Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Getting the basics right

Moving to California has been an interesting experience with regards to buying stuff and changing services. I am in the market for all kinds of things that I usually don't care about -- things like banks, cars, utility companies, etc. Some of these services do well, some poorly.

For things that go well, I cannot recommend Carmax enough. They take all the hassle and worry out of buying a used car. It's a great experience overall. The only downside is once you've actually bought the car they take an age to clean it, gas it, and get the keys in your hands. You want to drive away with your new purchase immediately!

Car insurance is another issue. MA continues to defend its title as "most insane car insurance regulations in the US" by not letting you cancel your insurance until the MA DMV has your plates. This means you need to mail your plates back to some PO Box in Natick, and wait for a government employee there to punch into a computer "yes, they have returned the plates". Until then you need to continue to pay the usurious insurance rates they charge. This is assuming nothing gets lost in the mail.

There is also a well respected weekly periodical which I shall not name which does a lousy job of taking your money and mailing their magazine to you in exchange. I had let the subscription lapse since I was moving, and I get a phone call from them offering me a great deal if I sign-up now. So I do so and pay over the phone with my credit card, giving them an email address as a confirmation. I hear nothing back from these people, get no email, and worry that I've been phone scammed. I call them up and they have no record of the order, nor do they have any idea who might have placed the call. That said they cannot say for sure that the call was bogus because sometimes orders takes weeks or months to show up, and it seems there are free lance elements selling subscriptions for this periodical all over the globe. Eventually someone from the periodical recommends that I simply call my credit card company and cancel, since it's the only way to be sure. A most unsatisfactory conclusion since I really did want to give them my money in return for their product. I asked them, if I signed up for a new subscription there, could they offer me the same deal, and when would I start to get the magazine. They told me they could not offer the same deal, and if I still chose to sign up, I would get the first issue in the mail in 8-12 weeks. Which in my book is 2-3 months.

Ye gads.

After dramatic escalation, involving calling people I knew who worked at the company, it's all sorted out (I think) but you would think that taking money in exchange for product would be something the company was concerned about and be very very good at. It's remarkable how companies can lose sight of nailing the basics of their business. And it's a delight to interact with folks who get it right.


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