Danforth: Unreachable by Design: Companies Imitate Buyers | Opinion






The pandemic has been a royal pain for phone buyers. Many stores have apparently been dug out. Workers have stayed home or gone “virtual” even now.

But for some big companies, it’s a blessing. Talking costs money, so they do better. It’s nothing personal. They generally like you. Not now.

Take Google, one of the biggest tech companies in the country. Google has created a streaming service from YouTube TV. It’s basically a cable TV package, coming in via computer, not a TV. It’s a good service, unless you have a problem.

Google is a tech giant that simulates roaming. YouTube TV cannot be reached by phone. They’re all on voicemail. Email is lost and there is no chance to chat.

What if you ordered YouTube TV for $65 a month and it’s not showing up or blocked? His computer displays a sign saying that you are not in your “home area”.

You call the credit card company – CitiBank in this case – and they block you as well. They pretend not to know anything. Even though your card is charged automatically, they won’t stop charging unless YouTube says it’s OK.

The dispute resolution process through CitiBank takes forever by design. Instead of resolving a single recurring billing issue, they treat each dispute as a separate case. It will be resolved within the next decade, but there is no way to cancel the service as there is no working membership portal.

I used to think that I was the only one who could put on a “leave and not come back” show. I’ve convinced unwanted callers that I’m not actually from this planet. It will work if you are calm, exceptionally sincere, lower your voice an octave, and slow your speech until it crawls. People are exceptionally gullible and elect monsters to high office. I fit in perfectly. I come from the purple-red cluster 12 degrees east of Jupiter. It’s a pain when I need to order a new set of fingerprints, but they have great margaritas here, so I’ll toughen it up. I will play the role. My postal code, you ask. What is that?

Citibank don’t care where I’m from as long as they get their money. But YouTube will not credit the charges. Citibank’s new line is that they need to know when I canceled. I didn’t cancel, I tell them. They canceled. Something to do with their advertising algorithms. I have to tie myself to a “home region” LAN-affiliated TV station, ostensibly to satisfy advertisers.

To avoid future credit card charges, I told Citibank to blow the town, because those charges would turn into bogus interest charges soon enough. Oh, and I’m contacting the local paper, because they love stories like this.

It scares them but not much. I’m just a homeless man from Jupiter with no zip code. Just like another politician who will be gone after this election cycle.

But I’m up for having a little more fun first. I tell them that I discovered the problem. By blocking me from the site they also excluded the membership page so it is impossible to cancel. This violates FTC rules. This will keep them out until they find out the FTC isn’t quite on the case. It’s a pain for everyone, but the discovery is fun for me, and readers appreciate the fun stuff and advise me on my next foray into corporate roaming.

What happens finally? These difficulties will find friends, for example in New Jersey, who have discovered the same problem. They will regroup and file a prototype class action lawsuit. It’s a very small affair that won’t go anywhere, but the deception is “exposed” and meets the press. Some executives are reprimanded, but a complaint will receive special regulatory attention. This will uncover other cases that are worth a fine and lots of publicity. American Express never quite recovered from the Boston Fee Party, where a restaurant owner took a butcher’s knife from a credit card bill and sent a selfie to Boston newspapers.

As for me, they will search everywhere but without result. I will have returned to Jupiter but not without a recipe for the best margaritas. I will send postcards to YouTube TV and Citibank. But without my zip code, they’ll never get an answer. Homeless businesses will remain uprooted, and their customers will change rather than fight.

The writer (dukeofdanforth@gmail.com) is one of the founders of the Aspen Daily News and his column appears here on Sundays.


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Rozella J. Cook