Increased Pressure to Cheat Customers?

By , May 29, 2010

Several recent events are making me wonder: how many businesses are adopting unethical, illegal practices to survive during the recession?

A month ago, our two-year-old Kia Rondo was due for “scheduled maintenance” as required by the manufacturer to maintain our warranty. The dealership where we bought the car is out of business, so my wife took it to another nearby dealership, where we’d had “scheduled maintenance” done once before.

My wife was told that the “scheduled maintenance” would cost $600 to $700.  After much hesitation (since we’d made special arrangements to drop and pick up the car), she decided to bring the car home and research our options, bringing her copy of the canceled service order with her.

We discovered that the dealership had misrepresented the maintenance schedule.  They sought to charge us “early” for expensive service that wasn’t required for at least another year; they also tried to charge us a second time for “scheduled maintenance” that we’d paid for during the prior visit (that service was also done “early,” and certainly didn’t need to be repeated so soon after).

Eventually, the dealership claimed that the problem arose from a “computer error” (meaning that their service manager had modified the database so that the dealership would charge all customers for unnecessary service.)

They offered to do the actual “scheduled maintenance” that was recommended by the manufacturer.  Since there is no other dealership within 30 miles, we made an appointment, and I drove the car to the dealership — but while waiting for someone to help me, I realized that it was absurd to trust these crooks to perform any service.

We haven’t had the “scheduled maintenance” done yet, because we can’t figure out how we can trust any dealer or garage to competently perform the required scheduled maintenance.  In the next few weeks, I’ll end up taking an entire day to drive to a far-away dealership and wait while the work is done.

This is just one of several recent “cheat attempts” that we’ve experienced this year, from businesses that seemed reputable. What made it “special” was that it was clear that someone had deliberately modified the dealership’s computer database so it would tell agents that expensive service was required, long before it was recommended.

As a result, every customer was being cheated, unless they researched and noticed that the dealership’s advice was wrong. The owner probably considers this a “gullibility tax,” but it’s really a tax on trust and honesty.

Our complex, technologically-advanced society demands that we trust a variety of “experts” to advise us, but that trust is being badly eroded, by what appears to be a growing pool of dishonest businesspeople. The result is increased cynicism, skepticism, and distrust. Consumers now must allocate extra time to researching and verifying the claims made by “experts” — and when we don’t have that time available, we simply delay or cancel our purchase plans.

2 Responses to “Increased Pressure to Cheat Customers?”

  1. Mark Welch says:

    I’ve also noticed that some companies are increasing their “email frequency,” so that I’m seeing more solicitations (in various forms) from the same companies in a single month.

    Of course, this can be counter-productive: increased email frequency means that more people will seek to unsubscribe, and some annoyed folks will flag the emails as spam, increasing the risk that the company’s future emails (to all users) might be filtered as spam.

    I’ve also noticed “increased desperation” in the language of some folks’ emails. I don’t think that’s helpful when soliciting prospective clients or referral sources.

  2. Naty says:

    When Illinois peassd its legislation, I considered a move to Indiana and many here went to Wisconsin. What we saw was that some, even most, of the state legislators didn’t seem to believe that people would actually be forced to move, and they really bought into the lobbying efforts in favor of the legislation. It is all rather unfortunate.

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