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Good Corps, Bad Corps…

The other day, Budgeting in the Fun Stuff remarked on Frugal Scholar‘s rant about the excruciating customer service emanating from Virgin Mobile. Both bloggers asked readers which corporations are best and worst in the customer (dis)service department.

Apparently they touched a hot button. They each got a slew of responses. Among them, we see that Comcast is roundly hated. Free Money Finance is locked in combat with that worthy organization—as his saga unfolds, it’s hard to tell whether Comcast is merely incompetent or deliberately obnoxious.

Yesterday while I was driving up to the optometrist’s office, what should I hear on NPR but this interesting story. It suggests a new tool for hacking through thickets of bad customer service, at least in some instances: small claims court.

Dartmouth Professor Charles Wheelan was subjected to United Airlines’ latest insult to passengers, a $25 charge for checking his bag. When they lost his luggage, they refused to refund his money. So he took them to small claims court. So far, he has yet to see either the bag or the refund, but, as he notes, even though the action cost him $72 in court fees, revenge is sweet:

Turns out that it’s [the $72 trade-off] actually really important in terms of economics. It’s essentially vengeance, and vengeance has a technical definition, which is you’re willing to harm yourself in order to impose harm on somebody else. Now when we do that, what the behavioral psychologists have learned, is it makes us feel good. It lights up the pleasurable parts of the brain just like doing other things that make you feel good. So vengeance might actually be quite rational.

United crossed the wrong guy when its baggage handlers threw musician Dave Carroll’s expensive guitar across the tarmac, with predictable results. His revenge came in the form of a hilarious (and infuriating) YouTube video that, says he, “became one of YouTube’s greatest hits and caused an instant media frenzy across all major global networks and sources (including the likes of CNN, the LA Times, Chicago Tribune, Rolling Stone Magazine & the BBC to name a few)” and spawned two more videos. He may never have extracted the $1,200 it cost to repair his guitar from United, but the resulting publicity boosted his career, probably returning that much and more in increased revenues.

Well, most of us don’t have Dave Carroll’s talent. But it’s not hard to put up a talking-head video on YouTube describing some egregious example of customer disservice, and the idea of taking the SOBs to small claims court over money owed has its charms.

My own strategy is first to bypass the CSRs by tracking down the names of upper management at the corporate headquarters and firing off a dear-sir-you-cur letter. Often this will get results, or a simulacrum thereof.

If the go-over-their-heads gambit fails, then I head for a regulatory agency or an attorney general. Many of these customer service fiascos amount to fraud or theft—when they stonewall you or outright lie to you, they’re ripping you off. The trick here is to go to the AG in the state where the company is headquartered and send a copy of your complaint to the AG in your own state.

When a company operates across state lines, as most of the faceless monsters that have developed immunity to customers do, then a fraudulent action becomes…yes…a federal case! Corporate America, as we have seen by the vast corporate donations to doctrinaire Kill-the-Beasters’ political campaigns, really dislikes dealing with federal regulators and attorneys general. So if you can’t get any action from a state attorney general, kick it up to the Federal Trade Commission, the Federal Communications Commission, or the U.S. Attorney General. You’d be surprised how fast a call from any of these entities will settle your complaint.

Frugal and Budgeting ask readers what are their choices for best and worst customer service. My all-time worst customer service nightmare is Qwest, an outfit with whom no one should ever do business. Videlicet:

Back Again—Temporarily?
“We Value Your Business”
Unbundled! Qwest Strikes Again
What Happens When a Live Qwest Guy Shows Up
Qwest Redux: How Do These Companies Stay in Business?
Qwest: The Saga That Will Not End
Qwest Update

The best? It’s hard to think of many, since retailers and service providers now will openly tell you that the old saying to the effect that “the customer is always right” is dead wrong. CSRs apparently are encouraged to be rude and trained to bounce off complaints like tennis balls hitting a concrete wall. In my experience, the only outfit that’s consistently shown excellent customer service is the Mayo Clinic.

My question to you is this:

What has worked best for you to cut through a customer disservice fiasco?

5 thoughts on “Good Corps, Bad Corps…”

  1. The absolute best at customer service is Zappo’s! Lands End is a very close second.

    I had some success with an automobile dealer that sold me a car based in large part on the salesman’s assurance of (what turned out to be nonexistent) accommodation by the service department to out of towners. I arrived (for an early morning appointment for warranty service) obviously prepared to be parked in the waiting area all day long – large bag of books, mags, drinks & food. They got me out within an hour – after telling me it probably WOULD be all day long.

  2. How did I miss this?? Of course, my latest gripe was with Bekins and their horrible follow through but since I got a good amount of money back, it was made better. Martin + Osa has my ire right now for daring to go out of business right when I’ve decided to return a piece of shoddy clothing. Now I’m out a decent chunk of money and stuck with a sweater that’s falling apart.

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