There was an error in this gadget

Sunday, November 24, 2013

A Timely Restart / Adventures in Moving

In looking at this, what was once and will be my personal blog, it appears that I haven't made an entry in over 5 years (!). Let's bring everyone up to speed.

For a large part of the last five years, I was the compliance officer/coder/consultant/tornado spotter/blogger for a company in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin. Some of my contributions to their blog can be found here. I say some because it appears that my former employer deleted (at the very least) my final posting, which said goodbye to what had turned out to be quite a sizable audience. Alas, in some quarters, there shall be no entertainment. 

At the end of August of this year, I left their employ and packed up my family, pets and what turns out to be quite a heavy CD collection to Gaithersburg, Maryland. The day after Labor day, I began a new job with an entity who shall remain nameless to all but my closest friends and colleagues for purposes of literary freedom. My new paymasters need not worry, as I hope to be a credit rather than a detriment.

To begin anew in an old space, I thought I would begin this old/new writing venture with the story of my move to Maryland, as it was quite eventful. Those who read this who are also friends of mine on Facebook will recognize this story, but there are many others who have not heard the story in detail. Rather than tell the story as a narrative, I'd like to share with you e-mails that went back and forth between myself and Budget Truck Rental. I feel this is the best way to tell the story.

Report Customer Experience 
Sunday, September 15, 2013 via Online Form
 
Description Of The Situation: My family made a decision to move our 
possessions from Milwaukee, WI to Gaithersburg, MD. I reserved a Budget
Truck online on August 7th, 2013. 

On August 24th, 2013, I showed up to RJN Weger, LLC., the Budget rental agent in West Allis, WI that was closest to my home in Milwaukee, at 8 AM, which was my scheduled pickup time. Upon showing up to the Weger Agency, I was told that he had no 24' trucks in stock due to the one truck that he had expected back that day being held for an extra day by another renter. I was also informed that
the closest alternate 24' foot truck available was located in Kenosha, WI, which was roughly 40 miles away from what was my local renting agency. I was also told that the tow dolly that I had reserved was also a no-go at Weger, and that the only thing he had available was a tow trailer. 

Due the the agency's poor planning, I was forced to drive to Kenosha, WI to Dan Stepler's Auto World to pick up what was apparently the only 24' truck in all of Southeastern Wisconsin. Amarjit, the agent at Auto World, also had no tow dolly, and could only provide me with 19 furniture pads, rather than the 24 that I had reserved. This necessitated me having to leave my car behind at Auto World while I returned home with the moving truck. 

I then drove the truck to my home in Milwaukee to be loaded, knowing that I had to return to the Weger agency to pick up the tow trailer. I was told by the agent at Weger that he could not stay past 3 PM (remember that the entire reason for the now 4-hour delay in my move was because Weger failed to secure a 24' truck)
because "he had to pick up his wife". Because the truck needed to be packed by professional movers who charged by the hour, time was of the essence. Unfortunately, The packing took us past the 3 PM deadline that the Weger Agency had set. 

I was forced to go to the Weger agency after hours, where myself and my sister-in-law had to attach the tow trailer by ourselves, as the agency was closed. It should be noted that because my wife and son were traveling separately, I had my cat with me in the truck. I then drove the truck and the trailer back to Auto World so my car could be loaded onto the tow trailer from its place in the Auto 
World parking lot. What has originally been estimated as a 1 PM departure time was now a 5:30 PM departure time. 

The drive was going well, until I filled the truck up with gas for the third time at the Wyandot Service Plaza on the Ohio Turnpike. After putting $100 into the
tank at 2:11 AM on the morning of Sunday, August 25, I continued my journey eastward towards the Pennsylvania Turnpike. About 5 miles down the road, the check engine light came on, and I was suddenly unable to accelerate going up a hill. I called the emergency roadside assistance number provided on the pamphlet surrounding my rental agreement and told them what was happening. The representative told me that as long as the truck was running, I could ignore the light and that it should right itself. 

