Tube City Almanac

January 07, 2013

Adventures in Customer Service

Category: Commentary/Editorial || By Jason Togyer

One in an occasional series ...

. . .

Over the holidays, I had to buy a new power drill. Would you believe the only drill that I could find made in the U.S. was from Makita --- a Japanese company? As for the "American" brands you're likely to find on the shelves at your local big-box retailer ...

  • Black & Decker and its co-owned brands Stanley, DeWalt and Porter-Cable are made in Mexico and China (though according to this report from 2009, the company was complaining that costs in China were going up, and it was looking to move someplace even cheaper!).

  • Delta --- once a product of Pittsburgh's Rockwell International --- was sold several years ago by its American owners to Taiwan's Chang Type Industrial Co. Ltd.

  • (As for the cheap power tools sold by Harbor Freight under the "Pittsburgh" brand name ... you're joking, right?)

  • Milwaukee was purchased in the 1980s by Merrill Lynch, which then sold it to a Swedish company, which sold it to a Chinese company. Milwaukee Electric Tool Corp. still has a corporate headquarters in Wisconsin, but they otherwise have about as much to do with Milwaukee as "Pittsburgh"-brand tools have to do with you-know-where.

  • Skil was sold to Robert Bosch, a German company, and is now made in China.

I'm always fascinated by the fact that when manufacturing moves overseas to "cut costs," the cost to the end consumer never seems to drop. Instead, the savings are passed along to the top executives and to the investment bankers who call the shots.

We often hear how "high wages" and "stringent regulations" are chasing manufacturing jobs overseas. Are they really? Then how can Makita profitably make power tools in the United States, when Stanley Black & Decker can't?

It made me wonder how much the CEO of Makita, Masahiko Goto, is paid. (I looked, but couldn't find that information.) I did learn that Goto has been president and chief executive officer since 1989, and has been with the company since 1971.

A quick Google search shows that the CEO of Stanley Black & Decker made $19.7 million last year and in 2011 was one of America's 20 highest-paid CEOs.

Maybe this is unfair, but it would seem that executives at Japanese companies are still planning for long-term goals, while U.S. executives are still looking for quick paydays.

. . .

Speaking of quality customer service, last year, Tube City Omnimedia World Headquarters on Dravosburg Hill switched Internet providers.

We were with a certain monopoly phone company I'll call "Shmerizon." We're now with a certain monopoly cable company I'll call "Shmomcast."

I'd just like to say it's been a huge improvement. I'd like to say that, but I would be lying through my teeth.

If "Shmomcast" ran buses for the Port Authority, you'd be on the 56, chugging through Lincoln Place, when suddenly the bus would stop dead and the driver would say, "We cannot find McKeesport," and everyone would have to get out and wait on the side of the road until, abruptly, the bus started up again for no apparent reason.

If "Shmomcast" ran buses for the Port Authority, they would arrive on-time for part of the day, not show up at all for other parts of the day, and sometimes slow down to a crawl when they were running.

Come to think of it, I'm not sure that "Shmomcast" doesn't run the Port Authority.

. . .

Meanwhile, our problems with "Shmerizon" haven't stopped. You see, we still keep a land-line phone for emergencies, and also because we love to hear from our close friends such as the four or five telemarketers who ignore the "Do Not Call" list every day and call us to solicit money for fake charities or try to sell us Canadian prescriptions or shoddy home improvements (because they "just happen to be working" in our neighborhood).

We've had intermittent problems, off and on, with the home phone for years. Sometimes it's a cacophony of static. Other times, it's nothing but buzz and hum. In 2011, we got serious about reporting the problems to "Shmerizon" every time they occurred. I eventually re-wired the entire house and replaced every phone jack. In early 2012, "Shmerizon" pronounced the problem solved.

A few days before the end of the year, I picked up the phone to hear what sounded like car keys in a blender. I called "Shmerizon" (using my "T-Shmobile" cell phone). They promised to send someone out ... in a few days. Between the hours of 7 a.m. and 8 p.m. I would have to be home to wait for the repair person.

So I reported them to the state Public Utility Commission. Faith and begorrah, "Shmerizon" has suddenly become interested in solving the problem. We had three technicians out in two days.

And a "Shmerizon" "investigator" left a message asking me to call him back. (He left it on my cell phone, which fills me with confidence that "Shmerizon" doesn't even trust their own equipment to work reliably enough to leave me a message.)

If I were a cynical person, I would conclude that "Shmerizon" doesn't want to be providing land-line phone service any more. You see, land-line phone service is heavily regulated and maintained by unionized employees, which costs a lot for "Shmerizon" but doesn't produce much in the way of profits. I suspect "Shmerizon" would just as soon dump its land-line service and focus on non-unionized, more lightly regulated, higher-profit divisions.

In the meantime, I am planning to call "Shmerizon" back. In a few days. Between the hours of 7 a.m. and 8 p.m. They'll have to wait by the phone until then.

. . .

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