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[personal|culture] Me and customer service just lately

Like most white men of a certain height, class and educational standing, I wander through life in a cloud of largely invisible-to-me privilege. This privilege often expresses itself as good customer service. Sometimes it’s earned (for some value of “earned”) such as my frequent flyer status, sometimes it’s situational. I do make a serious effort to notice this sort of thing, so that, for example, if I walk up to a busy deli counter and am called next, I defer to the people who were waiting before me.

Lately the customer service levels which affect my life have been noticeably compromised in various ways. Yesterday I was talking to Lisa Costello about this. As I said to her, am I more needy due to my recent disabilities? Am I more demanding due to being shorter-tempered and fussier? Or am I really just bumping into increasingly weird problems at a higher rate than usual?

Her response was to comment that I’d become a strange attractor for customer service problems. Which doesn’t really answer my question, but was kind of funny. It was helpful to me in confirming that I’m not just experiencing observer bias or enjoying a version of the recency illusion.

I actually think it’s a combination of all three of my theories. My recent travel difficulties with wheelchair service wouldn’t have occurred in the first place if I didn’t need wheelchair service, for example — my recent issues with American Airlines. I am crankier than I used to be, what with the whole dying of cancer thing going on — yesterday’s noisy restaurant problem. And some of the problems I’ve encountered have been categorically weird, outside the usual run of issues — the whole CarMax power-of-attorney thing.

Being white, male and well-spoken didn’t really help me with any of these issues, though it certainly helped me resolve them post facto. Being disabled, well…

One more set of things to burn spoons on and have to deal with.

[personal] Our CarMax experience

I was being very grumpy about CarMax on Twitter this past Thursday. A lot of people wondered what was going on. As we were finally able to resolve the issue yesterday, I’ll lay it out now.

Lisa Costello and I are back in Maryland helping settle her parents’ affairs. Her 83-year-old father had a stroke about three weeks ago, and her 80-year-old mother has advanced dementia, with him as her primary caregiver. The two of them have relocated to Missouri to live with extended family. (That’s what we were doing here on our last trip a week ago, helping them get sorted out and moved.)

Lisa’s dad executed a durable power-of-attorney here in Maryland with her as his personal representative. This legally allows Lisa to work with the real estate agent, the attorneys, sell the car, and so forth. I’ve actually been handling the majority of the real estate and attorney matters on her behalf, but she is the client of record in her father’s name. Obviously, those are the most critical issues remaining to us.

Disposing of his car was another one that needed to happen in the two business days we were here this past week. It’s a 2005 Ford Crown Victoria LX with low mileage, in excellent condition. I had the vehicle detailed Thursday morning, then at Lisa’s direction, took it to the CarMax location in Brandywine, MD. I explained right up front that this was a power-of-attorney transaction, giving them the basic background outlined above. The CarMax folks assured us that they handled those routinely and there would be no difficulty. They then went through the appraisal process and provided us with what I believed to be a rather generous offer to purchase the car. (The amount offered was above the high end of the Kelly Blue Book value range for the vehicle as best as I could calculate.) All of this took longer than we might have hoped, but that’s what happens when you’re buying or selling an automobile.

We had gotten far enough into the transaction that Lisa had signed the title over, and the CarMax representative had countersigned, when we reached a deeply annoying snag.

CarMax required us to surrender the original copy of the power-of-attorney.

This had never been mentioned to us up front. The power-of-attorney document itself states quite clearly that copies of the document have the same validity as the original. I believe this is normal in Maryland law. In other words, the requirement for the original was a CarMax business rule, not a legal requirement. When we pointed out that we were not about to surrender the original copy of that document, the dealer reluctantly agreed to accept a certified copy.

CarMax’s own notary refused to certify the copy. She felt it was a conflict-of-interest, and that we would have to leave the dealership and go find a notary at a bank, or elsewhere, to make a certified copy. (I’m not sure that’s a term of art in Maryland law, but it’s what the dealership wanted.)

We visited a bank, an insurance agent, and a AAA office in the area. In all three cases, they declined to certify copies. The basic issue seemed to be whether a copy of a document which had previously been notarized could be notarized again to certify the copy. My suggestion of the notary writing a brief cover letter stating that the attached was a true and accurate copy, and notarize that, was not acceptable.