This turned out to be wishful thinking, and I then stopped at the Tiffin River Service Plaza, which was a mere 57 miles from the last service plaza. I called the emergency roadside assistance number again from that service plaza and told them that the problem did not resolve itself. They stated that they would send someone out to take a look at the truck. Approximately 90 minutes later, a truck from A & M Towing arrived to look over the truck, after roughly 30 minutes, the person from A & M diagnosed the problem as being with the fuel filter. He 
replaced the fuel filter and told me to drive it hard around the parking
lot of the rest stop (as much as I could carrying a full load in the truck and towing my car behind me). He told me that it should be OK. 

stopped for gas at the Oakmont Plum plaza on the Pennsylvania Turnpike at 7:43 AM on Sunday, August 25th. This rest stop is roughly 50 miles from the Ohio border. Approximately 15 miles after I stopped for gas, the check engine light came on again, and was similarly accompanied by a total loss of acceleration going up hills, of which there are many in Western Pennsylvania. I drove it as far as I could until I slowed to 32 miles per hour going up a hill. Not wanting to cause an accident on a major thoroughfare where the speed limit is 65, I pulled the truck to the side of the road at mile marker 86.9 Eastbound on the turnpike. 

once again called the roadside assistance number and told them exactly where I was. At 9:32 AM, I received a text message stating J B Truck Repair had been dispatched to assist with an estimated time of arrival of 89 minutes. At 10:27 AM, I received another text message stating that Gary's Truck Repair was now dispatched to assist with an estimated arrival time of...89 minutes. When the repairman from Gary's showed up, he stated that the truck would now not start and that the truck's engine had failed to such a degree that fuel could not get to the engine to accelerate. 

For the next 2 1/2 hours, I was left on the side of the road while the "maintenance manager" made up his mind about what to do next. When I demanded to speak to this person myself, I was told that I wasn't allowed to speak to him. After my second call to the roadside assistance number, I was told that the maintenance manager was trying to make up his mind as to what to do next. I told the phone representative that the only solution, seeing as how all of my possessions were on the truck and could not be off-loaded, was that the truck had to be towed the remaining 203 miles to Gaithersburg, MD. I was then told that "Special Clearance" was needed because the bill to tow the truck the rest of the
way was over $1000. They finally relented, the repairman from Gary's Truck Repair returned with a tow truck, I offloaded my car from the tow trailer, grabbed my cat from the truck cab (who by this time had been sitting for 6 hours inside a hot truck) and drove the remaining mileage to Gaithersburg. The tow truck driver beat me by about 20 minutes, and at roughly 7 PM, 35 hours after I had shown up to the Weger Agency to rent a non-existent truck, I arrived at my destination. 

It should also be noted that because I arrived late, I had to pay an extra $110 to people who were scheduled to unload the truck at 10 AM Sunday morning in
Maryland because the truck broke down over 200 miles from its destination.
  
What We Can Do To Help: From beginning to end, this rental was one of 
the worst experiences of my life. For the aggravation of rental, and for
the danger I faced being stranded on the side of the Pennsylvania Turnpike for six hours, I expect nothing less than a full refund of the $1307.65 for the rental of the truck, car carrier and blankets, the $110 fee I had to pay the movers for a truck that broke down and $282.42 in diesel fuel spent during the journey, coming to a grand total of $1700.07. I have receipts for all of these expenses, and failure to provide anything but a full reimbursement could result in a civil action against your company.

To that initial inquiry, I received the following response:

Sent: Tuesday, September 17, 2013 11:12 AM 
Subject: Re: Report Customer Experience (KMM8363183V30646L0KM) 



Dear Mr. Spencer , 

Thank you for contacting Budget Truck Customer Service regarding your 
rental. 

Thank you for taking time to contact us regarding your experience with 
Budget; reports such as yours are most appreciated, since they help us 
target and correct areas of our service which might be improved.  Any 
difficulties or problems encountered by our customers are a concern to 
us, and we apologize most sincerely for any inconvenience you may have 
been caused.  Please be assured that your experience was not typical of
our usual high standards, and that the responsible department has been 
contacted to prevent any recurrence. 

