December 17, 2011

Fed-Up Customers Finding Unique Ways to Get A Company's Attention

Last month I wrote about customers starting to strike back at businesses or organizations that treated them poorly. Bank of America's fiasco with the debit card charge and Netflix attempting to destroy years of good will and positive imaging with two stupid moves were the focus. We are trying to build a satisfying retirement and don't have the time or money to give to companies that don't seem to care.

In doing a little more research about consumers saying "enough is enough" at impersonal  and insensitive policies. I found a treasure trove of stories and web sites. As if we need any more encouragement to protest poor service with our wallets and feet, here are some examples of folks who took their protest to a higher level.

Dave Carroll is a musician. In 2009 he was flying to a show on United Airlines. He checked his guitar as baggage. Upon arrival he discovered the instrument's neck had been broken. After countless phone calls, messages, and refusals by United to compensate him for the ruined guitar, he took his revenge. He wrote a song about the incident and posted it on YouTube.That video was viewed 11 million times! Realizing they had a public relations nightmare on their hands the airline did what it should have done initially and accepted responsibility for the guitar.

Too late. 11 million times too late. Dave went on to form a business around that incident. He gives speeches all over the country about the dangers of rotten customer service. He has written books and of course, plays the United Broke my Guitar song wherever he appears. He had enough and found a unique way to make the "bad guys" pay.

Here's a decision that the HP probably wishes that they could have a "do-over." A soldier in Iraq had a problem with his printer. HP "customer service" wanted to charge him to tell him how to fix it. Feeling that the company was acting poorly toward a man risking his life in a war zone, he decided to make his point rather forcefully....with a gun. His video on YouTube  made it clear that he felt Hewlett Packard was more interested in a few dollars profit than supporting our troops.

A more moderate approach to poor customer service can be found on a growing number of web sites designed for people let off steam (without shooting off an automatic weapon). and  the aptly named are filled with complaints about everything from a homeowner who didn't pay the contractor to major automobile companies and lemon cars, from scams to mobile phone bills that are clearly wrong but won't be fixed.

Individual companies are targets of specific sites, too: and Hel* generate all sorts of views and complaints. is full of horror stories about the industry most folks love to hate for their "take it or leave it" attitude.

It is important to note that it is very likely a sizable number of the gripes on these sites are not legitimate. Competitors could be bad-mouthing another company. A disgruntled customer may have contributed to his own problem and then tries to get someone else to pay for it. There could be examples of someone hating a company enough to make up a grievance. But, the point remains: the Internet has given the paying customer a new way to complain and seek justice. Ignoring a letter or a phone call is easy for a company that isn't interested in treating folks well. It is much harder to avoid the bad publicity that can come from 11 million You Tube hits.

I looked for a truly horrific story about the worst voice mail system in the world but I found nothing specific, just lots of gripes about the practice. Personally, I hate voice mail when it is designed to either frustrate me enough so I will hang up, or connects me with a person who has no clue what he or she is talking about in a language that barely passes for English.

Recently I had a terrible experience trying to get a straight answer to a simple question and problem with my SiriusXM radio. I invested one hour of my time, initiated three different contacts with them, talked with a service representative and someone in Technical support, and finally was called by a "resolution" person and told my radio didn't receive the channel I was inquiring about. If the first person I contacted had told me that the next three contacts, 60 minutes of my time, and building anger on my part at the company could have been avoided.

Good customer service has pretty much disappeared. I am glad that we are at the point where we are "mad as hell and aren't going to take it anymore."  Maybe the tide will turn when enough people decide that the money we spend buys us more than a product, it should buy us respect and common courtesy.

Late addition: I just ran across this story about airlines charging extra for  families to sit together.  When does it stop?

Even more: 2011 was the year of tack-on hidden fees

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  1. It is hard for a company to make a profit in today's environment. Unfortunately some are trying to squeeze it out of customer service and have learned that is not the place to scrimp.

    If only we could reach the same conclusion with our votes for our political representatives. That has much more serious consequences than having to pay like everyone else for a consultation call to HP.

  2. My last horror story was with Dell computers, but that was several years ago. Most of my experiences have been pretty good, once I got a real person on the line. It's just getting through that **%*%@* phone tree ...

  3. RJ,

    I had noted in a previous post how Home Depot had done what you mentioned...cutting service and learning quickly that the lack of orange aprons on the floor had a direct impact on profits. Short sighted decisions always have consequences.

    Brick and mortar businesses have to battle a bad economy and the massive flight of the consumer to the Internet.

  4. Sightings,

    In my experience, banks and computer computers are the worst in terms of voice mail and customer service. They have outsourced everything to the lowest bidder in foreign countries..

  5. I recently had a problem with Sprint after they had sent an update-I could no longer enlarge my emails or internet and couldn't read anything. I went to the store and was told they would try to fix the problem but if they couldn't I would have to wait until the next update. I told them that they created the problem and if they weren't going to fix it it would be very easy for me to go viral with it. It only took a few minutes and it was fixed.
    After this incident I had another problem with my phone. I went to the same store and got great service. They have also given me good service on the phone. It all depends on who you get.

  6. Those are great stories. I have a good one about computers, too. The short version is that after many frustrating dead ends with the tech people and the customer service people, I somehow managed to get a top person on the phone. When I explained the problem, she initially gave me the party line. Okay, I said, I will accept that if every time I have a problem I can call you directly and you'll fix it for me. She sent me a packing slip right away for me to return the computer and get a full refund!

    But my favorite one is about one of the very few times I ever played the lawyer card. An insurance claims person was trying to explain to me why the policy didn't cover what it clearly did. I kept questioning the clear language of the policy. Finally, he laughed in a condescending way and smirked, "Well, you have to be a lawyer to understand this stuff." "Well," I replied, "this is your lucky day. I am a lawyer and I'd be happy to explain to you exactly what this means." I got exactly what I wanted.

