The Pain of Service Crapification

We’ve discussed crapification off and on over the years. Readers lament how clothes have gone downhill. Even at the high end, fabrics, finishing and tailoring are shoddier. You are luck if that major appliance will last five years. Cars chock full of telematics look to be intended for a seven year life. Copper pans are lighter. Tools have gone downhill.

While crapified goods force you either to live with something that breaks early, forcing you to live with it, make a costly/inconvenient repair, or buy a replacement, crapfied services are an ongoing tax on your time and a stressor on already frayed nerves. I work in the same room as my mother so as to keep an eye on her and the aides (I have gotten very good at tuning out crime shows). She’s even noticed how much time I spend daily rectifying screw-ups. It used to be perhaps a half hour a week. It’s now averaging over 20 minutes a day.

Readers were well acquainted with the old normal annoyances, like getting routed to call centers in India where the prejudice against the heavy accents was warranted, since they seemed able to manage only the most basic scripts. Or all sorts of phone systems having even more elaborate prompts in order to keep you away from a live human being.

But there’s been a big ratchet down with Covid. And it seems to go well beyond organizations having trouble managing a significantly remote workforce. There also looks to be significant and deliberate cuts in service, as in using Covid as a cover to cut costs, whether the business is suffering or not. Remember that some companies, like health insurers, are making out like bandits.

Let me give you a few examples that would not have happened in the old normal.

MRI train wreck. Last January, I got an MRI from American Health Imaging. I paid at the time of service, got a disk with the image and necessary software on it, and was told I could get a statement with the information I needed to submit for my insurer for reimbursement in two weeks.1 I called for the statement later that month and got it in the mail a few days later.

In December, I got a new MRI from American Health Imaging, although a different location. The front desk staff was difficult. The MRI disk I received didn’t have all the files. I didn’t want to go back to the facility, both because the trip would take time and I didn’t want to deal with the same people again. So I called the office in Atlanta. Despite leaving multiple voicemails and sending e-mails to the recommended “conceirge@” address, no one got back to me. I finally reached a person who promised to send me a disk. Disk never arrived. I called again and finally got a person who got a supervisor involved to send a disk via UPS so it could be tracked. So when I finally got someone who took ownership of the problem, the disk matter was resolved, but it was like pulling teeth to get to that point.

And it’s now over 6 weeks and I still don’t have the right statement. In December, I did reach a live human who did send me a statement first thing the next morning, by e-mail. But it wasn’t the right format! It was not the same as the one I’d gotten before, and importantly, was missing information that I was pretty sure Cigna would want to see. I’ve called multiple times, have not been able to get a representative on the phone, and my detailed voicemails and e-mails might as well have gone in a black hole.

Delivery hell. I ordered some product from a New Jersey company, Image Beauty, for a friend in Manhattan. The recipient lives on a numbered street with a building number and apartment number. That means there ought to be no difficulty in them receiving the package, right?

Think again. I stupidly didn’t sent the tracking information to my friend. Friend asks me a month after I placed the order, in early November (as in well before the Christmas rush).

I pulled up the tracking information, which was not from the delivery service but a template on their site. It implausibly showed a delivery date before the date they show the package as leaving their warehouse.

I called to make a stink. First they tried saying the package must have been delivered. I told them the building has a live-in super and there had been no thefts or other reports of missing deliveries. Then they say a lot of USPS packages to Manhattan have gone missing. They told me to wait a few days, as if that will make a difference for a box that has been out in the wild so long. I called again and they issued a refund.

Foolishly, because one item I wanted to get for my friend was difficult to find, I placed an order again in mid December. This time I sent the tracking information to him. By last week, he was ansty about not having received it. It had a UPS tracking number.

He called UPS. They claimed they had given it to USPS because it didn’t have an apartment number on it. Mind you, the e-mailed confirmation I received most assuredly showed one.

He then went in person to his USPS office. They said they had sent it back to UPS. He was then steamed up and went to the UPS office where USPS said it ought to be. UPS said they had no idea where it was but they were nevertheless confident it would be returned to the shipper and he should try to get a refund.

Image Beauty again falsely shows the package as delivered:

When UPS, per what they told my friend, shows the package as having been dumped on USPS and still missing:

My friend said he spent four hours unsuccessfully trying to run down the delivery, between time on hold, time going to USPS and UPS and standing in lines (long at USPS even in January).

Breakdown in phone protocol. My mother’s home insurer kept calling her but not saying what it was about in their voicemails. Then they sent a note saying they were going to cancel her policy. Even when I called back during the day I kept getting routed to voicemail and despite leaving substantive messages, kept getting non-substantive voicemails. It turns out they wanted proof she’d repaired her roof (she’d put in a claim). Why not say that in all those voicemails?

Similarly, I have been trying to see a couple of new doctors about the problem that led me to get an MRI. You’d never imagine doctors were having trouble with business given the lackadasical responses I’ve had. For one, in a local, extremely well regarded sports institute, it took four calls to get someone even though the voicemail system gave the strong impression new patient calls would be returned. I did have a very good conversation, with the nurse/assistant taking my e-mail address so she could e-mail me and I could send her the MRI report and Dropbox links to the films (I had the films from January and the written report said the December MRI was not much different, so I figured he could have an initial look while waiting for the December disk to arrive).

No e-mail arrived. I had to call two more times to get that e-mail.

I sent the Dropbox link and the MRI reports over a week ago. I haven’t heard a thing.