In an effort to reflect our concern and to promote positive customer 
relations, we have reviewed your situation, and have taken consideration
on the conditions of the equipment received.  We are able to offer 35% 
($330.82) off the truck and 1/2 ($64.50) off the base rate of the 
trailer rental, being a total of $395.02, for difficulties you 
experienced with the truck not accelerating, and because you had to 
drive the personal car the rest of the 204 miles to the destination. We
understand you had a lot of difficulties and you absolutely deserve 
compensation but you did receive the use of the truck and made the trip
even though it was towed after the breakdown. So the move with the 
Budget truck was made. 

As for as the fuel if you feel it used more fuel than it should have 
please send us the receipts for the fuel we can figure how much was use
and what should have been used you can fax those to XXX-XXX-XXXX or 
e-mail them to [REDACTED] 

Once again we thank you for taking the time not only to bring this to 
our attention, but to provide us another opportunity to demonstrate the
true quality of our service. 

Sincerely, 
Kathy 
Level 2 Customer Service 
Budget Truck Customer Service Team 

Quite obviously, "Kathy" didn't understand quite a bit of not only what I myself relayed in my initial complaint, but I dare say she neglected to understand the English language in her response. This called for drastic literary action, which was forwarded on Wednesday, September 18th:

 
Kathy, 

I thank you for your timely reply and initial offer of $395.02 for compensation regarding some of the concerns raised by my rental experience. Unfortunately, after reviewing your response to my initial communication, I feel that it fails to take into account several key takeaways that I have developed regarding my experience with Budget Truck Rental. 

First, while I admire the fact that your online reservation system theoretically allows for ease of preparation for cross-country, one-way moves, this was clearly not my experience. When a customer takes the time to reserve a 24' truck, a tow dolly and 24 furniture pads online, there is an expectation that all of these things will be waiting for him or her upon presentation to the rental agency designated in the reservation. When I showed up to the Weger Agency, there was no truck, no dolly and I neglected to mention in my original missive that the 
agency had a metal rack in their lobby / waiting area used for storing furniture pads that was completely empty at 8 AM on a Saturday. Rather than providing a convenient solution to my problem (i.e., securing a reliable replacement truck and bringing it to the designated rental point), the agency's one and only solution was "go get the truck in Kenosha" and providing me with driving directions. As I stated previously, I made my reservation with my eyes on the clock, as I had two movers coming to my house in Milwaukee to pack the truck at 10 AM that morning, followed by an 800-mile overnight drive to Maryland and 
concluding with an unload of the truck at the new location on Sunday morning. I came to the agency on time for my reservation and optimistic about my moving timeline, and the Weger Agency failed on every front to provide what had been asked for in the reservation. Your reply seems to infer that I should be the one who needs to financially absorb a complete institutional failure on the part of Budget Truck Rental and its agencies to fulfill baseline requirements of a customer reservation, and I reject this inference. 

Second, the reservation receipt that I received via e-mail on August 7th, 2013 states that the truck rental is for a "24' Moving Truck 4 Days & Unlimited Miles". While other renters in the past have more than likely looked at those words and determined that they can take their time, drive the truck wherever and whenever they want for a four-day period and return the truck right at the deadline, that was not my plan. My plan was to pick up the truck and tow dolly in West Allis, WI at 8 AM Saturday, August 24th (eliciting help from the rental agency on the proper technique for securing my car to the tow dolly, as is promised in all of your rental literature and online), return to my residence in 
Milwaukee, have movers pack the truck from 10 AM to 1 PM, drive the truck in the most direct route possible to our new home in Gaithersburg in time for the scheduled unloading of the truck at 10 AM on Sunday August 25th and return the truck to the designated drop-off point on the morning of Monday, August 26th, thereby shaving two days off of the rental time (despite the fact that there was no financial incentive for me to do so). Instead, thanks to the cavalier attitude of the Weger Agency, as well as the fact that the "Plan B" truck that was eventually bestowed upon me was unable to satisfy the "Unlimited Miles" promise of the reservation, my timeline was involuntarily aborted at the very beginning of the rental period. Your response seems to indicate that this is a cost that I should absorb. I would be hard-pressed to think of another consumer services company off the top of my head that asks that I take a financial beating for the abysmal performance of the company and its representatives, save for banks deemed too big to fail.

