How to complain and be heard
By the time you read this I’ll be in the air, flying to Boston for a business trip and I just wanted to share a great story about your consumer rights and satisfaction. Maybe you’ve heard about the famous “Gripe” song about United Airlines and how it has become a huge hit on YouTube.
An enterprising musician who had his guitar broken by United Airlines created a protest song that's become a runaway web sensation. Dave Carroll's $3,500 Taylor guitar was broken by United baggage handlers at Chicago's O'Hare Airport in the spring of 2008. During the ensuing 9-month period, Carroll attempted to get some compensation for the guitar, but he was repeatedly given the runaround by customer “no service” representatives.
His response? To film a video for an original song called "United Breaks Guitars" that has now gotten nearly 3 million views on YouTube.
After the surprising success of Carroll's clip, United came back with its tail between its legs and offered to make him whole. But the disgruntled musician refused and told United to donate the money to a charity of his choice.
The lesson here is that the web gives consumers a new level of power against businesses that have wronged them. There's a similar kind of power in sites like Yelp or TripAdvisor. Both sites cull the collective wisdom of users' experiences with a variety of companies so you know who is safe and who to avoid. The best way to have our consumer voices heard is through our spending dollars. If you're unhappy with a company, let them know that not only will you not shop there anymore, but that you will post your complaints online and encourage others to stop shopping there as well! A wise manager will do everything he can to make you happy again.
The Financial Times of London reports that 92% of people say they trust word of mouth from friends, associates and colleagues when it comes to making a consumer decision. 75% say they trust collective wisdom sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor. Only 60% of people report trusting traditional image-based advertising.
In order to have your consumer voice heard, you need to follow a few tips on how to complain properly. Some companies, like United Airlines, has completely eliminated all human contact customer service! Other companies use foreign call centers staffed by people with no authority to solve problems. Try some of these techniques to voice your opinion:
1) Document well – get names of everyone you talk to, the conversation you had, the date and time of day.
2) Know where to complain (the company or store). Know whom to complain to (department/manager/CEO). You can get this information from the Secretary of State's office.
3) Write a letter to that person or party, stating the problem concisely. Be specific and state exactly what you want such as the specific action. Keep a positive attitude and leave out emotions.
4) Ask for a response in a reasonable time and be sure to state how you can be reached.
5) Send the letter via certified mail with a register receipt.
6) If all else fails, make a song and post it on YouTube!
In other airline news, the price-fixing of fuel surcharges makes me cranky! When the cost of a barrel of oil dropped, the surcharges did not go away. The Wall Street Journal reports that the CEO of Virgin Atlantic Airways admits he was involved in the price-fixing of fuel surcharges with British Airways and other unnamed airlines.
Need another clear indication that fuel surcharges are just a bogus ploy? Consider this: A shorter international flight often has a higher surcharge than a longer flight. There is a simple way to fix this: Require airlines to quote the entire price of a ticket (including fuel surcharges) in advertisements, to travel agents and on the web.
On a brighter note, airfares for both domestic and international travel will be fantastic this fall. Why? Air travel is discretionary and people simply aren't traveling like they once did. So look for deals from now up to mid-December -- except right around Thanksgiving.
When you get where you're going, the hotel rates will be great too. The Smith Travel Research firm says the average room rate has dropped 10% year over year. Travel to Vegas and you’ll see hotel prices drop like crazy! Check out my Columbus Day post to read more tips on how to travel on the cheap.