Similarly, there’s another doctor with a promising technique but it would take some travel to see her. Even with a referral, and the staff understanding I’d like her to look at the MRI to see if she thinks she can treat me (I would travel only to get treated, not to be assessed), it’s taken far too many calls, even with happy accident of one call being mistakenly routed to the person who handles images, rather than the “out of town coordinator,” to get to someone who would take the images and then too many false starts (they claimed to be unable to receive Dropbox images, then unable to open them…I don’t see why they will have any better results with the disk. And yes, another MD has read these films, so the current set of files is good).

I could go on but you get the point. I fell like I now have a ball and chain around my ankle, of business, personal, and maternal administrativa that is impeding me in getting on with the things I really need to be doing, like taking care of my work and my health. And I don’t see this getting better any time soon, if ever. And even worse is I know those are high class problems compared to what many people are up against.


1 I pay for pretty much everything medical this way because the rate for “cash” payment is at least as good as my insurer’s best negotiated rate, plus my privacy rights are stronger.

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  1. Lex

    I’ve offered to pay cash trying to get a better rate. They shake their heads, ‘no, you have insurance, we aren’t allowed to take cash from patients with insurance.’ Are the rules different in Alabama or with your insurance company?

    I have yet to find a medical billing dept. that likes Aetna; the company seems to be uniformly loathed.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      I have never had a doctor or clinical lab (Labcorp, Quest, SKB and imaging centers) refuse “cash” as in a credit card payment at the time of service. I can see MD offices not being set up to hold actual physical bills. I have seen MDs and labs in NY and Alabama, and also have seen doctors in Texas.

      Having said that, at some urgent care places I haven’t pushed to pay myself because there was no extra informational value in my records there (what good does it do for Cigna to have my temperature and blood pressure on top of the fact that I got a Covid test?) and it seemed like they would go on tilt to generate the paperwork I needed to submit a claim (it’s likely done somewhere else, as with the MRI center).

      The exception is Medicare. If you are in any sort of Medicare plan AND the doctor accepts Medicare, they are barred by law from taking payment from the patient unless it is for a non-covered service.

      1. Bob


        Being on Medicare doctors consistently refuse cash (and I’m talking greenbacks on the spot).

        I do heard some tales of doctors accepting cash and even of one customer deliberately refusing to visit doctors who do not accept cash.

        And I do wonder if doctors would accept cash for say building repairs for their clinic building of course?

        Does paying cash solve the problem of crapification ?

        1. flora

          Medicare is constantly trying to root out fraud and overpayments. You can imagine where doctors accepting cash might lead the unscrupulous MD/group practices/hospital owners. ;)

          I think if private insurance companies were as vigilant as traditional MC in rooting out fraud that insurance rates would be lower.

          1. ambrit

            I must disagree with your last point. From my cynical point of view, if private insurance companies were as vigilant as traditional Medicare in rooting out fraud, company profits would be higher.

      2. Lex

        I should have written that the folks at the front desk, where I’m trying to pay cash for services rendered, are telling me they’re barred by ‘their contract’ with Aetna from accepting cash from patients. They are simultaneously furious that getting payment from Aetna may take months.* All that fury goes away if they’d just let me pay in cash… I get a better rate and they get paid immediately.

        Are doctors being offered ‘our way or the highway’ contracts? Otherwise, what’s in it for them to bar cash payment? And if they have no choice, I can see how it might lead to anger and resentment, and that can crapify the crap out of a service as sensitive as a medical practice. I’ve been seeing a trend around here toward outsourcing billing. They don’t even want it in the office anymore.

        *I once had a PT bill for the balance come in nine months after the end of service.

        1. ambrit

          That makes me think of what would be a very popular “populist” piece of legislation; a ‘statute of limitations’ on medical bills. (Being a lifetime member of the Adelfotita ton Kynikon {Brotherhood of Cynics,} I am not sanguine about the passage of such legislation in today’s “Fallen Empire.”) Make it analogous to Maternity. Either send the bill within nine months or it “dies.”
          We too have had bills ‘come in’ months after the cessation of service.

        2. flora

          They are simultaneously furious that getting payment from Aetna may take months.

          Think of the money they earn on other investments during the “float” of dragging out payments to providers. ;)

        3. Yves Smith Post author

          I recently had a new MD, Corey Hunter at the Ainsworth Institute, try that line and I stared them down and of course Cigna would have reimbursed it.

          I even went as far as calling Cigna before and the Cigna rep was so incredulous that I could tell she was working hard not to burst out laughing. She volunteered to read the doctor’s contract with Cigna and confirmed that it contained no such proviso. She even called her supervisor; it was apparently a slack time and the rep found it to be so utterly bizarre that she wanted to tell her boss for grins. Boss had same reaction.

          The MD office continued to be jerks. I had to send them a recording of my call with Cigna before they relented.

          And then they never got paid in the end because I came for a 10:00 AM appointment and the MD hadn’t seen me by 11:45 and I left. They had some excuse about the doctor having an emergency. Please. This isn’t the sort of practice where the doctor is doing surgeries or handling high risk pregnancies. This emergency was a personal emergency. And he was so far behind that it was clear my initial exam would be short changed even if I had time to wait longer.

          The staff had already charged me before the visit. I had to make a stink to get the refund. They literally tried charing me half because a nurse had seen me. I said “Are you kidding?” in a tone that brought them to heel.

          Awful people. The stupidity over the insurance and the difficulty of getting the initial appointment was an advance warning of their lack of professionalism.

          Call Aetna. I guarantee this is crap. Insurers have no reason to bar patients from paying; they’d rather argue with a patient (if it comes to that) than an MD’s office about reimbursement. Sometimes doctors (as opposed to labs) charge higher rates to non-network patients, which is how they’d treat you if you paid at the time of service (their best rate is the insurer’s negotiated discount). Then when your claim is processed, they have to cut a check or issue a credit for any overcharge. That could be what they are trying to avoid but that doesn’t amount to a prohibition by the insurer.

