The Decline of American Business: Delta, Dell, Waterpik, & Vanguard

 

Last night, the telephone rang at 3 a.m. It was, thank God, not a death in the family or a terrible accident. It was Delta Airlines. A bit more than twelve hours earlier, I had called Delta. I wanted to buy a ticket so that my son, who will be thirteen, could fly off to summer camp; and on the Delta website, thanks to his age, this could not be done. When I called, I learned from the computer on the other end of the line that there was a high call volume and that the wait would be long. Would I prefer that, when things opened up, Delta’s computer called me back? Uh, er. Yes, thought I. It would surely be preferable to interminable waiting. So I acquiesced – and was then appalled when I was told that the call would come through within the next four hours and fifty-two minutes. In the event, it took more than twelve hours, and at 3 a.m. I found myself wishing that I had the home telephone number of the Delta president ready to hand so that I could call him and discuss with him the poor service on offer from his airline.

I had a similarly disheartening experience with Dell Computers. About fifteen months ago, at Best Buy in Jackson, Michigan, I bought a Dell Inspiron Laptop. The price was right – ca. $350. The laptop had more than enough memory for word processing, running financial software, and surfing the web; and, while I could have paid for an extended warranty, I did not see the point. I had never had a piece of equipment break down on me within the first three years of service – except when it was defective from the start. This time, however, the thing ceased to function shortly after the one-year warranty ran out. Repairs would run, I learned, at least $199; and to my mind, it seemed to make more sense simply to replace the machine. Here again, I found myself thinking that things like this should not happen. Dell should not use defective parts, and the outfit should stand behind its product for a reasonable period of time.

A few weeks ago, the water flosser I had bought from Philips died after working for a respectable number of years. My wife then picked up a Waterpik water flosser at the Walmart in Jonesville, Michigan; and I started using it. This item worked for a week or ten days. I put new batteries into the thing. But nothing I did could bring it back to life. Here again, I found myself wondering why a firm would sell so defective a product.

On a Saturday, at about the time the Philips water flosser died, I sat down in my office on the Hillsdale campus with daughter number one. She had reached the ripe old age of twenty-one, and I wanted to transfer to her the investment account and Roth IRA that I had set up for her with myself as trustee some years ago. When I had called Vanguard Investments, the counselor at the other end of the line had told me that I first needed to have her open her own investment account and Roth IRA, that the best way to do so was online, and that I could then call and transfer the money into the accounts she had set up. So that was our task. We tried twice online to open the investment account, putting in the pertinent information. But on each occasion the program supplied by Vanguard stalled, telling us that the information that we had entered was unacceptable. As I later learned, the problem was twofold. We were working from my computer and so the program insisted on putting in my contact information. Furthermore, it would not allow my daughter an address or a telephone number different from the one for the trustee account (for which, of course, I had used my address and my telephone number). In the end, we discovered that we had created two investment accounts and that the sum meant for the one we were trying to set up had been taken out of her personal bank account twice – once for each account.

That was bad enough, but it got worse. When she called Vanguard the following week to get things corrected, the first counselor she reached would not speak with her because she gave him her address – which meant to him that she could not be who she said she was. A day later, she called again and got a seemingly helpful woman who tried to aid her and promised that one of the two investment accounts would be closed and that the sum in that account would be transferred back to her bank account within five business days. Something like fifteen such days have passed, and she is still waiting. The last time she called Vanguard, it was 4:15 p.m.; she was put on hold; and a half-hour later a robotic voice informed her that her call would not be taken because Vanguard was about to shut down for the day. Needless to say, she was annoyed. It is one thing not to take calls made after closing hours. It is another to put someone on hold for an extended period then to drop that someone.

In the last few years, I have had other, similar experiences – with, for example, Home Depot – and they have led me to the conclusion that there is something amiss with the American corporation. My deals with Delta, Dell, Vanguard, and Home Depot were once uniformly satisfactory. Customer service was excellent. Waiting times were negligible or nonexistent. Those I dealt with were well-informed and helpful. Problems rarely arose; and, when they did, they were quickly and courteously sorted out. It looks to me as if the bean-counters are now everywhere in control and as if the urge to cut costs and improve on profits has occasioned a sharp decline in quality and the virtual elimination of customer service. I have not returned to Home Depot since the difficulty I had with the shop in Coldwater, Michigan. I will never buy anything from Waterpik again. I will think twice before I have future dealings with Delta or Dell, and I may move the savings I have invested with Vanguard over the last thirty or so years somewhere else.

