Monday, September 22, 2008

Counterfeiting, Customer Service, Business Ethics, and Lessons Learned - Part One

"The Power Of You." I had no idea, until this minute, that was Time Warner's slogan. Yes, I have power. And, yes, you have power. And, yes, companies that are "successful" have power. All of those, in my opinion, can be blessings or curses, or, maybe a bit of both, eh?

But, somehow, I know that I'm gonna preach to the choir here ...

Today was a great day. A strange day, that's for sure. But, a good day.

Let me just tell you my tale if you don't mind.

It all began when I tried to pay my internet cable bill at Time Warner Cable with a (gasp!) counterfeit $100.00 bill!! Now, imagine me, the owner of a company that designs and sells Altar Cards for priests to say Mass with, passing counterfeit American money. The attractive clerk rubbed one of those magical forensic pens across the evidence and declared it to be counterfeit. Thank goodness she didn't go ballistic on me. The popular counterfeit detector pens are, after all, infallible. Everyone knows that. After all, there was a long line of unhappy people who would have gladly lynched me on the spot just to have something good to say about their day. She just handed it back rather matter-of-factly and said it was no good and to whip out a different one and try my luck again. Actually, she was very nice and we had a good laugh about it.

Immediately, my mind raced in an effort to trace back to where I had obtained the bogus bill.

"Cashland." "Why those thieves," I thought ... Yep, a few weeks ago, I visited a (gasping again!) check cashing place. It was the only time, honest. Anyway, I went into Sherlock Holmes mode, and, dropping everything on today's plate, it was off to Cashland for me.

Well, I calmly told the Cashland supervisor that we were apparently accomplices in an underworld scheme. Well, to make a long story long, she was nice too. A bit abrupt but nice nonetheless. Maybe I should be thankful for that anyway. She reluctantly examined the bill in question with her priceless counterfeit detection pen and pointedly declared,(get this) that it was showing to be counterfeit on the front and genuine on the back. I gasped aloud in questioning surprise. (Hey, some days I just gasp a lot. Give me a break.) She was totally undismayed with her revelation of contradiction. She flatly refused to take it back and give me another one so that the cable bill could be paid. She just said that it should have been returned that day (two weeks ago). So, Cashland policy is, apparently, to disavow all knowledge of the cash that they dispense at their famous interest rates. And, in the manner of the ancient Spartans, I reckon that their business ethics declare them to be unresponsible for any bad bills that they pass if a customer doesn't catch them before the Cashland branch office closes for the day. That's my opinionated conclusion, anyway ... So, somehow expecting uncooperation, I asked her (she is the branch supervisor, by the way) where the nearest Dayton police station was so that I could get to the bottom of this mystery ala Poirot on PBS Mystery Theater.

At the district branch, the tall sergeant didn't like that I was interrupting his lunch but quickly assisted me regardless. He was very nice like everyone so far was. Actually, I was quite impressed with his friendly, professional demeanor and don't want to appear smug. The officer was just hungry and a bit grouchy because of it. Anyway, the cop inspected the tainted, otherworldly $100 spot and declared after careful testing that it was NOT counterfeit after all!! He had carefully scratched it with a pen knife. That scratch revealed the red and blue fibers woven into genuine American paper currency. However, he said that I can't, and the police department can't, force Time Warner to accept the bill.

Another officer approached and said that had I been carrying my own magical counterfeit detection pen that this event could have been avoided. He said that for only about $2.00 I too would have the power of the universe to spot counterfeiting schemers like the clerks I was tangling with. Puzzled, the recent conclusion of one side being good and the other side bad came to mind. Biting my tongue, I kept the peace.

The officer who's lunch was now stone cold recommended that I take it to a nearby bank and pawn it off on, er, exchange it.

That was enough for me as I bolted to the nearest banking facility.

At the nearby unlucky National City branch , the unwitting clerk was exceptionally nice too. Unfazed, I was skeptical. Twice bitten, now shy, I still felt like a thief as I handed her the bill and asked for two fifty's instead. Unbelievably, she didn't even blink an eye. She took the scratched, counterfeit detection marks and all $100 bill and gave me two fifty's in it's place.

I hurried out of the bank before she changed her mind! By the way, National City's slogan is "Banking Made Simple." That, indeed, rang true for me today. Thanks, National City. That was a real relief to see it played out in my case.

Rushing back to Cashland to update Witch Hazel, er, the friendly supervisor, I detailed the officer's methods and findings and educated her on her lousy detection pen. She still stood by the strange company policy they have there.

Really now, what else could I have expected? She was just blindly following orders like Lt. Calley and Oliver North alleged. That was my humble opinion anyway.

So, next, it was back to Time Warner Cable. The supervisor waited on me by chance. She was very nice. I explained all of the grisly details to her: her employee's error, my newly acquired counterfeiting detection methods, and implored her to educate her customer service agents against relying solely on errable counterfeiting detection pens. For the sake of my fellow Time Warner customers, I showed her how to scratch and see the red and blue fibers. And, I showed her how to rub a bill on a sheet of copy paper and see the green smude residue that real bills produce. Some of their customers surely were having perfectly good bills declared to be fake and getting quite the run-around like me merely because everyone blindly assumes that the $2.00 drugstore pens are foolproof. (And, of course, the supervisor at Cashland didn't know what she was doing with counterfeit detection either.)

At long last, two hours and $7.00 in gasoline later, I paid my internet bill with the newly acquired fifty dollar bills. I sheepishly suggested that I be discounted $5.00 for my gasoline. The nice Time Warner supervisor smiled widely and flatly refused.

So, I remained pleasant as I had all through this experience and just left dismayed and disgusted.

The whole thing was caused by the assumption of infallibility of widely used counterfeit detector pens. That's what they used to think about lie detector machines until proved fallible. Now, their findings are routinely dismissed in many trials. Perhaps, these nasty pens will be banned from use eventually.

Exhaustedly driving home, I began thinking of an order that a retailer of my altar cards requested this morning. Their customer wants their cards in only two days! It never dawned on me not to try get their cards to them in such a short timespan. I was determined to satisfy my retailer and their customer so long as it was humanly possible for me to do.

Then, I compared my business ethics with those of Cashland and Time Warner and couldn't understand how those businesses can be doing so financially well with such poor customer service, at least in my case anyway. I thought, whatever happened to tradition. Whatever happened to customer service? Is it out of style? Is there a new business ethic? Am I missing something? Am I being high-minded and maybe just biased?

Well, I didn't have time to go philosophizing about business conduct. I had a rush job on an altar card order to get out today. Thank goodness that they didn't have to be printed. They were in stock.

Tomorrow, I'll wrap this story up with Part II.

I'll let you in on how the US Postal Service handled my rush job when I took it there to mail ASAP.

Until then, I hope you have a pleasant evening and don't have to run any errands ...

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