          And the MD does have to give you a receipt with info similar to what they’d give to an insurer (min is diagnosis code(s), procedure code(s), date of service, charges, MD name, address, and provider/license # or if a lab, tax ID so you can get the insurer reimbursement processed.

          If you are in a state that allows for one-party recording, record the call and present it to the dipshit MD.

          The worst is it is likely some sort of billing clerk/manager having conned the doctor and trying to preserve their job because if more patients paid at the time of service, there is less for them to do.

    2. lyman alpha blob

      I got an enormous health care bill last year (word to the wise – do not ever get a rabies vaccine for anyone in your family unless they have an animal foaming at the mouth still latched on to their jugular, because you’ll find out the hard way how expensive they are just to get as a preventative measure). I tried taking it up with Aetna and the hospital to get my share of the bill reduced to no avail, and I also noticed what seemed to be a $5K difference in what the hospital showed me and what they sent to Aetna to pay. I’d already resigned myself to paying my share, but I spent a few hours trying to get someone at Aetna to care about the $5K they seem to have been overcharged by the hospital. Wound up talking to someone presumably in another country who didn’t speak English as their first language and was clearly reading off a script and could not get them to understand what I was seeing or get them to care. To be fair to the person on the phone, I probably wouldn’t care about saving Aetna $5K either if I were them, but that’s a few hours of my life I’ll never get back in a futile attempt to keep my own company’s premiums down.

      1. Felix_47

        Why would rabies vaccine be so expensive? What if it was a poor illegal alien child? Another argument for national health care with all providers on salary without any production bonuses or patient ratings. Doctors go to med school and they take an oath. They need to make the decisions but they must be free of financial influence and therefore doctors need to be on salary. And they need to be free of legal influence so tort reform would have to happen. Independent peer review would have to have teeth. Aint going to happen. Get used to the US system which is rooted in our legal system.

      2. Bob

        Sometimes rabies vaccine is administered free via county health services.

        And of course the vaccine is often administered as a preventative measure when the suspect animal can not be located. The suspect animal (when captured) is generally decapitated with the head being transported to testing facilities where the absence or presence of rabies is determined..

        If bitten a person often will not exhibit rabies until the incubation period is passed. There is no known cure for rabies once it is established in humans.

        Rabies along with some STDs was / is considered to be a public health risk. Note that many years ago testing for some STDs was required for issuance of a marriage license in some localities.

        In those days select diseases were considered to be an important public health risk that could / should / must be controlled via testing and treatment.

        1. wombatpm

          Typically, if the animal is domesticated and available it is placed on a 10 day rabies observation. If at the end of 10 days the animal is alive and not exhibiting signs of rabies testing of brain tissue is not required. In four years of working as a veterinary assistant, we only had to send out once, for a dog that under observation that jumped over a fence during a thunderstorm and inadvertently hung itself.

          Now if the animal was wild, or no longer available the assumption is rabies and aggressive treatment is typical. As my friend who was bitten by a beaver learned the hard way.

      3. Joe Well

        I had the same experience with getting a rabies post exposure prophylactic immunoglobulin treatment plus the vaccine (much different and more expensive procedure than in decades past). Fortunately the health insurance paid the large majority of it but the cost was extortionate and I had the kind of mistreatment Yves wrote about.

      4. hdo

        I’m an ER doc and in general I agree with your rabies vax advice, at least in the US. The vast majority of people here don’t need it. This is because for the past 60 years, our total number of rabies cases is in the low hundreds nationally. This can vary outside the US though.

        Rabies vaccine is not a fun thing to get. You have to come back every few days for 2 weeks to take 3 more shots.

        Know what else is not fun? Trying to convince the anxious patient who clearly does not need the vaccine that it is not in their best interest for me to give it to them.

      5. Patrick

        I’m appalled, in part because of how out of touch I am. Bitten by a stray dog in 1970 that could not be located afterwards, I was encouraged to receive the rabies shots as prophylaxis. Better safe than sorry was the reasoning. The shots were administered free of charge at the department of public health.

  2. ...for my enemies, the Law!

    Is there any way to put our heads together here at NC to put forward a draft for legislation against crappification?

    1. Louis Fyne

      Ironically certain types of crapification is because of legislation.

      eg, Fuel efficiency standards have forced automakers to use more efficient engines—-sounds great, right?

      But these engines (low displacement, turbocharged, direct-injection) can take less abuse and result in being less reliable than the older designs (V6 and I4 non-turbo) they replaced, particularly the first generation engines.

      The issue comes down to cars with the older engine designs can easily last for 200,000+ miles even when abused with lax maintenance.

      The new fuel efficient engines are finicky with their maintenance needs and lax maintenance from a third or fourth owner (who often have lesser financial means) means that the engine can fail with only 150,000 miles—resulting in the entire car getting junked as that owner won’t have the means to replace the engine.

      So when previous generation cars might live on to see 200,000+ miles, you see newer cars junked with only 150,000 miles. Surely that’s a net negative for the environment?

      1. Fazal Majid

        I think ethanol mandates did more to reduce engine life expectancy. Turning food into low-grade fuel is immoral, as it causes the price of food to rise in Mexico where poor people go hungry as a result. Also, the carbon emissions required to grow the corn and process it are much higher than gasoline of equivalent energetic capacity.

      2. ...for my enemies, the Law!

        Good lord! Had no idea about that outcome. You could add to that the reintroduction of mercury to the production of energy efficient light bulbs. As if we learnt absolutely zero from Silent Spring by Carson. Mercury known to be toxic for 60 years now.