When I ponder all of this, I cannot help but think of Boeing – a few shares of which I own. It used to be a terrific company. But, I am told, when the unions in Seattle began picketing the homes of the company’s top brass, the wives of the latter spoke up; and the headquarters was moved to Chicago. Henceforth the top brass was rarely seen on the factory floor. At the top, the engineers gave way to the bean-counters and, in time, the company went south. Giving way to the rage for short-term profits can easily ruin a brand name and shut off the spigot for profits altogether. Someone should do a course on this at one of our business schools.

Published in Economics
Like this post? Want to comment? Join Ricochet’s community of conservatives and be part of the conversation. Get your first month free.

There are 46 comments.

Become a member to join the conversation. Or sign in if you're already a member.
  1. KentForrester Moderator
    KentForrester
    @KentForrester

    Preach it, Paul!  I know exactly what you’re talking about.  Don’t get me started on automatic telephone systems. 

    • #1
  2. Ekosj Member
    Ekosj
    @Ekosj

    Alas, customer service is a thing of the past.   The once reliable US Post Office is another example.    I just received a Priority Mail packet that was mailed on Apr 9th.   The sender had paid for two-day delivery.   It took over two weeks.   I could follow its peregrinations via the tracking number, but no amount of telephone calls to the local Post Offices throughout the Midwest where it went could get it re-routed.   

    All too often, instead of using the web to enhance customer service, organizations use it instead of providing customer service.

    • #2
  3. Skyler Coolidge
    Skyler
    @Skyler

    Paul A. Rahe: . Dell should not use defective parts, and the outfit should stand behind its product for a reasonable period of time.

    Good grief, you buy a $350 laptop and you think it’s supposed to last more than a year?  I’ve not worked there in 20 years but I don’t think that was their high end product.

    • #3
  4. The Cynthonian Member
    The Cynthonian
    @TheCynthonian

    I have had similar experiences, though fortunately not at 3 a.m.

    I blame a lot of it on automated phone systems which rationalized labor reductions in customer “service” departments.   Shoddy manufacturing with poor to no quality standards is largely due to the offshoring push of the last 25 years.  

    I have a special hate for companies that make it nearly impossible to speak to a human when you need to.  Inevitably, their endlessly repeated hold message reminds the unfortunate caller that many items can be taken care of online.   Do they think I would call them and suffer the interminable holds, cutoffs, and repetitive reminders if what I wanted were available online?  🤦🏻‍♀️

    • #4
  5. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Paul A. Rahe: When I ponder all of this, I cannot help but think of Boeing – a few shares of which I own. It used to be a terrific company. But, I am told, when the unions in Seattle began picketing the homes of the company’s top brass, the wives of the latter spoke up; and the headquarters was moved to Chicago.

    It was bruited about at the time that the CEO was a major opera fan. Boeing’s new digs were right across the river from the Lyric Opera House.

    • #5
  6. Basil Fawlty Member
    Basil Fawlty
    @BasilFawlty

    Paul A. Rahe: A few weeks ago, the water flosser I had bought from Philips died after working for a respectable number of years. My wife then picked up a Waterpik water flosser at the Walmart in Jonesville, Michigan; and I started using it. This item worked for a week or ten days. I put new batteries into the thing. But nothing I did could bring it back to life. Here again, I found myself wondering why a firm would sell so defective a product.

    Batteries?

    • #6
  7. OldPhil Coolidge
    OldPhil
    @OldPhil

    Skyler (View Comment):

    Paul A. Rahe: . Dell should not use defective parts, and the outfit should stand behind its product for a reasonable period of time.

    Good grief, you buy a $350 laptop and you think it’s supposed to last more than a year? I’ve not worked there in 20 years but I don’t think that was their high end product.

    The last 2 Dell laptops I bought were pieces of junk.

    • #7
  8. Charlotte Member
    Charlotte
    @Charlotte

    Would you be willing to pay significantly more for your plane tickets, flossers, and laptops to cover the companies’ costs for quality customer service? Unfortunately I don’t think enough people are willing to make that trade. 

    • #8
  9. David Foster Member
    David Foster
    @DavidFoster

    Charlotte (View Comment):
    Would you be willing to pay significantly more for your plane tickets, flossers, and laptops to cover the companies’ costs for quality customer service?

    Zeynep Ton’s recent book The Good Jobs Strategy is relevant to that question, and also to the larger issues of customer service.  My review.

    • #9
  10. philo Member
    philo
    @philo

    Paul A. Rahe: …the engineers gave way to the bean-counters and, in time, the company went south. …

    Yes, the all-too-predictable evolution of such entities. The spark of real leadership is replaced by the soullessness of management. (And, usually, they are not even good bean counters.)

