By Jim Bray
Have you ever been jerked around by a big company?
You arent alone. Im just coming off a prolonged ordeal with
a major electronics chain that was enough to make me tear out my hair.
My experience, however, shows that you should never give up and you shouldnt
be afraid to go upstairs for satisfaction.
It began last December, when my family decided to buy my father a digital
satellite dish system for Christmas. He lives in Canada and can only watch
government-approved Canadian satellite systems, apparently because his
government wants to protect Canadian broadcasters from competition and
the Canadian people from exposure to any more American influence than
is absolutely necessary.
One of the drawbacks to satellite systems is that unless you buy a second
receiver, all your TVs have to watch the same program. This is unacceptable
in my house, because it would force my kids to watch the quality programming
my wife and I prefer instead of the garbage they normally soak up.
My dad, however, lives alone, so this isnt an issue. He has two
TVs, however (one upstairs and one downstairs) and, since hes
elderly, we wanted to make life with the dish as easy on him as possible
by allowing him to change channels without having to run up and down the
stairs all the time to access the satellite receiver.
The Web site of the electronics chain in question, which claims to have
answers, offered the perfect solution: a second remote control that uses
radio frequencies (RF, as opposed to the IR - infrared light used
by most remotes) to transmit through walls and floors! Dad could keep
the RF remote upstairs and use it to control the satellite receiver installed
A simple and elegant solution.
After contacting several Canadian branches of the chain, and discovering
that the average clerk couldnt spell satellite let alone
understand it, I happened upon a store manager who knew what I wanted.
He also offered the unexpected bonus of insisting that the second (RF)
remote would work with the lowest end model of receiver, which happened
to be on sale. This would shave about a hundred dollars from the price,
because I had budgeted for the higher model receiver I knew accepted the
He sounded relatively competent, so I took his advice. We bought the
system and arranged for the second remote control (which, typically, was
back ordered) to be delivered directly to the store outlet nearest my
Dads home when he returned there from his holiday visit with us.
Except that it never arrived, even after multiple repeated attempted
rattlings of the store manager in questions cage. Oh, he swore
it had been sent (and it had certainly shown up promptly on my credit
card statement!), and he swore hed send it again, but it always
seemed to disappear into the ozone hole. My dad even inquired more than
once at the supposed destination store, and was greeted with a resounding
Huh? each time.
Meanwhile, I discovered that the low end receiver into which Id
been talked wouldnt work anyway; only the model I had planned to
buy in the first place, the step up unit, would accept the radio frequency
remotes signals. Well, you can imagine the conversation I had with
the manager whod sold me the bill of goods! Such words cannot be
Eventually, he promised to send my Dad the step up receiver and eat the
price difference between it and the phantom remote for the months of hassle
through which wed just gone.
That was over a month ago.
Thats when I kicked the problem upstairs, to the optimistically-named
Customer Service department at the Canadian head office. They
were very pleasant and promised to help.
A week later I phoned again, and a week after that. It was time to kick
it upstairs again to the department head. If that hadnt worked,
I would have gone to the president.
It took another two weeks, but it worked.
In the end, what should have been a straightforward transaction took
three months to resolve, and if I hadnt kept pushing it would probably
continue to this day.
I dont know if this is representative of the companys U.S.
parent, which is supposedly unconnected, and Ill never know.
They wont get the chance.
Jim Bray's technology columns are distributed by the TechnoFILE and Mochila Syndicates. Copyright Jim Bray.