As far as iconic history goes, this is just too wonderful.
Continuing our policy of attempting to wean ourselves away from writing at great length about political hell every single day, I thought I’d jump in with a customer service tale.
I’ve ordered the Solimo hand sanitizer twice now, which is Amazon’s house brand. The issue at hand (okay, yes, pun intended) is not with the quality of the product – which has a very good rating and is also extremely well-priced. Rather, in both instances the expiration date was only 4-5 months away. On all websites I’ve checked, including the CDC’s, hand sanitizer should be stable for 2-3 years. So, 4-5 months is considered less.
Also, the order is for six 10-ounce bottles. I wasn’t sure if I’d use up all that in three years. So, there is no way on earth I can use that much hand sanitizer in four months -- unless I start drinking it as aperitif before dinning. And even then, I might have to start chugging it as the expiration date nears.
To be clear, Amazon has been very good about dealing with this. They give no argument and have said each time on their own that they’ll refund the money and I can keep the product. So, in essence I’m getting it for free for four months, twice. And that’s lovely, but I’d rather order it once and have it good for three years and not have to go through all the phone calls and re-ordering (arguably ever again, God willing), especially since the price is so reasonable. If I had a three year supply, it would work out to just $5 a year.
I’m not writing about that so much, though, as I am about the conversations I have with the Amazon folks. And again, as I said, even the conversations have all be very personable and responsive, and pleasant to deal with. It’s just that they always say the same, one particular thing, and it takes all my effort to be as polite in return as possible not to explain how utterly, monumentally wrong – and potentially dangerous – their cheery, well-meaning comments are.
Take this recent instance. The first call I made was to Amazon Customer Service to deal with the order. The second call was to the Amazon Brands office because I wanted to know what was going on with the expiration date – was there an old backlog, or bad timing luck on my part, or was this simply the standard with Solimo – when it came time in four months to order new hand sanitizer.
And what they always say is, “Oh, I use this product myself and use it past the expiration date, and it’s just fine. It doesn’t go bad.”
I always then take a breath and give the polite response. “Thanks, yes, I do know it doesn’t just go bad when it passes the expiration, but that it starts to degrade and over time loses more and more of its potency. And honestly, when it comes to a worldwide pandemic, I’m just not willing to take a risk with a less-potent degraded product past its expiration.
They always answer, “That’s very true. And yes, I completely understand. That makes sense.”
What I want to say is – “Wait, don’t tell me it’s perfectly fine past its expiration! You have no idea if it’s perfectly fine. I mean, seriously. Do you have a lab at home? Do you test it? Are you a scientist or send it in to a research center? How on earth do you even possibly know that it’s just absolutely fine after the expiration date???! Especially since all science says it starts to degrade when expired. And how long do you believe that it’s just fine? A year?? Two months? A week? And how would you know?! As kind and thoughtful as you’re trying to be, that is truly awful, and potentially dangerous advice.”
But I don’t say that. I just take a breath and push the subject elsewhere. Today, though, I have to admit that I did finally get a little fed up hearing that well-intended but deeply wrong-headed comment yet again and (because I didn’t want anyone giving that “advice” to other customers who might believe her as an Authority Figure with Amazon Brands) finally said a much-more polite version, along the lines of “Okay, thanks, yes, though in fairness I don’t have a way of testing how effective it still is, and you probably don’t, so I just don’t want to take a risk during a pandemic.”
She understood and said, “That’s very true. And yes, I completely understand.”
In four months, when December comes around and it’s time to renew the soon-to-be-expired batch, I’ll figure out if I want to go through this again or just trying another brand. I’ve already done the research and have my list.
And look forward to not having to order hand sanitizer again, period.
If you missed Last Week Tonight with John Oliver last night, the Main Story was on home renovation -- more specifically about the government PACE program which is well-meaning, for helping to bring environmental improvements to a home's energy efficiency, but has so many potholes in the way it's implemented that it's been a disaster for far too many people. The report is an odd one, but very good and often very funny. The one issue is that it's so detail oriented about regulations that, at times, the story risks spinning out of control.
Another minor issue, that reader Douglass Abramson pointed out, is that the story doesn't mention one core reality for all home renovation -- never, never, never sign a contract to do home renovation with anyone who ever knocks on your door uninvited or cold-calls you.
If you missed Last Week Tonight with John Oliver last night, the Main Story was about sponsored content. This might not sound like much, but it refers to what are basically paid aids during news broadcasts that masquerade as real news reports or interviews. The story is very interesting and fun -- albeit galling, especially when pointing out the dangers of this being abused. But stick around for the end, because the show does something it hasn't done this substantively in a long time. I started to explain more, but realized that much of the fun is discovering it when it comes along. It's wonderful -- and very funny.