        That is about legislative stupidity too. If you ask the industry to produce 1 tonne of nails, they could just as well produce only one giant nail. Well, they met the target but it is a completely useless nail.

        Multirequirement legislation: lower fuel consumption + longer product life-length should be doable, right? Just as an example.

      3. Dirk77

        I watched a video recently of a mechanic tearing down a BMW V6 and comparing with one from the 1980’s. The level of complexity needed now to make an internal combustion engine high performance yet satisfy emission standards is over the top – and the more complex the less reliable and more expensive. My conclusion is this will soon drive all car companies to go electric. So this may not necessarily be an example of crapification, unless the complexity is for complexity sake – like means tested policy.

        1. Harrold

          You were lucky to get 100,000 miles on a 1980’s automobile. Just because they were less complex cars did not translate into a longer life.

          There’s a reason they only came with 12,000 mile warranties.

          1. Yves Smith Post author

            Huh? Driving cars for 200,000 miles was normal then. Even our dirt cheap Datsun (driven in Ohio winter, meaning it got some salt in the undercarriage) lasted that long and we sold it to a neighbor boy for a nominal price. There was nothing wrong with how it was performing. My father wanted a sturdier car that could handle some off-road driving.

      4. Jen

        I don’t know what qualifies as older but last year I finally gave up on a 2008 Honda CRV with 247K miles on it, because something (struts, calipers, etc) was going wrong with it every month and everything that went wrong cost at least $500 to fix. The real windshield wiper motor was the final straw. The one thing that was absolutely rock solid was the engine. That thing would probably run for another 20 years.

        It was also the least fuel efficient car that I ever owned. I started out with a VW rabbit diesel that got over 50 miles to the gallon. Of course on the emissions front, it was not so great. It had 3 forward gears and a maximum speed of 80 going down hill with a strong tail wind and it felt like the car was going to fly to pieces.

        1. Louis Fyne

          yes. those Honda K24 4-cylinder engines are absolutely rock solid with the sad irony that the parts of the car break down while the skeleton is 100% fine.

          The consolation prize is that the Honda with 250k miles outlived its less reliable competitors by 50k to 150,000 miles

  3. Sam F

    I’ll confirm that about half of 2020 USPS deliveries of certified mail have been very late, and roughly a quarter never arrived nor were tracked after a few days, nor was any action taken. At best I was given postage refunds, a tiny fraction of labor value lost. A few of those arrived after months. Many of these were to US government offices in capital cities.

    On product quality, an example of deliberate USG collusion in longevity downgrades is the home dehumidifier, necessary in FL to prevent mold and termites. These are basically small refrigerators, which once lasted 40 years, but now they never last more than 2 years in normal use. The excuse is that recently approved refrigerants have low molecular weight and escape more easily from cracks due to sharp bends in the tubing of heat exchangers. But in fact there is no necessity of using sharper bends in dehumidifiers. I wrote to the US Consumer Protection agency that if the exchangers were designed for broader bends or dipped in solder they would not leak, and would last many years. They thanked me and did nothing.

    So the problem is the US culture of lying, cheating, and stealing. The agencies are run by crooks appointed by crooked politicians financed by crooks, all deliberately abusing public office as a sacred duty for personal gain. They claim to believe in liberty and justice for gangsters, because money=virtue.

    The very same corruption exists throughout the DOJ, FBI, and judiciary. There is no reform because only crooks rise to power in an unregulated market economy. The cause was failure to update the Constitution to isolate elections, government, and mass media from economic power. That is a train wreck that requires a revolution no longer feasible. The US is a dead tree in the forest of democracies.

      1. Louis Fyne

        this is a feature, not a bug.

        UPS Surepost is UPS’s “economy” service to compete against Amazon Prime’s 1-2 day deliveries, using USPS’s last mile infrastructure for theoretically better and cheaper service.

        And sorry to be a Nosy Nellie but here is the USPS tracking number for that package above. the data shows the package at the local Post Office.

        If you enter the original tracking number 1Z***** at the UPS website’s tracking engine, you also can retrieve the USPS tracking number, 926*****.

      2. Olivier

        And the screenshot from Image Beauty does not show the package as “Delivered” but “On its way”.

    1. lordkoos

      USPS Priority mail has also become a joke. in 2019 packages would take 2-3 days tops to cross the continental USA. Now it can be anywhere from 4 days to 2 weeks. I haven’t heard anything from the incoming Biden admin about fixing the postal service.

      The only way I’ve been able to expedite priority mail screw-ups is to call the post office that the mail originated from and have them put a trace on it. This seems to get things moving, almost instantly in some cases. You have to be the original sender to do this, or if it’s incoming then you need to contact the shipper to have them do it. It’s a real pain in the a$$ and I only bother if it’s an important or valuable item.

  4. anonymous

    I work in customer service. The phone is a bad way to get ahold of anyone competent. You’re better off using email or website ticketing system because that at least leaves a paper/electronic trail.

    USPS delays have been ridiculous.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Sorry, not true in any of these cases.

      I have tried e-mails and they don’t get answered. The MRI company, Image Beauty, the two new MDs, none of them responded to multiple e-mails.

    2. cocomaan

      Hmm, I actually find the opposite. Any kind of electronic correspondence usually goes nowhere. I can at least get on the phone and escalate escalate escalate until I get what I want.

      In fact, I find that the companies with the least responsive customer service infrastructure are usually the ones that do not ever give you a chance to talk to a human over the phone.

  5. Louis Fyne

    From the screenshot, it looks like a UPS SurePost delivery in which the USPS (last mile handler) dropped the ball and misinformed to the recipient. USPS, in my area, has been having lots of problems with employee absences due to covid.

