telephone company, a cable company or a department store. Some, including my husband, think my expectations can be somewhat unrealistic. I disagree entirely. Of course, my husband won’t even return a burger if it’s not what he ordered.

Here’s my reasoning: we all work hard for our half of the salary that we’re allowed to take home. So when you purchase any product or service and you don’t get what you’re entitled to, I think it’s not only acceptable, but necessary to do something about it.

I’m the first to admit I’m a customer service whore. I’ll jump on the first company that will offer me a better deal. See? No loyalty. The reasoning is simple: I’m tired of dealing with the same big companies over and over again, who think we’ll just keep bending over and taking the crap they dish out. Anyone else tired of hearing “I’m sorry, but there’s nothing I can do”?

Not to name names, but you know who you are, Bell / Videotron / Rogers et al.

Bell called me a while back, asking to get my business back. My venomous hatred for Bell made me want to vomit into the phone, but I managed to nicely ask the man what he had to offer. He said they had great new deals on long distance plans. First, the plan’s price was the same one I currently pay with Primus. Second, they couldn’t match Primus’s offering. When I explained this, he actually tried to convince me I didn’t need more than he was offering. So much for price and product – let’s try service. I asked if they had expanded their customer service hours, which in the past were barely more than regular business hours. He confirmed their hours hadn’t changed. So I recapped: you’re offering me less for the same price, and your service hasn’t changed. I’ll stick to Primus. This way, I have the added bonus of not having to deal with Bell.

I’ve got loads of examples, ranging from multiple invoice screw-ups and duplicate charges, all the way to flat-out lying about showing up for service calls. For the record, that was Bell too. And when I called and received the expected “I’m sorry, but there’s nothing I can do”, I kindly thanked her for convincing me to switch to Star Choice. Like I said, customer service whore.

In the midst of these giant corporations who make profits at our expense, I found a rare pearl.

Chris and I have been saving up air miles for the past few years, with a very specific goal in mind: the Jura “Ena 5” espresso maker. Behold the beauty of the Ena 5. A $1400 machine brought to you free of charge by the magic of Air Miles. For nearly two years, we’ve been checking the Air Miles web site, making sure it’s still available, and that the number of points required hadn’t changed.

 Jura Ena 5 uber-awesome espresso maker

Jura Ena 5 uber-awesome espresso maker

Until last week. We were 60 points away from the 12,000 points required, and could almost taste the cappuccino, when suddenly it was nowhere to be found. They had heartlessly removed it from the list of products they carry, just when it was almost within reach.

Despite a foreboding sense of doom, we dialed the customer service number. We explained our situation to the rep, who transferred us to a supervisor, to whom we had to tell the story again. I was less than optimistic. Jan the supervisor A.K.A. SuperJan, was sympathetic about how long we’d been waiting for the item. According to his initial checks, there were a couple of machines left in their warehouse, but he didn’t know if they had already been shipped away. For two days, SuperJan made calls to the warehouse trying to locate one, re-entered the item on the web site and gave us the missing 60 air miles in good faith, to facilitate the transaction.

SuperJan could’ve chosen to be just plain Jan, claiming “I’m sorry, but there’s nothing I can do.” At the end of the day, he’d still go home and earn his pay. But instead he went out of his way to resolve a problem for a customer, and all he got out of it was a heartfelt thank you. That, my fellow consumers, is excellence in customer service – the only thing that can in fact breed loyalty.

We’ll keep you posted on whether he was successful in locating our uber-awesome, this-is-what-espresso-should-be-like espresso maker.

A Marketing Fad… Clearly.

Crystal Pepsi

Crystal Pepsi

The other day, I was driving to work when the radio played a blast from the past: Van Halen’s Right Now, circa 1992. Even before I started my marketing career, I was always attuned to advertising and marketing. Exhibit A: the song didn’t take me back to any college parties, but rather planted a clear image in my mind of Pepsi’s short-lived 1993 flop, Crystal Pepsi, and its advertising campaign.

Let’s face it: it’s easier to piggyback on an existing idea or trend and somehow still get some credit for it. At the time, it was somewhat of a fad to market “clear” versions of products – the theory was that consumers would equate clarity with purity. Ivory Soap was the first, remaking their classic creamy solution into a clear (and presumingly pure) liquid.

Enter Pepsi, with its own clear concoction, Crystal Pepsi. Launched at Superbowl 1993, below is one of their 30-second spots:

What exactly is Crystal Pepsi? Precisely what it sounds like: a colourless version of its cola self. Not a citrus-infused drink like many other clear, non-cola beverages, but simply one that tasted suspiciously like regular Pepsi. So what was the point?