Third, I'd like to address some issues of safety. Whenever I rent a car or a truck, I do it with the idea that the car or truck is mechanically sound, and that the only additional costs I shall incur are related to refueling. The thought process does not exist that I am renting the vehicle to take me 75% of the way to my destination, and from there I'll improvise. There are a few terms in the Webster's English Dictionary for people who take all of their possessions on the road with no defined plan to reach their destination. The first of these terms is "hitchhiker" and a few pages into the dictionary later, the term "hobo"
is encountered. Since I had a 24' truck filled to capacity and the act of hitchhiking is illegal on most interstates and turnpikes, we can scratch off the first term, and my lack of ownership of a stick and a handkerchief eliminates the other. When I contracted with Budget Truck Rental, I did so believing that I was renting safe, reliable transportation that would deliver my possessions, myself and my cat to a destination 800 miles to the East in a timely fashion. Nowhere in my rental agreement does it say that I agreed to rent a ticking time bomb that would cease all operations going uphill around a bend on the Pennsylvania Turnpike in the mountains of Western Pennsylvania at mile marker 86.9, which would require me to spend 6 hours by the side of the road wondering whether the instrument of my destruction was going to be either an out-of-control car careening from the turnpike or a Sasquatch-like creature emerging from the thick woods on the other side of the guardrail. I'm certain that you are aware that the U. S. Department of Transportation takes a dim view of trucks that are not 
road-worthy clogging up major thoroughfares across the country. Fully refunding the costs of my truck rental should be the least of your worries here. Had you not had someone behind the wheel who realized that the truck was in the midst of breaking down and was therefore not safe for the road avoided what could have been a devastating traffic accident and a multi-million dollar settlement for gross negligence. It wouldn't have mattered if the truck had gone 20 miles, 200 miles, 800 miles or (in this case) 600 miles. The bottom line is the truck wasn't ready for its appointed task and posed a risk to my safety at the moment the truck key was handed to me. You reply seeks to compensate me not for when the 
bomb ticked, but the fallout from the explosion. I am at a loss as to why I should pay for such enormous risk to my safety that wasn't self-inflicted. 

Fourth, in a Machiavellian turn of events, your reply seems to imply that because my possessions eventually reached their destination that Budget considers the move "made". I would caution you not to consider the fact that simply because my possessions happened to reach Maryland that this constitutes a successful move. While it can be said that the truck I rented and loaded in Wisconsin was the truck that I unloaded in Maryland, this only occurred because the truck had to be towed to its destination. Your inference of a successful move seems to indicate that there was another way to magically transport a packed, broken-down 24' truck over 200 miles other than the socially accepted solution of a tow truck. Given ten days stuck on a highway, a little bit of imagination and a need to "get away from it all", I suppose I could have unloaded the truck and moved into the woods by the side of the turnpike. In the six hours that I spent alternately standing there or pacing, there were brief moments where the creek that ran on the other side of the guardrail at mile marker 86.9 presented a Walden-like alternative to the hustle and bustle of modern life. Yet, the reason for my cross-country move was to provide a better life for my wife and son, which rendered any dreams of a side-of-the-road hermitage out of the question. 

Lastly, there is no mention in your reply of compensation for the $110 I had to pay the unloading agent for showing up to my new home in Gaithersburg on the morning of Sunday, August 25th to unload a truck that had no hope of reaching its destination. The reason for this payment was based on the truck I rented failing to deliver what was promised. In no way was I negligent in my handling of the truck, and had I been rented reliable transportation, this cost would never have been incurred. 

To finalize, I would like to review the elements of what would have constituted a successful move. I would have shown up to the Weger Agency at 8 AM. A truck, tow dolly and 24 furniture pads would have been waiting for me. The rental agent would have assisted me with the hook-up of the tow dolly and the attachment of my car to said dolly. I would have driven the truck and towed car back to my house in Milwaukee. The rented movers would load the truck, which I eventually would have driven to Gaithersburg, Maryland, with stops for fuel and that famous rest 
stop, fast food nourishment that has made America the overfed envy of the world. I don't know how I could make it clearer that this was not my experience. Accordingly, I must reiterate my request from my earlier communication. I urge you to refund a total of $1700.07 for the rental of a defective truck, a tow trailer that was only utilized for 75% of the journey and was not what I had reserved, the costs incurred to the unloading firm for showing up to unpack a truck that didn't arrive and fuel costs. Had Budget Truck Rental had a little bit more oversight over their fleet of trucks and rental agents, we wouldn't have a need to correspond in this manner. 