    Then add covid onto inconsistent USPS service. I have great service, but for some reason mail from certain areas near me take inordinately longer—a Christmas card from 13 miles away took 3 weeks to deliver.

    Logistics is another way Amazon is using its dominant market position, and profits from AWS, to gain market share in that Amazon will just refund or resend a new shipment if yours is lost in transit.

    Many smaller retailers cannot compete with that.

    Many Ebay sellers copy the Amazon technique as the Ebay sellers are so fearful of negative feedback (as it would affect the ranking algorithm) that those sellers too just refund payments ASAP to avoid negative feedback.

  6. GlassHammer

    “I fell like I now have a ball and chain around my ankle, of business, personal, and maternal administrativa that is impeding me in getting on with the things I really need to be doing,” – Yves Smith

    Yep, at both the macro and micro level first world productivity goals require first world resources and first world services.

    Just wait until your sense of time is altered (“late” isn”t late anymore and “on time” means partially complete) and your goals moderate (i.e. working hard to keep things relatively the same).

    1. cocomaan

      Case in point, my local hospital is telling people to “start preparing to make a plan to get a vaccine.” What do we even call that? Preplanning? Pre-preparation?

      It reminds me of the Democrat “Make your plan to vote!” and then detailing the 100 ways to get a mail in ballot done.

      Most people do not have an administrative assistant to “prepare to make a plan”.

      1. bob

        ” “start preparing to make a plan to get a vaccine.” What do we even call that?”

        Middle management

      2. hdo

        I’m guessing they’re ham-handedly reaching out to potential vaccine consumers in the precontemplation stage of change?

  7. James Simpson

    Medical billing? What’s that (writes a smug British socialist, well aware of the ongoing attacks on our National Health Service by Tories and Starmer’s Labour party)?

    1. Fazal Majid

      I can vouch for that, having moved from San Francisco to London a year ago. Even the much maligned NHS (middle-class Brits prefer to go private) is a haven of sanity and non-bureaucracy, including for expensive procedures like MRIs.

    2. Lex

      I was not aware, wrote the ignorant frustrated American, but I did see the movie. (‘Roadkill’. Masterpiece) Your health care system does seem to be under political attack. Yesterday I was looking at Jeremy Corbyn; today it was Boris Johnson and his wives. It’s amazing to me how much your aristocracy and ours have in common. ;-)

  8. upstater

    Our Christmas story…

    Ordered directly from Nordic Track a upright stationary bike back in October for $1000. Stated delivery was mid-December. While we can run or XC ski right here, the bike would help in gloomy wet weather, mix things up and the wife & son’s gym closed permanently. It finally showed up around Dec 18, delivered by FedEx. Box exterior was fine, but it “rattled” as we turned it over to open. The bike has a huge “clam shell” covering the crank and flywheel — and it was cracked on the side and top, with multiple plastic fragments inside and outside the shell. Almost certainly damage was a result of mishandling the 150 pound bike by FedEx. So we snapped some pix and called customer “service”. The first call they said they would exchange for a new bike, but it was late afternoon so we’d have to call back. The next morning was a battle royal. Handed off to-and-fro to various “service” representatives for an hour who seemed intent on NOT taking the bike back — getting people to keep damaged goods must pay bonuses to their minimum wages. “We’ll send you the parts and tech support will instruct you how to repair it”. Yeah, right. I’m reasonable mechanically inclined, but it was obvious taking the thing apart to fix it with be a huge, time consuming b**** and require special bicycle tools. They FINALLY agreed to take it back and send a new one only AFTER my wife said, “look I’m tired of your run-around, Iet’s end this call now and I’ll have Amex help sort it out”. It was a job to re-pack the “puzzle” pieces back in the box and it sat in the garage for 3 weeks before an independent contract hauler picked it up. New bike comes in a few days…

    Daughter, apparently thinking we need even more calories to burn on the bike, sent us an ice cream maker purchased from Amazon for Christmas. The machine came in a styrofoam shell in side a box, another box and a large Amazon box. the two outer boxes looked fine. The inner-most box had been impaled by some material handling equipment, probably a robot with insufficient camera coverage to notice the 4″ gash in the box (I don’t think a live person would have sent it out, so obviously damaged). The whole back of the machine was smashed in. Amazon took it back, but we had to take it to UPS for pickup, new one came 2 weeks ago. Made a batch of ice cream finally, but consider best utilization will be for strawberry daiquiris in season (Science Daily: Strawberries are good for you, but serving them in daiquiri form may make them even healthier, scientists show).

    We really hate the online stores, but locally getting a bike was a problem. And I personally never use Amazon knowingly. Can you imagine what it will be like in another 10 years?

    1. Tom Bradford

      Must admit the one-and-only time I have used Amazon was for a particular set of Mahler symphonies on DVD I simply could not source locally or find anywhere else on-line.. They were on my doorstep four days after I’d ordered – from a small specialist store, presumably a third-party vendor, at the other side of the world. (UK to NZ).

      Pretty impressive administration and logistics in that case, tho’ I still won’t use Amazon unless I have no other option.

  9. Fazal Majid

    I had a Korean colleague a few years ago who complained about how everything is backwards in the US:

    – every government formality requires making phone calls, whereas in Korea everything is done via the web
    – you lose cell phone signal inside elevators, in Korea they make sure the signal penetrates there as well

    The real issue is that most companies are terrible at managing their workflows. Instead of using unstructured tools like email or phone calls, they should use ticketing systems or the like with monitoring and automatic escalation. It’s a little bit like the the early days of electric motors when they were treated as replacement for steam engines, with a central motor driving belts and pulleys instead of individual motors for each machine. As adoption grew factories were redesigned for the new technology. Email has been around for almost half a century, but we’re still at the stage of treating it like glorified paper memos. See Cal Newport’s outstanding article on the subject:

    1. Harrold

      The problem is not that companies are terrible at managing their work flows, its that companies do not care.