Hence Crystal Pepsi’s meteoric rise to… nowhere. But all is not lost. After all, it provided valuable material for Saturday Night Live, who didn’t waste a second to pick up the pieces and rearrange them into something disturbing, albeit hilarious.

Lessons learned? Pepsi the drink has been around since the 1890, although Pepsi the brand was trademarked in 1903. Think twice before screwing with your brand just to unjustifiably jump on the latest lemon-scented and new-improved bandwagon.

Barbie World less than rosy

I grew up playing with Barbie dolls in the 70’s. I had it all: the furniture, the house, the RV, and the pink Corvette. Lots of Barbie friends, and boxes of clothing and accessories. In fact, my goal was to someday have the lifestyle that my Barbie had.

Today, my daughters play with Barbie dolls. But I’ve noticed some changes in the blonde bombshell that I’m less than enthusiastic about.

True, since her 1959 debut, Barbie has had about 125 careers or occupations, including aerobics instructor, U.S. army officer, astronaut, veterinarian, McDonald’s cashier and ballerina. She is a great toy for little girls to fantasize being anything they want to be. But lately, I’ve been wondering what exactly Mattel is trying to inspire girls to be.

Besides the obvious physical anomalies, which would cause Barbie to be 5’9″ tall, with a 36″ chest, 18″ waist and 33″ hips and missing about 20% the body fat required to menstruate, Mattel has made a few marketing blunders. Among these:

– Teen Talk Barbie, in 1992, featured a doll that spoke various phrases, including “I love shopping!” and “Math class is tough!”. Mattel has always claimed Barbie could be a positive role model for girls. Perhaps they meant for girls aspiring to marry rich.

– Oreo Fun Barbie in 1997, a cross-promotion with Nabisco, was criticized because in the African American community, Oreo is used as a derogatory term, meaning you’re “black on the outside, but white on the inside”.

– Totally Tattoos Barbie, in 2009, featured a series of tattoos that girls could apply to Barbie, including a lower-back tattoo. I mean, what if things don’t work out with Ken? Will Mattel throw in laser tattoo removal as part of the divorce settlement?

Ken Tattoo

Ken Tattoo

As a girl, my Barbie accessories ranged from fun to glamorous. Today, it seems challenging to find anything for Barbie that doesn’t scream “I charge by the hour”. I’ve been to various toy stores. I searched online on sites including Barbie and Toys R Us. In fact, I think Mattel is encouraging girls to think “sexy” at a premature, inappropriate time — shorts that barely cover Barbie’s ass, shirts that she shouldn’t bend over with in public, and outfits that look just plain sexually provocative.

I thought my point would be better illustrated by using examples of Barbie merchandise I found on the Barbie and Toys R Us web sites, and playing a little game called Name that Barbie:

1. Frat Party Barbie — complete with Daisy Dukes, easy-to-remove top, and Jell-o shots. Promotion: Purchase Frat Party Keg and get Tipsy Tina for real cheap.

Frat Party Barbie

Frat Party Barbie

2. Escort Barbie — includes cheap faux-chic ensemble, black boa, stiletto heals and matching purse perfect for carrying condoms. Barbie’s all about safety!

Escort Barbie

Escort Barbie

3. Mile-High Club Barbie — from the skin-tight teaser uniform to the f#@k me boots. Bonus handcuffs inside luggage.

Mile-High Club Barbie

Mile-High Club Barbie

4. Poolside Fling Barbie — comes with, evidently, very little material and Barbie’s own cabana boy

Poolside Fling Barbie

Poolside Fling Barbie

5. Little Black Dress Cougar Barbies — Can be sold separately, but usually sold as a pair of aggressive, slightly used dolls

Cougar Barbies

Cougar Barbies

My point is that Barbie is moving beyond the merely flimsy onto the full-blown skanky. Just in case I haven’t illustrated my point, here’s one more item, taken online from Toys R Us. They call it “Premium Pink House furniture”; I call it Barbie’s venture into adult films.

Barbie Boudoir

Barbie Boudoir

Am I the only one here who sees the inappropriateness of some of the available toys? And yet Mattel has launched an “I can be” Academy, meant to inspire girls by putting on display all the careers Barbie has held. There’s a great article in the Ottawa Citizen explaining the Academy and how it highlights Barbie as a positive role model. Girls can even design their own engagement rings, cakes and wedding dresses. They can walk down a pink carpet and receive a diploma from Barbie herself. Now there’s one to add to your CV.

They say the goal of the campaign is to empower girls. Just seems oddly self-contradictory with the other messages they’re sending.