Thursday, September 20, 2018

Girding for a Fight

I live in Minnesota, the home of Minnesota nice, where people shy from confrontation. We tap our car horns gently, slightly embarrassed to disturb the car about to hit us.  While I don’t much like confrontation, I grew up in a family with New York roots where it was assumed that you would speak up if necessary. Passivity was not encouraged. It’s not that I can’t do confrontation, it is more that I resent having to. I just want people to deal with me fairly, share the necessary information and take responsibility for doing their job properly. That doesn’t happen nearly often enough for my taste.

Recently I’ve had a spate of situations where that didn’t happen. They all seemed to cluster, making me realize how much of an energy drain confrontation can be. By the same token when you’re raised to fight for yourself, wimping out can be just as distressing as confrontation. There is a delicate balance point that I have to consider to decide if it’s worth moving forward, confrontation stress versus disgust with myself for wimping out. Usually the latter pushes me forward.

Let me give you a recent example. This year I had two overseas trips (stay tuned for more on our upcoming Russia trip). I realized I needed to find a better phone option while traveling. On occasion I’ve gotten a sim card for my phone, but it was one more step to secure and install it, hence additional hassle. Alternatively, several providers offer international plans, but they can be quite costly and require you to set them up. As I embarked on what was becoming a rather extensive research project, I discovered that there was an attractive and seamless option. I went into the store to talk to them about the plan. As we were moving forward I learned that my existing company would charge the full monthly fee even if I ended the service early in the month. Apparently, this is common, kind of a "don’t let the door hit you on the way out gesture." At that point I suggested to the new provider that we wait on moving forward until shortly before my upcoming trip. The staff, eager to have two new customers, offered to give me a credit to neutralize that difference. 

“Yes,” I said, “but what if you have a special phone offer that comes out in that window?”  

“Oh, you could get it for 14 days after you sign up” they replied, assuring me that a special deal was quite unlikely. And so, we moved forward.

Shortly before my first upcoming trip we prepared to buy a new phone and to transfer my old phone to my husband. I checked the phone company to see if there were any deals and to my surprise the deal they said would never happen had happened. If we bought one of their more recent phones we could get $700 off another phone. I called the young man at the store and reminded him of our discussion. He agreed that I was in the 14 day window and we stopped in the store.

Now the fun began. His assumption that I had 14 days turned out to be just that, an assumption, and a faulty one at that. Now I should confess that I have a bias against young men in service jobs. I add the caveat that I know this is not true of everyone, however in my experience it seems that a disproportionate number of young men talk as if they know what they’re doing and don’t. They are big on bravado and faking what they don’t know and unless they get called out it actually is a useful skill to advance in a career. Women don’t present this bravado, but for that reason I trust what they tell me to be factual. Most of my service providers are female for this reason. 

Only when we entered the store did he call in to headquarters to confirm his assumption and learn otherwise. Apparently, it wasn’t worth checking at the front end until I was standing in front of him. Not a good sign. As I eavesdropped on his conversation, what I heard sounded an awful lot like asking permission rather than advocating for me as the customer. He got off the phone, turned to me and said sorry can’t do it.

Now I am a fast reactor. You know, the kind you have to scrape off the ceiling. It makes my husband nervous when I do this. He’s seen me react before and knows one would not describe me as temperate. I am much more of the WTF school of thought. “Your misinformation will cost me $700,” I sputtered in rage. “You need to fix this!”

He shrugged, obviously not taking this as his responsibility. “You could call customer service,” he offered. “Who did you just talk to?” I asked incredulously. “I don’t know” he replied. I was so furious I could barely dial the number but after some fumbling I had customer service on the line. I could see my husband bracing himself for what he knew was to come. He’s a Minnesota boy. They do get angry, but only in private or in the car where no one but me can hear them. They are much better behaved in public.

A perky woman answered and I apologized in advance. “I’m so furious I can barely speak,” I said, “I’m going to apologize now in case I get carried away. I have been misled to the tune of $700 by the store and I need you to fix this. I am a new customer, and I would think you would want new customers to be happy.”

Imagine my amazement when she replied “We will fix this.” A good starting premise.

I explained the situation. She did some checking and assured me that even if someone in the bowels of the company turned down the rebate, she had the ability to override it. “Get it in writing!” my husband urged. She provided us an email detailing out what she had agreed to and told us to go ahead and pick out the phones. 

Now I am happy to report that she followed through and I am a satisfied customer, albeit skeptical of advice from their store. We worked this through to my satisfaction, but it felt like a lot of work and I’m tired of fighting. I want to work with competent people who don’t try to bravado themselves through life. It is a rarity, so when I get those people I sing their praises. And when I don’t, I guess I’ll just muster my energy and put up a fight. Just don’t make me do it too often. 

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