If you missed Last Week Tonight with John Oliver last night, his Main Story was on bankruptcies -- an issue that has grown significantly during the past decade, but has become more critical the last year due to the pandemic. The report is fascinating, looking at the two different kinds of bankruptcies and the many conditions that lead to them, not nearly as often because of bad decisions as people assume. And yet, he and his staff are able to make it all funny and entertaining at the same time.
If you missed Last Week Tonight with John Oliver on Sunday, here's the Main Story which was about the National Debt. And the segment was wonderful, one of my favorites they've done, since he explains such a controversial issue in a clear way -- as I've heard it explained over the years -- that show how debt is not inherently a bad thing in every way, even great debt.
I've spoken to some economic experts, but the best explanation of the benefits of debt came from Pultizer Prize-winning writer David Cay Johnston, who was working for the New York Times at the time. And one of Oliver's clips has someone explaining the issue almost as well, relating to corporations. (Johnston's example was -- someone out of work gets hired for a job two hours away, but doesn't have a car and can't take the job. But he goes into debt to buy a car, takes the job, and earns enough money to pay off his debt and earn a good wage and build from there..)
Plus, Oliver's piece is funny, on top of it all.
Yesterday, 60 Minutes did a show on Boston Dynamics, a research laboratory that develops robotics which the TV show has been trying to get behind-the-scene for years. It was worth the wait. The story is absolutely fascinating, thanks to the remarkable developments by the company. My only two quibbles with the otherwise very good report are are that though the company does a good job explaining away myths about robotics, they don't get into how artificial intelligence works into all this, and also that while the heads of Boston Dynamics are aware of the problem related to job loss, their explanation about it all creating new industries -- while true -- is much to surface to serve as a proper answer.
Still, the story is really worth watching and even fun. But most especially stick with it until you get to the part about the newest discipline they're developing. It's remarkable.
For those who missed Last Week Tonight with John Oliver last night, his Main Story was about plastics. More specifically, it was about how recycling plastics isn't the great and easy panacea it appears to be on the surface. The report is very interesting, and includes some wonderful humor...most notably one joke that relates to the blob fish which they carry out to its wonderful fullness. And I should add that there is a joke at the very end which might pass by most people, who'll think it's about Spring Break -- and while that might be what prompted the joke, it's actually an allusion to the sign-off Jackie Gleason used on his TV variety show in the 1960s. I really admire people who make jokes that they know not everyone will get. Fun Fact: everyone doesn't have to get every single joke.
A couple of weeks ago, my dryer went kablooey, which is the technical term. This is the tale, but there is an addendum at the end about a related matter which is more general for people dealing with such issues. Actually, there are a couple of addendums.
I found an appliance repair shop on Yelp that had an impressive record, 5-stars and almost all the comments were glowing. TJ Appliance Repair is based in West Hollywood, though they service throughout Los Angeles. The owner there, Tony, said that from my description, it sounded like the motor. Also, because I have one of those washer-dryer mini-combos -- and it's set up in a small closet -- they may have to send out two repairmen. And if that's the case and if it's the motor, it might cost about $450. More than ideal, but worth the repair rather than getting a new dryer -- let alone, a new combo, if I decided that. (The units are probably 13 years old or so, they were here when I bought the place.) But he'd send out a single repairman on Monday to checks things out and see what the situation was.
One thing that has been bewildering me ever since I did my dryer went out is that I was missing two socks from two different pairs. I looked and looked, but couldn’t find them. I looked in the dryer bin repeatedly, but it wasn’t there. I’ve kept looking all over, but they’re nowhere to be found. Gone. Perhaps to Cancun.
On Sunday, the day before the repair tech's visit, I still was thinking about those missing socks, and wondered if possibly they could have somehow been sucked into the dryer and caused the problem, as bizarrely unlikely as that seemed, so I checked once again to see if there was any nook or slot or any way they could have been sucked into – but of course there wasn’t.
But on a total whim, since it was the only removable part, I pulled out the lint filter and looked into the compartment. And one of the socks was there!! I have absolutely no idea how it could possibly have gotten into the lint filter, but it did. And I was able to get it out. Still that left one sock that’s missing.
I ran the dryer to see if maybe removing this sock fixed things, but no, it didn’t. But the scraping, rumbling sound it made didn’t sound completely unlike what a sound might be if a sock was caught somewhere.
To be clear, I can’t imagine that a sock was inside the machine. For starters, I don’t see how it would be even remotely possible. Any holes are tiny, and any slots are paper thin. But then, I don’t see how it’s remotely possible that a sock did get into the lint filter compartment.
Anyway, the repairman came on Monday. And it was…the socks!!!!