Sincerely, 

John Paul Spencer

Apparently, there is nothing like a long explanation to escalate a customer service issue. The next day, I received another response from Budget Truck Rental. It appeared they were beginning to understand:

Sent: Thursday, September 19, 2013 2:10 PM 
Subject: Re: Report Customer Experience (KMM8369054V18808L0KM) 

Re: Customer Complaint ? 18081-7997-2440 

Dear John Paul Spencer: 

This shall serve to acknowledge receipt of your escalation complaint dated September 17, 2013, regarding your experience with Budget Truck Rental, LLC (BTR). 

Upon receipt of your Complaint, an investigation was conducted. Our records indicate that you rented a truck from a BTR location in Kenosha, WI on August 24, 2013, with a return location in Germantown, MD on August 28, 2013. Our records further indicate that you contacted Roadside Assistance on two separate occasions: 

1) the fuel filter had to be replaced; 
2) oil pressure pump went out. Due to RA being unable to repair the truck immediately, the truck was eventually towed to your final destination. 

Upon reviewing this with our Management Team and reading all the notes from Roadside Assistance, we understand that you were placed in a very difficult and stressful situation, but we are not able to comply with your full amount of the rental request. However, in an effort to display our concern and promote positive customer relations, BTR would like to increase the offer to 70% off the entire rental ($1,307.65) in the amount of $915.35, as an additional customer service gesture, we will reimbursed your movers expenses of $110.00, for an aggregate total of $1,025.35. Considering you had use of the rental equipment for a portion
of your trip, BTR believe this offer is fair and reasonable. Should you wish to accept this offer please contact BTR's Customer Service (referencing this letter) at XXX-XXX-XXXX or email to [REDACTED] no later than September 30, 2013. 

In accordance with Section 3 of the Rental Agreement clearly states that BTR is not liable "for any punitive, incidental, special, exemplary or consequential damages in connecting with this Agreement or in connection with us furnishing the truck to you". Therefore, BTR respectfully declines your request any other reimbursement other than what is outlined above. 

BTR would like to apologize for any inconveniences that you may have 
experienced and were waiting your response. 

Sincerely, 

Lisa [REDACTED] I Response Coordinator Executive Office 
Budget Truck Rental, LLC

While I was employed as a compliance officer in the world of healthcare, I am not an attorney, nor do I want to be. With this in mind, I copied and pasted this response from "BTR" on Facebook and left it up to the virtual Roman Senate that are my friends and acquaintances as to whether I should accept the second, more bountiful offer. It was the unanimous decision of the masses that I accept, which prompted this e-mail on Friday, September 19th:

Dear Lisa, Boss of Kathy,

While it is not the full refund amount that I requested, please regard this e-mail as acceptance of your latest offer of a refund in the amount of $1025.35. 

For your records, I have attached the receipt of transaction to my credit card for the $110 charge incurred on August 25th for the unloading firm that showed up to my new residence in the absence of your truck. 

I have one request, post-mortem, that I shall leave up to you to act upon. I would like you to inform the Weger Agency, the original rental agent who provided none of the items I reserved for my move, that they are harboring a rather skewed definition of the words "customer service". Perhaps they can move on to another industry worthy of their skills, but first these skills need to be identified. 

You are free to either credit my credit card account on file the amount
specified, or you can make out a check to:

John Paul Spencer
[ADDRESS REDACTED]

One hopes that the check will not have to be towed to my house. I thank
you for your attentions to this matter.

Sincerely, 

John Paul Spencer

Within 7 business days, I received a reversal on my credit card, and the long, tortuous saga of my move East came to an end. For the rest of my life, when I pass a Budget rental truck on the highway, I'll have but one thought for the driver: "Good luck". The construction of the world's largest catapult has already begun in preparation for my next move.