    In most cases I blame it all on one bit of silliness more than anything else: the dime-store MBA. Via night school and the company tuition reimbursement program…the top heavy management structure of these aging entities become littered with them to the detriment of promoting real core experience. They are hardly alone. There are any number of similar hollow credentials handed out internally to create the myth of great “leadership” through the well populated resumes of this “credentialed”…and conspicuously diverse, no doubt…class. But, as you see, the results are predictably the same.

    • #10
  11. Bryan Van Blaricom Member
    Bryan Van Blaricom
    @BryanVanBlaricom

    Published in 2010: Your call is (not that) important to us.

    • #11
  12. navyjag Lincoln
    navyjag
    @navyjag

    Good one Paul.  My experience was a Brother printing crapping out after about 6 weeks. Office Depot said could not be replaced since more than 30 days since purchase. Brother will not take it back since I tossed the original packing believing the thing would work for over a year.  So we not only get worse merchandise but the woke lectures on top of it.  

    • #12
  13. Hang On Member
    Hang On
    @HangOn

    Call centers are in India. Parts are made in third world countries and assembled there too. It’s all about lowest price. Certainly not quality or service. Capitalism.

    • #13
  14. kedavis Member
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    This thread seems at least somewhat related:

    https://ricochet.com/944459/another-example-of-how-the-libertarian-utopia-is-a-fantasy/

    • #14
  15. RushBabe49 Thatcher
    RushBabe49
    @RushBabe49

    For the malfunctioning electronics, blame the EU. In particular, the regulation known as RoHS (regulation of hazardous substances). That reg required all electronic items to be free of lead by a certain date which I don’t remember. The solder used to attach components to circuit boards contained lead because of its conductive characteristics. When the lead was eliminated the components did not last nearly as long, reducing the useful life of all electronic devices. The components themselves also had to be redesigned to eliminate lead. I have always wanted to find out how much money worldwide was wasted in non-value-added activity to conform to the EU regulation. 

    I have recently begun participating in Vanguard’s personal advisor program. I will copy your information on your troubles in a message to my advisor and see if we can get you some help. I have had my accounts there for nearly thirty years, and you should not be getting the runaround from them. 

    • #15
  16. Skyler Coolidge
    Skyler
    @Skyler

    RushBabe49 (View Comment):

    For the malfunctioning electronics, blame the EU. In particular, the regulation known as RoHS (regulation of hazardous substances). That reg required all electronic items to be free of lead by a certain date which I don’t remember. The solder used to attach components to circuit boards contained lead because of its conductive characteristics. When the lead was eliminated the components did not last nearly as long, reducing the useful life of all electronic devices. The components themselves also had to be redesigned to eliminate lead. I have always wanted to find out how much money worldwide was wasted in non-value-added activity to conform to the EU regulation.

    I have recently begun participating in Vanguard’s personal advisor program. I will copy your information on your troubles in a message to my advisor and see if we can get you some help. I have had my accounts there for nearly thirty years, and you should not be getting the runaround from them.

    Wow, I hadn’t heard that. I was worried about the EU’s “blue angel” program which required all plastics to be “recyclable,” which in effect meant you had to use plastic manufactured by German companies.  Seems like they continued to use their pull to hamstring businesses much as California has.

    • #16
  17. Headedwest Coolidge
    Headedwest
    @Headedwest

    OldPhil (View Comment):

    Skyler (View Comment):

    Paul A. Rahe: . Dell should not use defective parts, and the outfit should stand behind its product for a reasonable period of time.

    Good grief, you buy a $350 laptop and you think it’s supposed to last more than a year? I’ve not worked there in 20 years but I don’t think that was their high end product.

    The last 2 Dell laptops I bought were pieces of junk.

    That’s pretty much a certainty if you buy an Inspiron.

    You can’t buy a decent computer for $350; but you can buy an Inspiron.

    • #17
  18. Headedwest Coolidge
    Headedwest
    @Headedwest

    Skyler (View Comment):

    Wow, I hadn’t heard that. I was worried about the EU’s “blue angel” program which required all plastics to be “recyclable,” which in effect meant you had to use plastic manufactured by German companies. Seems like they continued to use their pull to hamstring businesses much as California has.

    EU regulations on wiring insulation appear to be one of the major reasons that BMW and Mercedes no longer have long lifespans.

    My rule of thumb: never own a Euro luxury car that isn’t under a comprehensive warranty.