The only acceptable way to get a certified copy would be to return to the issuing attorney’s office and have a new original created. Which was now impossible as Lisa’s father had moved out of state.

We wound up taking the car back from CarMax, having spent about five hours of the day — one of our only two in Maryland to handle this business — with no success. Irritating enough. Vastly more irritating was that the title had been signed over to CarMax, so it was marred, and we couldn’t simply walk into another auto dealer with less stringent business requirements for the power-of-attorney and sell the car. And we didn’t have time to go seek a replacement title, given our return to Oregon on Sunday.

At that point, I figured we were in for a third trip from Oregon to Maryland to deal with this, or would have to pay the attorney to handle the details of the transaction. Either option would be annoyingly expensive, running at least into the low $1,000s. CarMax had wasted our day, and set us up for a very expensive failure.

So I did what I do when that sort of thing happens, which was bitch about it on the Internet, referencing @carmax.

Their social media team responded quickly, asking me to please call an 800 number. I did so, still in a state of pretty extreme irritation. (I am, however, always polite even those situations. Especially in those situations. Just perhaps a bit stronger voiced and worded than usual.) The woman who took our call was both surprised and sympathetic, and asked if she could call me back after talking to her legal department, and to a senior manager elsewhere in Maryland’s CarMax network.

Eventually, I spoke to another manager here in Maryland, who directed me to take the vehicle to their Laurel store and meet with the business manager there.

Lisa and I drove to Laurel yesterday morning to be there when the CarMax store opened for the day. The gentleman we dealt with there explained that the issue was that CarMax required the original executed copy of the power-of-attorney because as a nationwide dealer network, they often transferred inventory to other states, and not all states would accept a copy of a power-of-attorney as valid. As most vehicles sold under a power-of-attorney are sold via a limited power-of-attorney, essentially a single-use document specific to that transaction, surrendering the original isn’t usually a big issue for the seller.

As I pointed out to him, that was entirely CarMax’s affair, and I was not about to tell them how to run their business. However, they had a sales communication problem in not explaining that requirement up front to us before committing us to an hours-long transaction and having us sign over the damned title, thus rendering it difficult to sell anywhere else. We would have just left the Brandywine CarMax location and gone to another dealer rather then engage in the whole process. (In the end, there is a form in Maryland for mis-signed titles, called I believe an “Affidavit of Correction”, but we didn’t have time for that, either.)

The manager at the Laurel store made copies of the power-of-attorney and certified them, stating clearly he was making an exception to the usual CarMax business rules as make-good for our troubles of the day before. He had another CarMax employee handle our transaction paperwork so that his certification of the power-of-attorney didn’t represent a conflict of interest. In about an hour, we were in and out of the Laurel store with the car sold, and the check in our hands, payable to Lisa’s father. (We promptly FedEx’ed the check to him in Missouri.)

In the end, CarMax made it right for us. For this, I thank them, especially the staff at the Laurel, Maryland store.

The core issue was a business rule on CarMax’s part which placed an extra burden beyond what Maryland law required, plus a training problem at the Brandywine store in that when they stated they would accept the power-of-attorney as evidence’s of Lisa’s standing to sell the car, they did not explain this business rule right up front.

There’s also a sidebar issue specific to me personally about having to handle customer service problems through Internet escalation. I went down this road somewhat famously with PayPal last January, and have also tangled with UnitedHealthcare in public, and am on the verge of possibly doing so with United Airlines. As it happens, my social media footprint is sized such that I can make myself sufficiently radioactive to generate a focused response. Would I get the swift responses I do in these situations if I wasn’t me? Or does everyone who complains via Twitter or Facebook get this response?

Mostly, I want things done right in the first place, with no need to complain. I have no quarrel with the CarMax business requirement for the original power-of-attorney. I do have a quarrel with their failure to properly explain their internal requirements openly right up front. And if we weren’t in our last days ever in this state, I could have gone home and worked through the process patiently. Instead I escalated. And yes, I had plans B, C and D if the escalation did not work, because that’s how I roll.