  10. Bold'un

    Looking at crapification of services through the lens of economics, I wonder whether this explains why so many suspect that inflation measures understate the truth.

    We have heard about viruses mutating, but could the GDP deflator be mutating as well?

  11. nothing but the truth

    home depot has straight raised prices 25-100%, cut store hours, fired most floor staff and cashiers, placed self checkout stalls.

    even taco bell has raised prices 20-40%.

    inflation is still “much below fed’s comfort range of 2%”.

  12. TimH

    My favourite was getting a letter from UPS saying that they couldn’t deliver (to that same address) because it didn’t exist. It did, but didn’t show on the driver’s out of date GPS.

    A week ago waited all day for a Fedex wine delivery. Must be signed for. Driver dropped it off, hit the doorbell, and skedaddled without waiting.

    1. Jason Boxman

      I had the opposite experience; My phone broke and I needed a new one, so I ordered the cheapest one I could and it was to be delivered next day; But it was impossible to get the signature requirement waived.

      FedEx said it was up to the shipper, the shipper said it couldn’t do anything about it; as the customer, I didn’t care if someone stole the $20 phone, but what I wanted was irrelevant.

      So it took almost two hours to get to the South Boston FedEx from Somerville by public transit to collect a $20 phone that I was required to sign for right after a freezing rain storm with snow piled everywhere and huge puddles. Fun times. I avoid any place that must use FedEx for shipping now.

      And of course the phone was garbage, and I replaced it months later; It was virtually unusable, even at making phone calls, it was so underpowered. Why is it even legal to sell stuff that fails to fulfill its own purpose?

    2. Lex

      Your driver rang the doorbell? What’s your secret? Ours just skedaddle. Sometime in the last couple of years, UPS and Fedex ceased the courtesy of ringing to let us know they’ve left something on the porch. Too time consuming?

      1. Bob

        I suspect that the package delivery companies use Industrial Engineering to a fault. That is the driver is responsible for making deliveries with limited mount / dismount time.

      2. Altandmain

        Drivers are afraid of getting COVID.

        They don’t want to touch whatever they don’t have to. A doorbell is considered a touchpoint that many people use.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          Fedex mainly rings here. I think it has much more to do with cray cray delivery time pressures. Our poor USPS guy has to swipe a scanner against a bar code inside our mailbox to prove when he was here and show he was delivering quickly enough.

  13. freedomny

    Had an experience in November when I ordered a rug and other items from a well known home goods company. It was a pretty substantial (in terms of $) order. After paying I noticed that the majority of the items wouldn’t get to me for another 1 1/2 months. I immediately tried to cancel and was told I couldn’t because the items were to be shipped from a third party vendor (lol – in 1 1/2 months). Spent quite a bit of time trying to speak with a supervisor and it was only after I threatened to get an attorney involved did they agree to cancel the order. It makes me wonder if trying to return items to companies who are suffering financially (or not) is going to get even more difficult…

  14. Krombopulos Michael

    Reading thru the comments, this sounds a lot like the operating basis back in the Soviet Union days. Indifferent service, incompetence, no real accountability. We only hit some of the scarcity issues that the USSR had (lines for bread, toilet paper, well, everything), but that’s probably the next thing to be “normalized” except that a sizeable portion of Americans will likely revolt when their cheap, high fructose treats become unavailable. I don’t have an answer for the Gordian Knot of American “healthcare”. If Yves could travel then she’d have some options for care in other countries (Thailand, Mexico, etc.).

    As for the postal issues/losses, it could be a small group of carriers dumping or hoarding mail that they didn’t deliver. It’s happened before and I could see it as a “solution” to someone who can’t or won’t get his load done.

    1. JBird4049

      The crapification of everything. Those “cheap, high fructose treats,” is what passes as “food” here in 21st century America; worse, for far too many Americans it is effectively what is available.

      The country produces more food than the nation needs. The federal government during the 30s, 40s, 50s, and 60s designing and creating a system that solved the problem of overly costly food, hunger, and in the first years of the Great Depression, actual starvation. The food was meant to be nutritious as they understood it. Yet, here we are. Hunger is here and sugar water is food.

      It is like some malicious deity has created an experiment to see just how much pressure is needed to make the rat colony explode.

  15. Arizona Slim

    I experienced the very same thing last week. UPS dumped a delivery on the USPS, and I got the very same screenshot that is shown above.

    I checked the USPS website, which showed that my package had been delivered. Needless to say, I was confused.

    So, I got on my bicycle and embarked upon a mission. I pedaled over to the post office where my box is, because that’s the delivery address I had chosen.

    Locked said bicycle, padded into the post office, and got in a very short line. As soon as I got to the counter, I asked if my delivery had arrived. Yes, said the USPS lady, and she went and retrieved my box.

    Everything in the box was just fine!

  16. Max

    I’ve had occasional to call the police a few times over the years. The first was for a hit and run on my parked car (nobody in it), they said they don’t investigate car accidents without injuries. The second was for my girlfriend’s catalytic converter stolen in our driveway, they said they couldn’t do anything. Third was a noise complaint I made against a neighbor, they are a dentist and run some sort of high pitched loud machinery that you can hear a block away. After multiple calls where they said they would be in contact, no follow up and the noise is still there. I realize these aren’t exactly life or death issues but I would appreciate someone at least taking a statement or something.

