Saturday, August 22, 2009

Will “Cash for Clunkers” undo ObamaCare?

Update: Last night my wife reminded me of a meeting that was held a week ago between area car dealers and representatives from NADA, the National Automobile Dealers Association. In that meeting, it was disclosed that one of the contributing reasons for the slow reimbursement process is that early in the program, the government paid out over $100 million without any paper trail or any assurance that the transactions even qualified for reimbursement!

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My wife works at a car dealership. She works in the office and is the person responsible for preparing and filing the paperwork needed for the dealership to be reimbursed under the CARS [Cars Allowance Rebate System] better known as “Cash for Clunkers.” The program has been a needed shot in the arm for her dealership and for dealerships all over the country. However, is the CARS program providing a peek into how health care reform may work?

The CARS program works buy paying $3,500 or $4,500 to a consumer trading in an older, fuel-inefficient car for a new, fuel-efficient vehicle. The difference is based upon the difference in combined MPG from your old car. I wholeheartedly support the concept as it’s a “win-win” for everyone -- we take old gas guzzlers off the road replacing them with more efficient cars and provide a short-term boost to struggling automakers. I think the program is a bit too costly. I would prefer seeing the amounts range from $1,500 to $2,500, but that’s my opinion.

The problem is that the government -- i.e., the Department of Transportation -- has really messed up the administration of the program. Last week it was reported that only two percent of the claims submitted to the department had been paid and there were over 338,000 claims outstanding. The department has only 225 people reviewing the claims which comes up to about 1,500 claims per employee. It got to be so bad that a number of dealer associations were encouraging their members to cease the program. The government finally announced that the program would cease on Monday. When they say “cease,” they mean that all claims must be submitted by Monday. Most dealerships were ending the program on Friday; my wife’s dealership is ending the program today (Saturday) at the close of business. She’s at work now -– she’s normally off on Saturdays -– and will be working late into the night!

I’m sure the Obama administration will do everything they can do to make sure all claims are reimbursed. If, for some reason, properly-submitted claims are not reimbursed, I hope Republicans raise holy hell about this. If the government cannot properly administer a straight-forward program like CARS, how are they ever going to administer a complicated program like health care reform?

Separate from the arguments brought forth in the town hall meetings held all across the country, the next few weeks will show if the government can even handle something along the order as socialized health care.

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Friday, August 14, 2009

Customer service is alive and well

It appears that retailers are now putting the customer first! You remember the customer don't you? He or she is the person who supports you and your company by buying products from you or using your services. For awhile, it appeared that customer service went the way of the Model T. Now I'm not so sure.

A couple of days ago, I went to Lowe's to purchase light bulbs for a ceiling fan. I did not bring the burned-out bulb with me, but thought I could find a replacement for it anyway. I found some bulbs, paid for them and went home. It was then that I discovered that I bought the wrong size. There are three bulb sizes for ceiling fans -- regular, intermediate and candelabra. I bought the candelabra size instead of the intermediate. I returned to Lowe's and returned the unopened bulbs for credit on my bank card. The clerk then called someone in the electric department to help me find the "right" bulb. This time I brought the old bulb with me! We searched high and low for its replacement, but could not find it. At this point I was ready to go somewhere else, but the sales clerk offered to call the fan manufacturer for me to find out what replacement bulb to use. Imagine, a sales clerk calling the manufacturer on my behalf! We went over to his station and he looked up the phone number on his log sheet. He called and, of course, was immediately put on hold. After a few moments, he was once again connected with the manufacturer's customer service rep and asked the type of bulb I should purchase. That is when everything went off the track as the manufacturer needed to know the exact model number of fan that I had. I never thought about bring the model number with me so we were unable to get additional information. He hung up and then started going through more ceiling fan specs. After a few more minutes, it was obvious that Lowe's did not have the bulb I needed. The clerk then suggested Home Depot, Menard's and a couple of electrical supply stores for me to check. I thanked him for his time and effort and left feeling bad that I did not buy something from him.

I drove to Home Depot and was immediately met by a sales clerk in the lighting section. I repeated my story and discovered that Home Depot did carry the replacement bulb. I picked up the 2-pack of bulbs and prepared to check out. The clerk then asked if I wanted to see the CFL bulbs that would fit in the fan. I was intrigued by that as I prefer going the low-cost and ecological route whenever I have the opportunity. She took me over to the display fans and showed me the light bulbs that were now coming with the fans. I did end up choosing the CFL bulbs (although they do cost more) over the incandescent bulbs. I made an off-hand remark about the safe disposing of CFL bulbs and she said that Home Depot accepts the bulbs for safe disposal. She took me over to the kiosk in the store where CFL bulbs and batteries can be safely disposed.

Home Depot was always a place that I avoided if I could. I am not the most mechanically-inclined person and always felt a bit overwhelmed when I went there looking for something. Although the clerks in the past were helpful, they assumed that I had greater mechanical knowledge than I really had. Lowe's entered the Chicago market a few years ago and promoted its customer service. Home Depot must have gotten the message as this recent experience has become the norm rather than the exception. In both stores, it is hard to spend more than a few minutes without someone asking if they can help.

I'm sure the recession is also impacting their level of service. Customers have so many choices these days. Stores such as Meijer now carry a lot of hardware items and there is always Costco or Sam's Club for the most common tools or hardware items. I was just very surprised to receive what I consider to be very helpful service within 15 minutes of each other from the two major home centers. I will continue to shop at both stores.

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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Cubs and Phillies

The Chicago Cubs are in the middle of a series with the Philadelphia Phillies. Twitter member @wpbc just posted a re-tweet that a sign outside of Murphy's Bleachers says that this series is between the 1908 Champs and the 2008 Champs. As Cubs fans are painfully aware, the Cubs last won the World Series in 1908 and the Phillies are the defending champs.

The 2008 Champs lead this series two games to none with the final game set for Thursday afternoon at "The Friendly Confines."

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Sunday, August 9, 2009

It’s gonna be a hot one!

I woke up early this morning to the realization that today will be the hottest day of the year in Chicago. When I went to bed last night, the local weather prognosticators were saying that it was going to get to 98 today! They are usually wrong, but this time they will probably be right. Up here, high temps also mean high humidity. That sucks! I can take the higher temps (I did live in Scottsdale for a couple of years!), but I cannot do high humidity.

With the exception of letting the dogs out to do their thing, I plan on staying inside all morning. There are baseball games and a NASCAR race on TV that will command my attention today.

Hopefully tomorrow’s weather will be more moderate.