What's All This Then?

commentary on the passing parade

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Monday, January 16, 2012

As regular readers with good memories know, I have had issues with the Chicago Tribune from time to time - with columns, with news stories and with the letters section. And now I’m part of a class action law suit against the Trib over a home delivery price increase that was sprung on subscribers without notice. They just took an increased amount from subscribers’ bank or credit card accounts and that’s how we learned of the new price. I had no part in filing the suit. I’m just a member of the class. But today, I have a what might be thought of as a raised blog eyebrow at something that appears in the only daily paper that I read and what one of its columnists has been able to accomplish..

I may have commented on this particular Trib feature in the past, so please excuse if I repeat myself somewhat. The feature to which I refer is called "What’s Your Problem." People who have come to the end of their patience trying to resolve differences with companies or branches of government can turn to the Tribune for help. They just write or e-mail "What’s Your Problem" with their story and if they’re lucky, the paper will take up their cause. It’s an interesting feature, but what it demonstrates more than anything else is the intransigence and/or thickheadedness of companies large and small and just about any branch of government - issues that are of particular interest to me as demonstrated in the subject matter and specific stories found in my other blog Consume Stories

As you can see if you click on the link, I have been trying to gather stories similar to the ones illustrated there but with very little success. It seems very few people who have done battle with corporate or government behemoths have in their possession back and forth correspondence and written evidence of a successful or at least amusing conclusions necessary for inclusion in the book. I have quite a few of my own - but only enough for a very small book. I need contributions and I’m still looking for them. But now comes an announcement from the Tribune that John Yates, the "What’s Your Problem" columnist has written a book on how mere mortals, without the benefit of a major newspaper’s clout, can solve their own problems with problematic companies.

My first reaction to the news of the book was mild amusement followed by a touch of bitterness at the ability of someone who has the clout of his job and his employer to get a book deal for this kind of topic, something I would dearly like to do. I don’t know what’s in his book and I’m not going to buy it, but I imagine it doesn’t contain the following advice.
"If all you get is frustration trying to resolve a problem with a corporate behemoth, just publish the story in your own major newspaper, embarrassing the heck out of them - oh and be sure to mention the name of the "spokesperson" of the company who you were miraculously able to reach."
Much as I am envious of Yates’ ability to get a book published, I would not have bothered to make comment about it except for one thing. In last Sunday’s paper - January 15, What’s Your Problem had a two thirds of a page story with the headline AT&T MISSTEPS OVER THE LINE - a stothry about a woman who had problems with her AT&T Internet account. If you look at my Consumer Stories blog, you will see that it was MY frustrating experience with AT&T that prompted me to begin writing and compiling "BATTLING THE BEHEMOTHS" and you can read how I began to do battle with this particular Behemoth.

Maybe Yates has some magical formulas that I haven’t heard of in my battles with Behemoths that stretch back more than 35 years, but I doubt that any advice he has to offer is as amusingly readable as my own collection of battles, a few samples of which are on my Consumer Stories web site. But for anyone looking for advice but unwilling to shell out the cost of the book or blow thirty bucks to meet the author at the Tribune Tower - yes, there is a meet and greet and I gather a Q&A session with Mr. Yates on January 18 and the price of a "ticket" is $30 - here’s a single piece of consumer advice for free.

Do not call any toll free numbers and do not use a company’s web site to send a message or ask a question. Of course you may be able to resolve problems doing exactly those things and if yours is not a pressing problem, perhaps you can try either approach first. But if you want to cut through reams of red tape and corporate double speak - call or write to specific individuals at the corporation’s home office, or research the individual e-mail addresses of appropriate corporate executives and direct your e-mail to them. Those addresses aren’t readily available, but with a little bit of digging you can find them. If you bother to read the "opening salvos" of my battle with AT&T back in 1974, you’ll get clear idea of what I mean and how trying to resolve problems by talking to anyone at the other end of a toll free number is often the first step on the road to madness.

Oh - In case you think I have any personal animosity towards Mr. Yates and that’s why I’m writing this - not so. I wish him great success with his book on how to do what I’ve been able to do with more success than failure for perhaps - just a guess - more years than he’s been alive? I’m sure there are a great many more ideas in his book than the few lines of advice I’ve offered here. But if enough of you would like to send me $30, I’ll publish my formulas for solving consumer problems right at this space.