  17. Jen

    I just got off the third phone call to Humanscale’s customer service department attempting to secure a refund for a keyboard tray I returned at the end of November. Refund was supposed to be processed in 10 days. 2 months later, I still haven’t seen it. The fellow I spoke to was very nice and told me he’d escalated the issue to his supervisor who was going to escalate it to the supervisor of the accounting department. I thanked him and told him very politely that he’d been very helpful, but hoped that he could see how absolutely unacceptable it was for me to be out $300 for two months. I sincerely hope I don’t have to make another call.

  18. Cuibono

    Two thoughts
    1) this is all part of a larger process of crapification of everything.. my medical world seems to be falling apart in front of my eyes.
    2) this sort of crapification is a form of Insidious inflation. Given that we have a service economy I suspect that in fact inflation is Raging!

  19. Alexandra

    When I was my mom’s caregiver, I used to say I had a full time job as a carer, and an additional part time job fixing service provider errors. As I recall AT&T was a special circle of hell.

    But I reserve my greatest loathing for UPS. One Xmas they threw a box over the fence (wtf) rather than leaving it on the porch (and I mean they had to have thrown it–this was a tall fence). It was a gift I wasn’t expecting, so I didn’t know to go hunting for it; it sat under a heavy blanket of snow in an unfrequented corner of the dog run until late spring, by which time, of course, it was totally destroyed. My current apartment faces onto an alley behind the main street and UPS never get deliveries to this place. Thankfully last time they at least managed to get my package to an adjacent apartment (improvement!), but you’d think that, even if they were confused about where my place is, they would be able to read the numbers on the front of the buildings and ascertain that #2 is not #3. Worst of all, they take no ownership of their screw ups–if they leave your box at the wrong house, they expect YOU to canvas the neighborhood looking for it. If it can’t be found, they just shrug and say too bad.

    1. Adam

      AT&T was definitely my number 1 business nightmare. About 5 years ago, we got a “smart” security system from them that malfunctioned several times during Thanksgiving. Each time it malfunctioned, AT&T would call the police to investigate unless we could supply the right “password”. The problem was that it turned out that it wasn’t a password at all; it was an answer to a security question about my favorite band; they somehow lost the question it was attached to making it impossible for us to guess what they wanted since it wasn’t a password. Additionally, every other piece of equipment they gave us broke at some point and we didn’t get about 1/3 of the equipment because their installers didn’t show up for appointments.

      When we tried to cancel this service, they tried to hit us with a $500 cancellation fee (despite it being marketed to us as a month to month product), and after going into the store several times to get someone to help face to face, it became evident that the employees were all lying through their teeth and always had been. I finally had to take legal matters when I set a specific appointment with an in-store manager only to be told when I was arrived that he was running an errand and wouldn’t be back for an hour. It was a mentally taxing process (especially since it was forced arbitration), but in the end, I was able to basically recoup almost all of the monthly fees we made for the service and got them to pay for the $700 in police fees their data and tech bungling incurred.

      Needless to say, I will never be signing for an AT&T product again nor would trust anyone who works for AT&T in any capacity.

      1. Spring Texan

        AT&T is the absolute WORST – I had a couple episodes with them years ago, both were appalling; and they chose to outright lie repeatedly when I complained about them to the Public Utility Commission. They make other companies look good.

        1. TimH

          When I wanted ADSL with my POTS line 7 years ago, AT&T refused and wanted to sell me their sort-of-fibre service. I got the DSL from a 3rd party, cheaper than AT&T, and of course still using AT&T’s equipment (DSLAM etc). Why DSL? Because I don’t have a rent a modem, and copper to the central office works when there’s a power outage.

          1. eg

            I use a 3rd party reseller for DSL as well — it’s the only way to escape the clutches of the cable vampires and other oligopolists hereabouts.

  20. Michael Olenick

    I try to order from smaller websites but always pay with PayPal. I don’t like doing that because they charge a relatively steep fee but they’re also good about reversing charges when items aren’t delivered which, way too often, they’re not. A surprising number dropship stuff from China despite being advertised as EU/US businesses and, surprise, these are, by far, the most likely to have problems. Amazon always manages to get the deliveries through so I don’t believe it’s the delivery companies. I recently had one who tried fighting the chargeback despite their own carrier marked the package as rejected at the border, sent back to China, and received by the seller (who used the PayPal name “The Seller.”).

  21. CanCyn

    Telephone trees are the worst. Sometimes what I am in need of, usually something simple, is not even an option in the menu choices. Many years ago I was given the tip to just press 0 and, regardless of the business or menu options in the telephone tree, you would get a person. It worked for a long time and I used it whenever I needed something by phone. At some point in the last few years, companies caught on to the 0 loophole and closed it down. Nowadays unless they specifically tell you to press 0 to talk to someone, it gets you nowhere.
    My pet peeve is the ”thank you for your patience, we value you as a customer” recording that is repeated ad nauseam while you wait and wait and wait. I am more than certain that these systems are designed purposefully to make people give up. They do not value our business and do not want to clear up whatever problem we have. Once payment is made, all service bets are off. The exceptions for me in this regard happen when I deal with small and/or local businesses, in person. Follow ups for any reason seem to go smoothly. We recently bought some new upholstered furniture from a mom and pop retailer. There was a problem problem with the ottoman and it had to be returned. They put a rush on the replacement and it arrived in the store a day after their weekly delivery day. Even though we were quite willing to wait, the owner personally delivered the new one on a Sunday morning when the store was closed – we are 30 mins from the store.

  22. time2wakeupnow

    I had a major stroke a few years back and was several days in an ICU.

