Getting Even

Thoreau at Unqualified Offerings has a beef with big companies. The beef is about the asymmetry in the way mistakes are addressed. When he makes a mistake, he must fix it immediately. When big companies make a mistake, they take their sweet time about getting the problem resolved. But he has a simple suggestion,

So, I say that we should be able to put large companies on hold when they want something, send them through phone trees, and ask them to re-submit paperwork that we may or may not lose track of.

This reminded me of a friend of mine from long ago, you’ll see how long ago in a moment, who got fed up with differing information requirements that various vendors wanted included with his payment. Some wanted him to return a form with every payment; some wanted something special written on each check, some wanted both; and no two had the same requirements. So my friend wrote something like this to his gas company, his electric company, his water company, the company that held his mortgage, the one with his car loan, and so forth.

Dear Valued Vendor,
Re: New Payment Policy
Due to the large number of payments I must process each month, it is necessary for me to require that you include the proper punched card with each month’s bill. It will also be necessary to include the account number from each month’s card on your bill. Please place this number in a prominent location near the top. For your convenience, I have included a year’s supply of preprocessed cards. Failure to include the proper card with each bill and to display your assigned account number on the bill will result in your forfeiting my payment that month.
Thanks you for your continuing service.
Sincerely,

With each letter, he sent twelve cards each properly printed and punched with vendor’s name, a month, year, and a very long account number that combined both letters and numbers in no particular order. Obviously, he had access to the proper equipment and some time on his hands.
He got no response from about half of those to whom he sent these payment policy requirements. All the others, save one, sent him a letter indicating, with varying degrees of politeness, that they wouldn’t do it and would take various actions against him if he didn’t pay them on time.
But here is the weird part, one of his vendors, I don’t remember which one, faithfully included his card with every bill and hand wrote the “account” number at top of every bill in rather large letters. Would we be able to find even a single company that would do such a thing today?

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