     

    • #18
  19. kedavis Member
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    Headedwest (View Comment):

    Skyler (View Comment):

    Wow, I hadn’t heard that. I was worried about the EU’s “blue angel” program which required all plastics to be “recyclable,” which in effect meant you had to use plastic manufactured by German companies. Seems like they continued to use their pull to hamstring businesses much as California has.

    EU regulations on wiring insulation appear to be one of the major reasons that BMW and Mercedes no longer have long lifespans.

    My rule of thumb: never own a Euro luxury car that isn’t under a comprehensive warranty.

     

    That was one of my uncle’s maxims even back in the 1970s.

    • #19
  20. OccupantCDN Coolidge
    OccupantCDN
    @OccupantCDN

    I think there are a couple of unrelated currents that are pushing corporate America into some bad habits.

    1. The Pentagon. It may seem odd, but the military budget is huge. Nearly every major corporation you can think of has a military division fishing for a piece of it. Its bad because the Pentagon’s management styles has leaked into non defense areas. I think this is causing inappropriate decisions to be made.
    2. Cost plus contracting. This is most drastically demonstrated in the difference between SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule, and Boeing’s Starliner project. Boeing’s capsule is still in development, having so far cost $4.2 Billion. It has flown 1 unsuccessful unmanned test flight, numerous bug fixes and design flaws have to be worked out, and at least another unmanned test flight will be required before it’ll be trusted with humans. It may enter service in 2023-ish, almost 4 years behind SpaceX. SpaceX’s Dragon is in service having already completed 2 manned trips to the ISS and was developed at a cost of $2.6 Billion.
    3. Focused on short term results, with almost no thought given to longer term planning or strategy. Quarterly earnings and revenue targets have to be hit – executives massive bonus structures are dependent on it. Its beyond ironic that the tax code limited executive compensation, created the bonus/incentive system that was supposed align management and shareholder interests, has gone the other way. Management has built itself a bonus system that maximizes their take home compensation at the expense of rank & file employees and shareholders.

     

    • #20
  21. I Walton Member
    I Walton
    @IWalton

    It’s universal.   Long waits and slow service is standard,  eventually connecting with an Indian or some other accent perhaps domestic who will eventually pass you to someone if the issue is at all complicated, who actually knows something.  The most important thing is to get them to promise to call if the phone call is dropped.  I thought it was downsizing and acknowledgment that waiting customers don’t cost them anything because there’s no competition.  It may not be downsizing. 

    • #21
  22. Paul A. Rahe Contributor
    Paul A. Rahe
    @PaulARahe

    Bryan Van Blaricom (View Comment):

    Published in 2010: Your call is (not that) important to us.

    What was bad then is, I think, worse now.

    • #22
  23. Paul A. Rahe Contributor
    Paul A. Rahe
    @PaulARahe

    RushBabe49 (View Comment):

    For the malfunctioning electronics, blame the EU. In particular, the regulation known as RoHS (regulation of hazardous substances). That reg required all electronic items to be free of lead by a certain date which I don’t remember. The solder used to attach components to circuit boards contained lead because of its conductive characteristics. When the lead was eliminated the components did not last nearly as long, reducing the useful life of all electronic devices. The components themselves also had to be redesigned to eliminate lead. I have always wanted to find out how much money worldwide was wasted in non-value-added activity to conform to the EU regulation.

    I have recently begun participating in Vanguard’s personal advisor program. I will copy your information on your troubles in a message to my advisor and see if we can get you some help. I have had my accounts there for nearly thirty years, and you should not be getting the runaround from them.

    Do that, please. I have been with Vanguard for a similar period of time, and they were once terrific. It was a better place when John Bogle was in charge.

    • #23
  24. Front Seat Cat Member
    Front Seat Cat
    @FrontSeatCat

    Skyler (View Comment):

    Paul A. Rahe: . Dell should not use defective parts, and the outfit should stand behind its product for a reasonable period of time.

    Good grief, you buy a $350 laptop and you think it’s supposed to last more than a year? I’ve not worked there in 20 years but I don’t think that was their high end product.

    Then they should have a disclaimer on the box – this is a piece of crap.

    • #24
  25. Front Seat Cat Member
    Front Seat Cat
    @FrontSeatCat

    I finally closed by lousy Verizon cell phone account and I’ve been waiting months (and 3 phone calls) for my $68. final bill credit refund…… I was hung up on a couple of times – the 3rd time sounded like I might get it – still waiting.  Don’t get me started on the post office – I guess they’re too busy scouring social media for DHS.