There had been, as I noted, that one sock that got sucked into the lint filter compartment. But still one other sock that was missing. But without having to call in a second repairman (which would have been expensive), he was able to pull the washer-dryer out by himself, which was impressive ("Oh, this isn't bad, I do this all the time, I've seen worse"), unscrewed things…and found the missing sock. And the dryer ran perfectly after that.
He said it was one of the cleanest dryers he’s seen, and appeared to be in good shape. He also said it was one of his favorite models, an LG Tromme, which would run for 25 years. And said that even if the motor does go out, it’s worth replacing because the model is that good. The whole cost was not $450 to repair the motor. (Or $2,000 to get a new combo). But $180. Much better.
And better, too, because when he first turned on the dryer, it made an awful sound, to which he said, “Not good.” But then I told him the tale of the missing sock. And he thought that that could indeed be the cause.
What’s weird is that he says he has absolutely no idea how socks get sucked into a dryer. “It happens. It’s a design flaw.” But there’s no space for a sock to get sucked through, so how??? “I have no idea. It happens.” I asked what one could do so that this doesn't happen again, and the options are to ball up thin socks when drying them, letting them air-dry, or getting a bag to put your socks in for drying. But totally weird. But hey, if a repairman has no idea at all how it happens, I'm not going to figure it out.
Anyway, it’s resolved. For a whole lot less. And for what it’s worth, the repairman Alex great. As I said, the company TJ Appliance Repair has a 5-star rating on Yelp, and I can see why. I called the owner Tony to let him know how good Alex was – and he was also praising the owner behind his back. (Including that if a customer is clearly struggling financially and in obvious bad shape, the owner won’t charge them but pay for it out of his pocket.) Good customer service may lose you money in the short run, but in the long run it builds loyalty and word-of-mouth and success
Now, for the two addendums.
The first is that when talking with the repairman Alex, it turned out that he was from Uzbekistan, worked in Moscow for a while, knew Odessa pretty well where one of my grandfathers was from, and came to the United States in 2016. (Fun fact: his brother was playing basketball at UCLA -- my grad school,) Alex was able to get fast-tracked for citizenship because he enlisted in the U.S. Army, and served in Afghanistan, though not in combat. (Among other things, they taught him various skills, including how to repair appliances!) The point of this all is that he applied for citizenship in 2016, and the program that he was able to get in under was shut down by Trump a few months later. If there had been just a few months delay, he wouldn't have been able to get into the United States. And serve in the army. And because a terrific addition to the country.
The other addendum concerns those home warranty contract many people have. I had one that comes with the deal when I bought I bought my place a couple years ago. I renewed it the next year, and had some benefit from it, though it may not have covered the cost. But it did cover replacing a disposal unit (which would have been a few hundred dollars) and some small plumbing fixes, and was good piece of mind.
It also covered one other notable expense when my refrigerator went out. However -- that experience was a mess. The short version is that it took three months, and I was out a refrigerator for that long, and had to get one of those small refrigerator-freezer devices so that I could at least keep some food. (The home warranty company did pay $75 towards that, which was about $220 overall.)
The main reason for the three-month delay is that the repair shops they kept sending weren't working out. Either they didn't do the kind of work that was needed, or they didn't deal with those kinds of part, or they had to wait for red-tape approvals to order parts or -- in the most significant case, one of the vendors tried to scam. They explained what part was needed, and that it would cost $250, which would have to come out of my own pocket since it wouldn't be covered by the home warranty company. And I know it was a scam -- not only because I asked some friends who know these things better -- because when the work was done, it did not entail the part the scammers insisted on, but just the basic $40 part my friends said was needed and was covered.
The final vendor did do the work well -- though the had a small screw-up which delayed things another week -- but the reality is that I was without my refrigerator for three months.
Which brings me to the point. When my home warranty contract was up in December, I didn't renew it. I knew there was a risk, though extrapolated over 10 years, it would probably work out well in my favor, even if there were big expenses along the way. But after that three-month debacle with repair shops I didn't know, I just decided that I'd rather pay more money (possibly) for a good repair shop whose goal is the please the customer, not to please the home warranty company and save them money, so they could continue to get referrals.
I have no idea how this will turn out over time. But it worked very well here. When my dryer went out, my first reaction was, "Agghhh, I wish I'd waited before cancelling m home warranty contract." A big repair only two months after cancelling it!!! Of course. But even then, my next thought was -- that's fine, that was my decision. I get to choose the repair shop I want, and they'll fix it fast. And that's what happened. It was a 5-star shop, they did excellent work, and it was repaired in two weeks.
And while I hope I never have to use TJ Appliance Repair again, I'm sure I will -- and I'm glad to have the piece of mind knowing that they're there. Hopefully Alex will be, too.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
Feedspot Badge of Honor