And Then I Called the CEO at Home

By Cam Mather

A while ago I talked about my greatest bit of activism when my daughters were younger (that post is available here.)  It involved a local water skiing night at our cottage that had been a fun event when I was young that both men and women from the Canadian Water Skiing Team participated in. When I took my daughters to the event years later it was now sponsored by an electronics company and apart from the slick announcer and corporate signs everywhere they had basically relegated the women to collecting money for the men who did all the water skiing.

That winter I wrote the sponsoring company explaining my disappointment and pointing out that they held the event in a public park, so if this blatant sexism happened again the following summer I would stand on a public picnic table in the public park and shout at the top of my lungs demanding that my daughters should get to see women actually water skiing. I would continue this for the entire 90-minute show, which I would think in a public park, would be my right.

Next summer we went again, and I was perfectly ready to lose my voice. And low and behold the exceptional young women, along with the men, trick-skied, went over jumps and kite-skied and the handsome young men went into the crowd to collect money. The lesson I learned was don’t let people in power get away with anything.

Now my latest triumph pales by comparison but it reminded me that one should never accept things the way they are. Thankfully the Occupy Wall Street folks get this.

In my wonderful little off-grid homestead I have a satellite dish that provides me with entertainment. Driving to most events would be at least an hour, so this reduces my carbon footprint. One of the downsides to watching TV is that there are commercials. If I have to watch commercials, I’d prefer to watch good ones, that are funny and don’t insult my intelligence. I used to sell both radio and television advertising, so I get how they provide the show producers with income so I get the content. Shows like 30 Rock on NBC and Modern Family on ABC usually have great commercials. They have a young hip audience and so they know that the regular “beat the consumer over the head” type of commercial isn’t going to work.

Then I began to notice that the commercials airing during those shows were no longer the “better” ones. I realized it was because a Canadian broadcaster had highjacked the signal and now I was watching Canadian commercials. If both a Canadian and a US broadcaster were simultaneously broadcasting the same show, my satellite TV provider would switch to a Canadian station and force Canadians to watch Canadian commercials. Canadian commercials don’t have to be worse than American commercials, but they often are. Let’s face it … American’s know how to sell stuff! They invented advertising! They even have a show celebrating their tradition of advertising … Mad Men!

I used to love my satellite provider because it didn’t switch to Canadian stations. This was particularly important during big events, like the Super Bowl, when advertisers spend big bucks on their commercials and it shows! One year I went to watch the Super bowl at my friend Ken’s house and he has a different satellite TV provided and they substituted the Canadian commercials! That sucked! It was the worst Super bowl ever! Well, the game and company was great, but I had to come home and watch the commercials online. I’m still laughing at the Betty White Snickers bar commercial … oh, and the eTrade baby!

My little independent satellite TV provider got taken over by a bigger one and they decided to start substituting the commercials, without my consent obviously. They obviously assumed I wouldn’t notice. Everyone reading this probably has a story about their own experience with dealing with a big company. Be it the phone company, electricity utility, gas company or whatever, the experience is not often a positive one. I knew that if I started off calling their “1-800” number and if I got through, I’d get some poor person at a call center who wouldn’t know what I was talking about and frankly, well, probably wouldn’t care.

As luck would have it I got the day-old newspapers from our corner store last week and there was one of those corporate promotion announcements where my new satellite TV provider was pleased to show off all of their spiffy new corporate people, with fancy clothes and big titles! So I found the name of an employee who had “loyalty and retention” in her title. I phoned her and suggested that they wouldn’t ‘retain’ me if they didn’t stop this practice of substituting Canadian commercials. As you can imagine, people in suits in office towers aren’t often faced with having to talk to whiny customers like me. But too bad, I got through, and now she had to deal with me! Hee hee.

She was very nice, I think because she had just started her new job and she insisted that she would have someone call me back shortly, or else she would. I presumed I would never hear from her again. But low and behold the next morning I got a call from someone at Head Office. It turned out that they needed to switch out the “tria” on my satellite dish and my service will go back to showing American stations/commercials. They usually charge $50 for this, but they offered to waive the fee. I began wondering what alternate universe had I woken up to that morning!

As it turns out they have this program available but they never tell anyone about it. Apparently you have to get the president’s cell phone and call her and interrupt her golf game to get any satisfaction.

The downside is that all of the channel numbers that I had finally memorized have all changed.  Normally this’d annoy me, but I keep reading that the way to ward off Alzheimer’s is to exercise your brain with stuff like this, so bring on those new numbers!

So the next time you feel like you have some gripe with a big corporation and you worry that you’ll never get satisfaction, try a novel approach. Think outside of the box. Using their 1-800 customer service line is a recipe for frustration. You have this amazing thing called the Internet. Find out who in charge, get their phone number and call them. And when the person who’s meant to discourage you from getting through asks you the reason you’re calling, just sound important. In case I’m wrong, we’re still living in a capitalist society. Back in the 1950s a CEO made 40 times what a typical worker in a company made. Now through some abomination the number is like 400 times. So they owe you. They’re being well compensated to be bugged on the weekend by some whiny customer!

And now, I can once again look forward to “Super Bowl Sunday.” So there’s a football game that runs in between the commercials? That’s cool!

2 Responses to “And Then I Called the CEO at Home”

  • Ed:

    Cam, I work for the big cable provider where you used to live. The Canadian TV stations had the CRTC make it that they could jump the feeds from U.S. stations so they could reap the rewards of Canadian advertising. I had never heard of what you described but I guess you are just pulling from a U.S. satelite now or something. THAT won’t happen for a cable subscriber I’m afraid!
    Enjoy your winter down time. May your pond freeze well this year!

  • Great stuff Cam. I’ve done the same thing a few times by email, with 100% success rate. CEOs’ email addresses are rarely published, but it’s easy to figure them out by finding out the name of the CEO or other bigwig from the Annual Report, looking up the email addresses of employees at the bottom of the food chain, and figuring out the pattern. For example, if Elizabeth Jones in the Department of Customer Affairs has the email address ejones@megacorp.com and the CEO is called Barry Black, there’s a good chance his email is bblack@megacorp.com. So then I email him and tell him that I’m going to keep bugging him until he gets his finger out and fixes the problem, and for good measure, and to embarrass him, I send a copy to Elizabeth Jones and a couple of other random people in his organization. Within a couple of hours I usually get an email or a phone call to tell me the problem has been fixed.

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About Cam
Cam Mather and his wife Michelle live independently off the electricity grid using the sun and wind to power their home and their CSA. Cam is working towards the goal of making his home “zero-carbon” and with his extensive garden he aims to grow as much of his own food as possible. He is available to speak at conferences and other events and has motivated many people to integrate renewable energy into their lives, reduce their footprint on the planet and get started on the path to personal food, fuel and financial independence.
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