In these days of giving, I'd like to ask the companies that want us as customers to give us some small gifts in 2004. Give us less hassle and aggravation, play fair and respect our time. Make it easier to work with you and simplify our lives. We'll be more likely to do business with you and tell others about our positive experiences.
That will more than compensate for the few cents these suggestions may cost.
To the cellular service providers:
The mental gymnastics you put us through when selecting a rate plan remind me of an SAT math exam. Instead of just charging us by the minute with increasingly lower rates the more minutes we use, you require us to figure out in advance how many minutes we plan to use and where we will be calling from. If we use more minutes we pay a penalty.
For example, a plan costing $80 per month for 1,200 minutes comes to under 7 cents per minute. But if we talk 1,500 minutes we pay 13 cents per minute. Where else do we get penalized for buying more of a product?
The most frustrating thing about cell phones is being cut off because of "dead" zones. How about telling us in advance the weak coverage areas for your service? I know it's a secret you're afraid to share, but it would make us all more informed and better able to select a service that meets our needs.
Please reduce the long waiting times some of you force us to endure to get through to customer service. (In an unscientific survey, it took me 65 minutes to reach ATT Wireless and 3 minutes to reach Verizon this past Saturday afternoon. A spokesman for ATT said they had a skeleton crew for the holidays).
Now which of these companies better respects our time and wants our business?
To companies with Internet sites:
While passwords are important for accessing confidential information, such as bank and credit card accounts, why make us jump through hoops to access less important sites such as airlines or hotels to make a reservation?
To those companies, keep the rules for names and passwords simple. If we forget a password, quickly e-mail us a new one. Don't do what American Airlines does: locking us out if we make an error three times, forcing us to make an 800 call, and then after a cross examination worthy of Perry Mason sending a new password by regular mail.
It's just another reason to fly Southwest, which has one of the most user-friendly sites in the travel industry.
For companies selling us gadgets:
Don't require us to go online to download a manual or print it from a CD; spend the few cents to give us a printed manual.
If your products come with power transformers, mark your product's name on the charger. Few companies bother to do this so we end up with a collection electronic soap-on-a-rope chargers that have no relationship to the products they work with. How about using standardized transformers so that all products using a certain voltage can use the same transformer? This sure would make my desk neater and would be easier when I travel.
To the credit card companies:
Don't send us a legal letter in tiny print stating that terms have been changed and asking us to read the enclosed contract carefully. How about just a letter stating what the changes are in big type?
To subscription services:
You make it so easy to sign up online but really make it difficult to cancel. We know you want one last chance to change our mind, but save us time. Don't make us call an 800 number (if we can find one on your site), sustain long waits and then force us to debate the merits of your service with the unfortunate operator who is paid to try to talk us out of canceling.
To companies with voice mail systems:
Don't make us wade through a myriad of menus, particularly if we want to reach a live person. It used to be that if you knew the number sequence to push to get past the menus you could save time, but now some of you require us to wait for all the options to be spoken before a key push will register. Don't ask us to enter our long credit card number when an operator is going to ask us again for the number. And don't say, "That is not a valid option" when we push 0. Since when do you not understand that 0 means "operator"?
To Wal-Mart and other major companies:
We all like low prices, but not at the expense of fostering poor working conditions for your suppliers and their employees. Give us good prices but without the liabilities that go with them. I think most Americans would gratefully pay a little more if we knew it had a positive impact on the employees and made working conditions better. Americans are a generous and caring people and you do us a disservice by representing us as only being motivated by cost.
Lastly, to my readers:
I'd like to thank all of you for your support and wish you all a very happy New Year. Hoping the New Year will be safe, successful and most of all fun, for you and your families.
Baker has developed and marketed consumer and computer products for Polaroid, Apple, Seiko and others. He is the holder of 30 patents and was named San Diego's Ernst & Young Consumer Products Entrepreneur of the Year in 2000. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.