So that was the CarMax misadventure. Another way to burn a few spoons and fritter one of the ever fewer remaining days of my foreshortened life.

[personal] Busy, busy

You know it’s been a tough couple of weeks when a transcontinental flight followed by a 180-mile nighttime automobile drive seems like a relaxing day.

For example, on Monday I did the following, roughly in this order:

  • Oncology consult to discuss the new scan results
  • Bank deposit and pick up held packages on the way back from the clinic (yes, on Veteran’s Day, thanks to ATMs and a friendly business that does my receiving)
  • Sort out birthday presents for the family party I am missing this coming weekend due to being out of town
  • Clear a substantial email backlog from Orycon weekend
  • Telephone meeting with financial planner
  • Multiple followup calls and emails to meeting
  • Review documents and email responses to estate planning attorney
  • Pack for return trip to Maryland to help Lisa Costello settle her parents’ affairs there
  • Telephone meeting with disability attorney
  • Fill out additional forms for disability carrier
  • Followup call and email to disability carrier
  • Photo shoot for John Picacio art project
  • Therapist appointment

That’s what my life is like these days. While I am sick and unfocused and on long term disability because I can no longer work. So, yeah.

On the plus side, our long drive last night was so we could spend part of the day in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, one of Lisa’s favorite old haunts. A little time to relax before we jump into the logistics of dismantling her parents’ lives here.

[personal] Flying home this morning, a troubling and busy weekend

We’re flying back to Oregon this morning. We’re having a family part for my agent tonight. My CT is tomorrow morning (and Lisa Costello has a medical appointment as well), then I’m a special guest at Orycon over the weekend, and I have my oncology followup on Monday. Tuesday we hop right back out here to the East Coast to (hopefully) wrap up the key in-person bits of family business.

I’m pretty worried about today’s flight. I took so much Imodium and Lomotil yesterday that I made myself nauseous. My GI never really stopped, even with about 3 days worth of dosage between 10 am and 8 pm. I’ve already started dosing myself this morning. There are too many periods of time during air travel where I simply cannot access a restroom. Even if I get through today with no major difficulty, I’ll spend the weekend being pretty miserable as my body tries to clear the drugs.

So yeah, GI misery and existential terror are terrific combination. Woo hoo.

[personal|travel] Wrapping up (for now) here in Maryland

We’re flying home tomorrow, as I have my CT scan on Friday. That means Lisa Costello and I are wrapping our current round of business with her parents today, so we can move to an airport hotel tonight in order to facilitate our early flight in the morning. We’ll be back next week to finalize, or at least complete next steps, on getting the sale of the house moving as well as some smaller issues of property disposition.

Her dad is doing quite well, given the severity of his stroke. Everything has been going far smoother than we’d feared. A trip which might have been very, very difficult has mere been difficult.

Also, as today is my brother’s birthday, and he lives in the DC suburbs of Virginia, we’ll be having dinner with him tonight.

Me, taking my GI pills to get through today and tomorrow.

See some, all or none of you at Orycon this weekend.

[personal|travel] Away to the coast

Lisa Costello and I are running away to the Oregon coast this weekend so she can have some proactive decompression before we head to Maryland next week to deal with her family emergency. She’s been pretty emotionally distressed for obvious reasons, and I seem to have become more physically fragile just lately. We can both use the break.

Blogging may be intermittent as we will be focused mostly on each other and on laying low.

Whatever you’re doing, enjoy your weekend as well.

[personal] Things continuing very difficult

Lisa Costello and I continue to prepare for heading back to Maryland next week to aid her family there. The logistics of cancelling our trip to WFC in the UK have become nightmarish and very expensive. United Airlines turned down my request for a compassionate refund with no explanation. @united says they’re reviewing the case. I am also getting a great deal of financial pressure over this cancellation from other sources I cannot discuss yet.

All of this is just more crap I have to deal with. More money to be spent which I don’t have, to pay for something I cannot do.

I know there’s no rule in life that says there’s an upper bound to one’s troubles, but I am frustrated beyond measure and stretched close to my breaking point right now, in part by the sheer, simple insensitivity of people and institutions.

More when I have the heart and the brainwidth.