Don’t you hate it when you want your money back and have no leverage? Explanation of this (and ‘Hand’) follows.
This is about companies who put barriers in place to enable them to hold onto your money until they wear you out. A war of attrition. Things like unreachable customer service, phone personnel with no names who cannot be recontacted, endless phone wait times, etc. We’ve all been there. Some of you are probably on hold with someone right now!
My goal is always to have a ‘So What’ in my posts but other than stopping transacting altogether, I am not sure how to preemptively protect against this! So I’m open to suggestions.
So that’s your challenge, dear readers. For the good of humanity, help us find a solution.
The basic model has been around: exploit human nature.
It used to go something like this: you get a gift card and the issuer gets the revenue and records future redemption as a liability. You put it in the kitchen ‘everything’ drawer next to your frequent shopper cards from 1995, never redeem it, company books revenue with no expense. Nice! Called ‘breakage’ in accounting, commonly known as ‘slippage’ in consumer goods. Coupons are issued, people don’t bother redeeming, etc.
This new version is more insidious and aggravating. As George Costanza might say, we have no hand! And they know it!
Here’s how it works (examples below):
- You transact something online
- You provide payment via credit card
- Something goes sideways, not due to anything you did
- Supplier has your money, and very little motivation to give it back
- You now spend considerable unplanned time and energy fighting with the supplier to reclaim your own money
Case study 1: Booked AirBNB for about $1600 for a week; they (and owner) got payment in advance. Upon arrival, property has significant water leaks, which are being repaired, rendering it uninhabitable. AirBNB is contacted, situation explained, they offer $400 refund afterward and refuse to discuss the matter further. Boo, AirBNB!
Case study 2: Rented car with GPS. GPS didn’t work. Took over an hour and several emails just to get back the $30. Boo, Fox Car Rental!
Case study 3: Moved across the country. $17k total bill, which required payment in full ahead of time (apparently this is standard operating procedure, which is itself worthy of a separate conversation). Move happened 3 days late, which created additional expense for friends who flew in to help with the move, and which technically qualified as a ‘late delivery’ by the mover. Several items broken. After huge effort and many hours and emails, result was a check for $20 we got in the mail. Zero hand in this one. Double Boo, North American Van Lines!
Case study 4: WSJ inexplicably stops being delivered one Friday. Go to handy online notification area but service is down. Chat is not manned yet (it’s before 8). Phone line also not available. Paper doesn’t come on Saturday either, make several online entreaties to both email and chat. Now start getting 2 (identical) papers on Monday. Issue finally settled on Tuesday. Boo, WSJ!
I could go on. I’m sure we all could.
In fairness, these infuriating episodes are balanced by the transparency and customer satisfaction focus of many excellent online retailers, who understand something about customer satisfaction and loyalty.
In all of the cited cases the supplier messed up, but the burden was on the consumer to spend the significant effort to (maybe) get a satisfactory reimbursement. There is no Online People’s Court to help resolve these issues. I personally resent having to spend precious time just to claim what is mine in the first place!
Sure, over the long haul corporate reputations can be harmed, penalizing bad behavior. But I don’t want to wait for the long haul.
How can we fix this?