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Fight Back!

Fighting Stonewalling Stores

By Jim Bray

Have you ever been jerked around by a big company?

You aren’t alone. I’m just coming off a prolonged ordeal with a major electronics chain that was enough to make me tear out my hair. My experience, however, shows that you should never give up and you shouldn’t be afraid to “go upstairs” for satisfaction.

It began last December, when my family decided to buy my father a digital satellite dish system for Christmas. He lives in Canada and can only watch government-approved Canadian satellite systems, apparently because his government wants to protect Canadian broadcasters from competition and the Canadian people from exposure to any more American influence than is absolutely necessary.

One of the drawbacks to satellite systems is that unless you buy a second receiver, all your TV’s have to watch the same program. This is unacceptable in my house, because it would force my kids to watch the quality programming my wife and I prefer instead of the garbage they normally soak up.

My dad, however, lives alone, so this isn’t an issue. He has two TV’s, however (one upstairs and one downstairs) and, since he’s elderly, we wanted to make life with the dish as easy on him as possible by allowing him to change channels without having to run up and down the stairs all the time to access the satellite receiver.

The Web site of the electronics chain in question, which claims to have answers, offered the perfect solution: a second remote control that uses radio frequencies (RF, as opposed to the IR - infrared light – used by most remotes) to transmit through walls and floors! Dad could keep the RF remote upstairs and use it to control the satellite receiver installed downstairs.

A simple and elegant solution.

After contacting several Canadian branches of the chain, and discovering that the average clerk couldn’t spell “satellite” let alone understand it, I happened upon a store manager who knew what I wanted. He also offered the unexpected bonus of insisting that the second (RF) remote would work with the lowest end model of receiver, which happened to be on sale. This would shave about a hundred dollars from the price, because I had budgeted for the higher model receiver I knew accepted the RF signals.

He sounded relatively competent, so I took his advice. We bought the system and arranged for the second remote control (which, typically, was back ordered) to be delivered directly to the store outlet nearest my Dad’s home when he returned there from his holiday visit with us.

Except that it never arrived, even after multiple repeated “attempted rattlings of the store manager in question’s cage.” Oh, he swore it had been sent (and it had certainly shown up promptly on my credit card statement!), and he swore he’d send it again, but it always seemed to disappear into the ozone hole. My dad even inquired more than once at the supposed destination store, and was greeted with a resounding “Huh?” each time.

Meanwhile, I discovered that the low end receiver into which I’d been talked wouldn’t work anyway; only the model I had planned to buy in the first place, the step up unit, would accept the radio frequency remote’s signals. Well, you can imagine the conversation I had with the manager who’d sold me the bill of goods! Such words cannot be repeated here.

Eventually, he promised to send my Dad the step up receiver and eat the price difference between it and the phantom remote for the months of hassle through which we’d just gone.

That was over a month ago.

That’s when I kicked the problem upstairs, to the optimistically-named “Customer Service” department at the Canadian head office. They were very pleasant and promised to help.

A week later I phoned again, and a week after that. It was time to kick it upstairs again – to the department head. If that hadn’t worked, I would have gone to the president.

It took another two weeks, but it worked.

In the end, what should have been a straightforward transaction took three months to resolve, and if I hadn’t kept pushing it would probably continue to this day.

I don’t know if this is representative of the company’s U.S. parent, which is supposedly unconnected, and I’ll never know.

They won’t get the chance.

Jim Bray's technology columns are distributed by the TechnoFILE and Mochila Syndicates. Copyright Jim Bray.


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January 31, 2006