03/02/2012 04:18 pm ET Updated May 02, 2012

Extending the Olive Branch -- Consumer Conflict Resolution

As a consumer advocate, I find myself often wearing different hats when it comes to resolving issues. First and foremost, I view myself as a peace builder. Yes, I understand how frustrating it can be at times when we feel we are forced into a continuous loop of automated voices telling us to wait, push this or that button, and/or get deliberately placed on what seems like eternal hold. Yet that is why I am here -- to streamline your conflict resolution process, using the power of the media to make a positive difference.  

How have we become such a socially disconnected, yet technologically connected, society? Perhaps when Mom and Pop stores and services began to disappear once big box stores were built, a sense of true communication and neighborliness disappeared along with them. We could no longer look eye to eye with that individual who represented the company.

Although we are more connected through technology than ever before, we have lost the art of discussion and personal acknowledgement. Our phones and our keyboards have become our anonymous mouthpieces, and behind that veil we can unleash whatever we feel like unleashing, whether it be kindness or anger. Our time factor also was crunched during these decades of transformation -- so much so that people rarely want to make the time to converse.  

Automation, with all of its frustration when one is attempting to get through to a live being, has also automated our responses -- we go from zero to 60 in spewing forth one boiling-hot mess of expletives and raging anger towards that unsuspecting representative who finally answers. Feel the energy in that? Not so great, is it? In keeping with your goal of problem resolution, a genuine desire for communication calls for initiating kindness, not anger and vitriol.

In this blog, I hope to assist you in fixing your consumer issues. Please email me at

Explain in your email (in no more than about five sentences) what your issue is, the company in question, and what resolution you're after. If I email you back about your issue, please respectfully get back to me in a timely fashion for follow-up correspondence. I will work on fixing your legitimate consumer issue -- insurance, healthcare, phone or cable service, construction, automotive repair or purchase, elder care, child care, real estate, banking, airlines, travel, hotel... in short, purchases of product and/or services of just about any legal sort.


Recently, Marc contacted me from New Jersey. His issue is with CableVision. First, he would like for them to confirm the details of a special deal they offered him. He is also upset because when they increased his services, there was an issue in his not actually receiving the additional services.  He called into customer support and, after everything the agent instructed him to do manually on his cable box didn't fix the problem, he was told he would need to be home in order for a technician to come out. He told the agent that the necessary repairs could most likely be done from the road, but yet he had to be there and take half a day off from work. Jim Maiella, a CableVision company spokesman, looked into Marc's situation for me and confirmed the dates of Marc's special promotion and gave him an extra month for his inconvenience. Of course, Marc earns more per day than the value of the additional month of service he was given to compensate him, but at least it is an acknowledgement for his time and frustration.  

What I would like to see one day is that once the customer has gone through all of the channels by which to get remedy on their own (in this case by phone, Internet or via one of CableVision's walk-in service centers) that the company would automatically, as part of their customer service routine, offer a little something to make the customer feel valued.  In such a world, consumers would come to me for assistance only when all other options fail.  

Let's face it: This is a redirection on how companies deal with their customers and how you, the empowered consumer, deal with your own individual consumption. All I ask is that you maintain your composure and remain respectful in your interactions with the company. We all must make the effort to change what we have created here so that we can become a more civilized and caring community. It begins with each one of us.

Next issue -- Alana needed assistance with Mega Life & Health Insurance Company based in Texas.  She had discovered after a year that they had been taking $279.50 monthly out of her checking account, for total withdrawals of $3,300.  There are several lessons in this particular ordeal.  Please regularly check your accounts to be sure something like this isn't occurring, and secondly, never give a signed blank check to anyone -- ever -- unless you do indeed intend to do business with them and authorize an automatic bill pay process.  

The agent for Mega Life told Alana that he would not put the check through unless she confirmed the Declaration of Health Care Coverage.  Once she received the declaration, she decided against using this insurance company, as they would not give her the coverage she needed by refusing to cover her pre-existing conditions. A year later, she received in the mail (her first written correspondence from the company, by the way) a notification of a premium increase. She then checked her bank account and discovered the ongoing monthly withdrawals.  

I contacted Donna Ledbetter, director of Corporate Communications for Mega Life, which has now become HealthMarkets, and after researching the situation she offered to reimburse Alana. I commend Donna Ledbetter for stepping up and doing right by her customer. As a side note, Mega Life & Health Insurance had been involved in countless alleged fraudulent activities resulting in lawsuits filed by several states. Under the reorganization of HealthMarkets, I hope their business practices have also reorganized to that of a higher standard. It begins with an individual within an organization, and we have to hold each individual accountable to the point where the organization -- from top to bottom -- has to do business respectfully and responsibly, with integrity at every level. The bottom line can no longer be only about increased earnings, because greed at the top promotes greedy acts towards others at the bottom.  

Until next time... send me your emails and issues.

Donna Larner Lavery, MA Spiritual Psychology, a.k.a. "Primadonna," is an Emmy-award winning investigative journalist, consumer advocate, entrepreneur, peace builder, business and personal coach. (