Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The Bait and Switch

Don't you just love it when companies pull the bait and switch on you? I mean, is there anything that makes you want to come back for more than a nice big serving of the ol' switcheroo?

This morning I went to get an oil change for my car, a 1997 Geo Prism. Yes, I travel in style. I have had this wonder machine for 8 years, and it has faithfully served me for 80,000 miles and has never seen the inside of a shop. However, now that the odometer is showing 110,000 miles this car is certainly showing it's age. It is banged and bruised, missing the front left hub cap, and sports an elegantly cracked wind shield. It is a vehicle fit for a king.

Anyway, the oil change place next to my office has an early bird discount of $8 if you bring your car in before 11:00AM. Being the stingy bastard that I am, I am always there in time to claim my discount. This morning after the mechanic finished servicing my vehicle, he did not give me the advertised price. When I complained, he told me that he was missing his "magnetic card" and therefore could not give me the $8 off. I told him that I couldn't care less, and there was no way I would pay full price. After thinking for a moment, the guy then offers me a $4 discount. Now I am really steaming. How can he offer me a $4 discount if there is a "magnetic card" problem? Long story short, I got my full discount, but the story reminded me of the countless times companies and small businesses have tried to pull a fast one on me.

Think of all the denied rebates, declined insurance claims and fine print that you have experienced, and I am sure you will agree that there is a method to the madness. Companies are knowingly and deliberately trying to deceive their customers. Sometimes they try to do so by using legal language, fine print and undisclosed terms and conditions, and sometimes they try the brute force tactic of flat-out lying, like my mechanic friend.

I have also concluded that almost invariably, if you call those deceptive companies to account, and you do so aggressively enough and loudly enough they will acquiesce and give you what they promised in the first place. Unfortunately, the problem is that often calling out these offending companies is a bigger hassle than the benefit you would get after winning the fight, and so we give up. I have been guilty of this myself on occasion. That is exactly what these crooked business people are counting on: consumers' simple hassle to benefit analysis. All they are trying to do is make it a little bit too hard to claim the prize in the hopes you will go away. Well, no more. From now on, I am making it a matter of principle to fight the good fight.

Once more unto the breach, dear friends!

No comments: