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Jun 16, 2004

Shouldn't We Be Able To Charge Companies For Our Lost Time?

by Jamie Court
The following commentary was broadcast on Marketplace on National Public Radio on Wednesday, June 16, 2004.
Click here to listen to the audio
(scroll down to bottom of linked page)

DAVID BROWN, anchor: You sure can make money with a click of a button. Credit card companies do it all the time. Late bill? Click. Ouch. But you know, fingers can be button-happy, and businesses can make mistakes. And who's left sorting it all out? Well, commentator Jamie Court says it's time consumers figured out how to turn the tables.

JAMIE COURT: If time is money, why are corporations the only ones who charge for wasting it? When our bills are late, banks, credit card companies and insurers charge us money. But no matter how much of our time it takes to fix their mistakes, we never get paid. If you make $54,000 per year, you hand over $27 for every hour you spend doing the lost paperwork for your refund. If your annual pay is $110,000, the two hours you wasted at home because the cable company guy came late cost you $110.

So what would happen if we turned the tables? Far fewer mistakes and much less waiting, that's what. Customer service satisfaction levels would rise from their current cellar-dweller ratings. Once the line is drawn, corporations are likely to avoid it, just like they do the $11,000 fine for breaking the Do Not Call line. HMOs made the same adjustment. After California let patients collect for delays in their treatment, HMOs started paying for care in legitimate cases rather than haggle over the need for that care and then face the penalty.

Consider this solution: You could charge for your time only after a gross misuse of it. Say, if you have to spend more than two hours to fix a billing error and the resulting spot on your credit report. Government would establish guidelines, you would have to provide documentation: letters, phone bills, postmarks. And then you could collect via mail or small claims court in contested claims.

This is not pie in the sky. I mean, just a few years ago, who would have imagined that every errant telemarketing call would cost the offending company the price of a Hyundai? Who knows, in another decade, maybe 20 minutes in voice mail hell will be worth at least a burger and fries. In Los Angeles, this is Jamie Court for MARKETPLACE.

BROWN: Consumer activist Jamie Court is the author of "Corporateering."

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