    There was one particular “Doctor” that came and went into my room everyday for around 3-4 minutes. He didn’t seem to be related to any of my reguarly ‘assigned’ medical personnel – and really didn’t do more than just check my breathing and heart rate with his trusty stethoscope – and then he was off to another room to repeat the same 3-minute routine. I also noticed the he was much older than everyone else that was attending to me – somewhere in his mid-70’s.
    I inquired to my regular nurses on who exactly he was, but non of then knew, or could remember who he was, or why he was making his mini-rounds – always about the same time of day.

    Well…about 4 month or so after I was discharged from rehab, I get this nearly $900.00 co-pay bill from some mysterious Doctor located 70 miles north of where I live. The bill did not have an option for payment via credit card or other electronic means. It stated that they only accepted CASH or money orders made out directly to this mystery Doctor. I called the office and got a payment call center somewhere in the Midwest where a very pleasant woman answered. Via her, I was able to piece together who this Doctor really was- the very same 3-minute one that had popped into my ICU room unsolicited.

    Turns out that this particular physician was retiring, and was allowed by my hospital to basically provide/pad his own retirement exit with multiple BS medical “guest” appearances accompanied with his follow-up surprise billing. I referred to him as Dr. Cha-Ching and refused to pay anything more and told his billing office that I would gladly dispute his attempt to pad his retirement “extortion” – to which, the assistant admitted as much that was exactly what he was doing, and that she would “cancel-out” his charge – knowing that I was fully onto Dr. Cha-Chings retirement hustle.

  23. Lex

    Anyone know what the technical term is for what Netflix is up to? I’ve heard the word ‘throttling’ but that’s a word having to do with bandwidth. Our distribution center was Denver, now it’s Santa Clara, CA. It takes 10 days to turn around DVDs, instead of 2-3. One DVD got lost before Christmas; I asked for a replacement and it didn’t show up till yesterday. It was the second in a series… did they think we were still waiting? Netflix is starting to make Redbox’s business model look good.

    1. Gc54

      Netflix spun off its disc division quite a while ago. In the old days the disc might go only 20 miles so overnight and out would go the next in your queue.

  24. cripes

    Like Yves, I have spent years negotiating medical and home care providers for partner and her ailing mother.
    An account of this would occupy volumes and no one comes out unscathed, including Medicare that refused payment for in-hospital care that hospitals routinely designate as “observation” status to avoid dinging their re-hospitalization scores with CMS.

    Months. Of. Psychological. Torture. Other. People. Would. Have. Paid. To. Escape.

    This entire beyond-broken hell-hole of Crapification Of Everything is screaming for enforceable metrics designed to improve patient care, not bottom lines, and a few rolling heads to set an example.

  25. Palaver

    Gross bureaucrat incompetence, human error, is usually the better explanation. You can do a lot with very little in this post scarcity society.

    “Bureaucracies public and private appear–for whatever historical reasons–to be organized in such a way as to guarantee that a significant proportion of actors will not be able to perform their tasks as expected. It’s in this sense that I’ve said one can fairly say that bureaucracies are utopian forms of organization. After all, is this not what we always say of utopians: that they have a naive faith in the perfectibility of human nature and refuse to deal with humans as they actually are? Which is, are we not also told, what leads them to set impossible standards and then blame the individuals for not living up to them?”

    David Graeber, The Utopia of Rules: On Technology, Stupidity, and the Secret Joys of Bureaucracy

  26. Telee

    The mail has definitely slowed down in central Pa. Many of the bills I receive by mail are now coming too late to pay the bill by it’s due date. Letters mailed from location within a 2 hour drive can now take over 2 weeks to be delivered. Especially alarming regarding Medicap payment. Trump’s pick to run the Post Office has done his job well and the next step will be privatization.

  27. Tinky

    Late last year I purchased an item from the UK on eBay. It as shipped using eBay’s “Global Shipping Program”. Long story short, eBay apparently uses a company called “”, based in Spain, to deliver in that country and Portugal. Their tracking system claimed that the item was “out for delivery” on three straight days, including a Sunday(!), and of course there was not even any attempted delivery. I emailed the company twice for help (no phone number provided – a further irritation), and received no response. On Monday, tracking showed no updates. Same on Tuesday, but the parcel arrived.

    I checked on TrustPilot, and it has received astoundingly poor reviews from customers. There were 667 reviews, 79% of which rate the company as “BAD”. Seventy-nine percent! The details often mirrored the problem that I experienced.

    Two final points:

    It beggars belief that eBay, in its desperate attempt to compete with Amazon, would choose to employ, and retain a last-mile courier with such a poor record.

    There are few things more irritating, from a customer service standpoint, than being informed that a parcel will be delivered on a certain day, and for it not to appear.

  28. Laura

    Hear hear. Add to that the increasingly prevalent and obnoxious captchas required to access random web sites, particularly sites which send you automated responses(!) when you try to contact their staff.

  29. Skunk

    I call the fake telephone experience “Telephone Hell.” FedEx now has a so-called “virtual assistant” on its phone that is completely useless and blocks access. How did I find out? A perishable shipment went astray for days, which was obviously a fairly significant problem. Despite hours of effort, it was impossible to contact anyone. These things are clearly being done on purpose. We are the Great Unwashed. They are the Great Corporate Entity. The idea is to show you that you are completely insignificant to them so that you will not bother them with your petty phone calls. Meanwhile, the same corporate entities will robocall you endlessly. My advice is to send letters when you can, ideally certified with return receipt. State your situation and your request. Even if nothing seems to happen, you have recorded your efforts. This may be important later, and it will accomplish more than the fruitless hours in Telephone Hell. My favorite is when you wait for hours and then they hang up!

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