Thursday, September 25, 2008

on why incompetence is the social blight of america

please indulge me. i must vent on the serious incompetence that has plagued me recently in my creative life. they are two tales that converge in the physical location we know as vancouver. but they belie the evilness that a combination of technology and incompetence can manifest on a poor, struggling artist.

the first instance of incompetence happened surrounding my lodging in vancouver. as you know, i ended up staying at a lovely furnished apartment run by a local b&b. it was everything i needed, and i loved the fact that i was supporting a local business woman who says things like, "okee" and "eh." but before i found those lovely grand manor accommodations, i had booked a room at holiday inn north vancouver through i did this because i was on a frequent flier mileage kick, and wanted to accrue miles. the holiday inn was very close to my workshop (walking distance, actually). i had booked the room online, thinking i had just made a reservation. it was way over my budget, though. i thought this was okay because i mistakenly thought that a friend of mine was going to share the room with me. after he clarified that he had made other (much cheaper) arrangements, i set to find cheaper arrangements myself. i noticed that holiday inn had already charged me for my room. which was upsetting. so i called the hotel to ask them about whether i could cancel. the undoubtedly bright-eyed young woman who answered my call said, "our cancellation policy is 24hrs notice." "really?" i said, "but you've already charged me!" "our records don't indicate that," she said. but when i pushed her to look for it, she finally found that info "on another computer screen." okay. so i asked, "is the cancellation policy the same?" and she said, "yes. 24 hrs notice."

cool. so i went about searching for cheaper accommodations. and i found them at the above-mentioned lovely b&b apartment. i paid for the apartment up front knowing that's how local businesses work. then i called back holiday inn. this time, i got a manager. "i'm calling to cancel my reservation," i said. she pulled up my info and then said, "this is a pre-paid reservation. you cannot cancel it."

what transpired after that was a series of phone calls (all on my bill, incidentally) where i was basically yelling at this manager. i told her the situation and she pressed me for details. do i remember who the woman was who i spoke to? no. there is no record that i called in the system. you mean you're expecting someone who is oblivious to policies to follow the one saying that they need to make a note for every phone call made?! the manager was reasonable but firm. finally i had to mention that this event would "permanently affect my impression of holiday inns and very probably discourage me from staying at them ever again." she started to budge. first she tried to charge me for the first night. i said, "no, that was not the arrangement the woman told me. this is a lot of money for me, almost a month's salary."

when she finally agreed to give me all my money back. yay! i thought. when i checked later, i found that holiday inn had refunded me twice and was now trying to get a hold of me. i also noticed that due to the ups and downs of the canadian dollar, my refund (both of them) was actually roughly $50 less in u.s. dollars than the original charge. after holiday inn recharged me for the second refund--guess what?! the u.s. dollar was weaker on that day, too!--i was in the hole close to $100 bucks just because of exchange rates. i've considered tracking down holiday inn for those charges as well as the roughly $10 worth of international phone calls i've been making. but i am just plain too tired. $110 in the hole is better than $1700, right?

the second instance of incompetence finally reached my door today.

before i went to vancouver, i called up sprint to inquire about phone coverage and policies for me while i was in canada. the woman i talked to said, "well, that would be in a roaming area, but your phone plan includes roaming." i was surprised. i said, "so i can make calls in vancouver just the same as everywhere else?" "yep."

so i was stoked. i called kim every night for an hour or so, thinking it was just like using my regular minutes. nervous, i logged into my sprint account while i was away and it didn't show any extra charges.

or so i thought. my $650 phone bill that arrived this morning proved that i was right to be surprised at the customer service woman's claim. she must not have known that canada is actually another country and therefore part of "international roaming" that charges a hefty $0.59/minute. had i known that would be the charge, kim and i would have probably only used about 30 roaming minutes and communicated the rest of the time on facebook instant messaging. i mean. i'm not that stupid!

so i called customer service today. the first person i talked to said, "lemme check your record. if there is no note on it, i can't refund the money." again. people who seem to want to rely on misinformed people to suddenly do everything by the book! i told her, "are you telling me that if this person didn't write something on the account, you can't refund me? don't you record these conversations for quality assurance?" she sighed and put me on hold several times. then she said, "i have to transfer you to international roaming." i stopped her, said, "what's your name?" "amy." "so, if i get cut off and call back again asking for amy, i can talk to you again?" "no." "well, i don't want to have to keep calling back over and over saying the same story over and over." she sighed again and then agreed to stay on the line in a conference call until i got the right person. she did. and of course, she first transferred me to the wrong department, which i totally wouldn't have known if she didn't stay on the line. when i finally did get to international roaming, she unceremoniously hung up without letting me know. i was lucky that the person i got next was very sympathetic. he looked up all the records and saw that someone had put a roaming note on my account. but then he said, "this is way higher than i'm authorized to refund you. i have to send a memo to the finance department." and then he told me he was about to go on vacation until 10/2. i got all of his information and the number of the memo. and he seemed to be putting every single thing about the case into this memo. he said that he would keep an eye out for my case today, but if he can't contact me "someone" will contact me within the next couple days. i'm nervous, but that's the best i can do for now.

i looked at my phone when i hung up and saw that i spent 50 minutes on that call.

let's say that they refund me for the roaming charges. let's hope and pray that justice exists in the world. even then, i'm still in the hole.

for my day job, tutoring, i charge $40/hour, when i tutor through an agency, i make $26/hr. i've spent 50 minutes on the phone with sprint and probably roughly the same on the phone with holiday inn. that's 100 minutes. let's call it 90 minutes for easy math.

$110 for the exchange rate discrepancy and international phone calls+$60 for my time=$170.

all thanks to incompetence!

what would i have to do to make that money back?
1. tutor for 5 -7 hours
2. sell roughly 30 used books on
3. write an application for any myriad of grants that expect you to spend hours just to get piddly.
4. produce a performance at the off center, charge $15/seat and get at least 50 audience members, and not pay the actors (but i would have to pay to rent a lighting board, pay a lighting designer, and pay a board operator--these are things that rarely come for free)

what could i have bought with that money instead?
1. website hosting and domain name for four years
2. use of the off center for one night
3. a very nice evening of food at conversation the dai due supper club (not including wine).
4. a months worth of health insurance premium (on the cheap end. no i'm not currently insured).
5. Mac OS 10.5, leopard for my household

those would have been nice things to have. but instead, i have relinquished my precious resources to the incompetence demons.


1 comment:

dotorious said...

Oh man, this sounds just like a fiasco I had with Days Inn a while ago. I was so upset that I had to ask my gf to intervene on my behalf and take care of it. (And it was taken care of.) One thing I learned from that whole thing? Don't book hotel rooms online. They'll honor the online rates, but won't screw you over. You can do the research, gather and compare the rates, but when it comes to reservations, call 'em. So much easier to cancel or change, and they're not likely to require a credit card -- which means no pre-payment stupidity!

Although... after that fiasco, I'm forever barred from dealing with booking accommodations. ;-)