    • #25
  26. Skyler Coolidge
    Skyler
    @Skyler

    Front Seat Cat (View Comment):

    Skyler (View Comment):

    Paul A. Rahe: . Dell should not use defective parts, and the outfit should stand behind its product for a reasonable period of time.

    Good grief, you buy a $350 laptop and you think it’s supposed to last more than a year? I’ve not worked there in 20 years but I don’t think that was their high end product.

    Then they should have a disclaimer on the box – this is a piece of crap.

    They do!  It’s called the price tag!  :)

    • #26
  27. OccupantCDN Coolidge
    OccupantCDN
    @OccupantCDN

    Skyler (View Comment):

    Front Seat Cat (View Comment):

    Skyler (View Comment):

    Paul A. Rahe: . Dell should not use defective parts, and the outfit should stand behind its product for a reasonable period of time.

    Good grief, you buy a $350 laptop and you think it’s supposed to last more than a year? I’ve not worked there in 20 years but I don’t think that was their high end product.

    Then they should have a disclaimer on the box – this is a piece of crap.

    They do! It’s called the price tag! :)

    So true!

    Buy the middle of the product line – not the bottom.

    I bought a Honda Civic LX in 2016 – the bottom of that product line – it came with a wrong drive shaft installed on 1 side of the car. I just couldnt justify paying an addition $5000 for 6 more HP, and have to use premium gasoline? No thanks!

    • #27
  28. RushBabe49 Thatcher
    RushBabe49
    @RushBabe49

    Skyler (View Comment):

    RushBabe49 (View Comment):

    For the malfunctioning electronics, blame the EU. In particular, the regulation known as RoHS (regulation of hazardous substances). That reg required all electronic items to be free of lead by a certain date which I don’t remember. The solder used to attach components to circuit boards contained lead because of its conductive characteristics. When the lead was eliminated the components did not last nearly as long, reducing the useful life of all electronic devices. The components themselves also had to be redesigned to eliminate lead. I have always wanted to find out how much money worldwide was wasted in non-value-added activity to conform to the EU regulation.

    I have recently begun participating in Vanguard’s personal advisor program. I will copy your information on your troubles in a message to my advisor and see if we can get you some help. I have had my accounts there for nearly thirty years, and you should not be getting the runaround from them.

    Wow, I hadn’t heard that. I was worried about the EU’s “blue angel” program which required all plastics to be “recyclable,” which in effect meant you had to use plastic manufactured by German companies. Seems like they continued to use their pull to hamstring businesses much as California has.

    I have been angry about that since at least 2007. As a buyer, I had to deal with all the new part numbers for all my components, and longer lead times for the lead-free parts. Actually, @skipsul connected the dots for me on this issue, since he is similarly situated to notice. The rule made it much more difficult for the engineers at my company to design new parts, and we often had to spec in the old leaded parts when lead-free ones simply would not work for our application. The lead-bearing parts were available but much more expensive and long lead-time. RoHS is also the reason that your appliances no longer have a 30-year lifespan. 

    • #28
  29. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    kedavis (View Comment):

    This thread seems at least somewhat related:

    https://ricochet.com/944459/another-example-of-how-the-libertarian-utopia-is-a-fantasy/

    Yes!

    • #29
  30. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    OccupantCDN (View Comment):

    I think there are a couple of unrelated currents that are pushing corporate America into some bad habits.

    1. The Pentagon. It may seem odd, but the military budget is huge. Nearly every major corporation you can think of has a military division fishing for a piece of it. Its bad because the Pentagon’s management styles has leaked into non defense areas. I think this is causing inappropriate decisions to be made.
    2. Cost plus contracting. This is most drastically demonstrated in the difference between SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule, and Boeing’s Starliner project. Boeing’s capsule is still in development, having so far cost $4.2 Billion. It has flown 1 unsuccessful unmanned test flight, numerous bug fixes and design flaws have to be worked out, and at least another unmanned test flight will be required before it’ll be trusted with humans. It may enter service in 2023-ish, almost 4 years behind SpaceX. SpaceX’s Dragon is in service having already completed 2 manned trips to the ISS and was developed at a cost of $2.6 Billion.
    3. Focused on short term results, with almost no thought given to longer term planning or strategy. Quarterly earnings and revenue targets have to be hit – executives massive bonus structures are dependent on it. Its beyond ironic that the tax code limited executive compensation, created the bonus/incentive system that was supposed align management and shareholder interests, has gone the other way. Management has built itself a bonus system that maximizes their take home compensation at the expense of rank & file employees and shareholders.

     

    Two and three for sure

    • #30