    Your other stories are much better than mine, but thought I would share. Thanks for an empowering post! I'm going to start polishing my songwriting skills!

  7. Donna,

    The threat of not going away quietly does work in many instances when the "solution" being offered isn't good enough. It sounds, though, that Sprint has some issues.


    I have always wished I could use the "I am a lawyer" rejoiner. It makes all those years of study worth it. Health insurance companies have the "wear 'em down until they go away" customer policy down to a science. I don't have the patience to play their game but my wife does, thank goodness.

  8. Bob,
    Dave Carroll's You Tube video is hysterical and also excellent. Thanks for the link. It was fun.

    I try to have as little as possible in my life to go wrong. If my husband can't fix it or buy the parts (wholesale) we don't purchase it. We have a new Ford Escape with Microsoft's Sync. Well, it sucks. So we don't use it. Don't need it. When Sirius radio free membership expired, we did not hook up.

    The less customer service I have to deal with the better. I very rarely fly anywhere and I NEVER check anything with anyone. I buy tickets at the theater and pay NO fees.

    I just make sure I alert everyone that I worked for a law firm, long time (many decades) and that my boss was the county judge for 20 years and my best, best friend. I get free, lifetime legal service till my grave. Anyone who gets a certified letter from me, should shake in their boots. I haven't lost a case yet.

    Hey! It's New York. We're awful. We admit it. We have to have both an attorney AND a CPA in our back pockets otherwise we are a cooked goose.

  9. Morrison,

    I'll remember the warning about the certified letter from you. Of course the way things are going at the Post Office, that may not be such a worry for much longer.

    Don't you love the "convenience fees" charged when getting a concert ticket! Or, "we've changed our voice mail system for your convenience." I don't think so.

  10. Bob,
    Had an incident with US Airways last year (I am a preferred flyer with them, I might add) that caused me to write their CEO. I received a letter back that stated they would try harder next time. That did not quite placate me, but I digress. Here is what happened and how US Airways reacted that night:

    Was all set to board my flight without incident. Gate agent hands me a new seat assignment on a different flight; they said there would be zero chance of that flight being missed (my first one gave me plenty of time to catch my next flight at the original airport, but I figured they knew something I did not). I ran to that gate, hopped onboard, and we took off without incident, and landed on time. I get off, find that the next flight is already boarding, and is 3-4 terminals away. I ran as fast as I could, but when I arrived the plane was already sealed up. When I told my tale of woe to the "customer service" agent at US Air's Philadelphia site, she looked me in the eye and said word for word - "What the f@#k do you want me to do about it?"

    Granted, Philadelphia is probably the absolute worst airport to fly through for courtesy, but that got me. Told the story via letter to the CEO and got the response above. Customer service truly has gone by the wayside.

  11. Chuck,

    US Airways is based in Tempe, AZ so we are very familiar with their problems. But, your story takes the cake. Why that agent wasn't fired speaks volumes about that airline's attitude.

    I have 105,000 miles on US Scareways and am very hesitant to try and use them. I am convinced somehow I will have a horrible experience when I try to cash them in.

  12. Steve in Los AngelesSun Dec 18, 05:04:00 PM MST

    Hi Bob,

    Based on what I read above, it will be many years (if ever) that I fly again (with the exception of Southwest Airlines, which, in my opinion, has very good customer service). The last time I flew, which was work-related before I retired, was back in 2005. In the future, the only ways I will travel probably will be only by Southwest Airlines, car, train, or bus. However, as I will be living quite frugally for the next several years, I will be staying close to home.

    On another matter related to customer service, I would like to comment about service at restaurants. Although I currently dine out very rarely, I do eat out on special occasions, such as my friends' birthdays. I almost always get good service at restaurants. However, on the very rare occasions that the service is poor, I will not hesitate to leave a very small tip (such as a penny or a nickel on the table).

    Speaking again about traveling, I have a humorous item to add. Many, many years ago, when I was just a little kid, I remember an episode of "The Beverly Hillbillies". In this episode, "Granny" was upset about something, which I do not recall. "Granny" decided to leave home and actually left with her belongings. Some time later, she calls up to tell the others that she is in Las Vegas, Nevada. "Granny" apparently walked from Beverly Hills to Las Vegas. Eventually, the others get her back to Beverly Hills. I, myself, of course, would never attempt such a feat in real life. Fortunately, Las Vegas is accessible by Southwest Airlines, car, and bus. By the way, I never gamble. I go to Las Vegas to eat well, enjoy the shows, and relax.

  13. Steve,

    Southwest has a major presence in Phoenix so, like you, it is my first choice. Recently they have added a wrinkle to their boarding procedure that allows certain folks to board first even if others have a lower number. But, overall, their lack of fees and charges for baggage keep them on our list. I am a 1 million mile flyer on Delta, have lifetime Medallion status, and still avoid them.

    I will generally over tip at restaurants. I've had two daughters that worked as waitresses and know how tough that job is. If someone walks out without paying it comes out of their pay. If service is slow it is usually because they are covering too many tables or the cook is slow.

    If I have a complaint I'll take it up with the manager and not under tip the wait person, unless there was obvious rudeness or mistakes on the order.

  14. Don't get me started on how Northworst left us high and dry in Detroit- The pilot got off of the plane announcing he was not returning. "It seems to be mechanical" (the mechanics were doing a slow down). NO customer service people ANYWHERE- they had also left the building.
    We missed my brother in law's funeral :(
    When Northwest and Delta merged---I knew it was all downhill.

  15. Janette,

    Wow, that may be one of the worst airline stories yet. I thank God everyday I am no longer flying to earn a living.