Consumer Frustration

You Can Either Win or Give-in: Choosing Win

Always remember that your present situation is not your final destination. The best is yet to come.

Anonymous

At first I thought: are you really going to start pissing and moaning about anything other than our collective health and well-being? The answer is: yes I am. Keep reading if you are a frustrated consumer:

I consider myself a demanding consumer. I worked hard for what I was able to put away and when I’m spending money, I deserve nothing less than what I am paying for — whatever that may be. I’m going to address the way companies are handling customer service during the COVID-19 crisis. What was it like pre-virus and what is it like now? How are small businesses handling customer service? What has changed for consumers? What will this lead to? Who will be the winners and who will be the losers? How you can come out on top.

I write this piece as an older (not old), middle income consumer. I do not have the luxury of spending without giving thought to value and price. I’m not sure all that really matters; when you’re purchasing, you deserve a fair and reasonable response from the merchant or business you are dealing with, when something goes wrong.

Corporate Customer Service

Corporate culture in the U.S. centers around entitlement and political favoritism. If you follow the money, you’ll easily determine why they’ve been getting a pass and who gave it to them. Tax breaks, deregulation, Super Pac money, and corporate donations, all point to greed and screwing the consumer. How do you fight the big guys (yes, they’re mostly men)? All we have today is social media. Mainstream media is in the pockets of big business, making it difficult to rely on calling them or holding them accountable in the news. In truth, big business knows that they can lose millions in a 24 hour period if an embarrassing misstep were to occur. Consider posted videos in Walmart, Target or KFC, for example. Use social media to your advantage. I’ve gone so far as to send corporations a draft of what I might post or blog. It doesn’t always work, but it can be very effective.

Two short stories:

  • First: EasyJet cancels my flight and offers either a refund that you have to formally request or you can take a full credit voucher and an in-flight Bistro voucher (value $5) as a “thank you” for choosing the voucher. You get the credit voucher and you cannot book on-line, you must speak to a representative. You get the in-flight voucher; however, in order to redeem it for actually in-flight Bistro credit, you have to print out a form, complete it and then wait 30 days for the in-flight Bistro credit. I’m sorry but this is bullshit. When the airline cancels a flight, you should get an automatic refund and . . . if you get a thank you for taking a credit voucher, you shouldn’t have to fill out a form. Taking a voucher keeps the cash in the companies coffers. You should get the bleepin’ in-flight Bistro credit as soon as you use your credit voucher. I assume EasyJet expects most people to look at the form and delete it. Why would anyone want to fly with EasyJet again. After all this ranting, I have to say they’re still better than RyanAir. I may or may not complete the form for the inflight credit, I go back and forth; after all, it is my money.
  • Second: I contact Hotels.com because an IBIS Hotel in France cancels my reservation due to COVID and then IBIS informs me that I can only get a credit for future nights or wait for a refund (see below). Hotels.com tells me they cannot help me. I try to re-book my nights through IBIS and they are now up 40%. I don’t know why, but I thought they’d honor the original price I’d paid. They refuse to do just that, so I tell them I want a refund. They send me a regulation from the French government which dictates that they can refund me my money within 18 months of the booking; yes you read it correctly 18 months. Who the #@&*%! cares what the French government dictates, I want my money now. Companies demand to be paid at the booking to hold a reservation, however, you’ll take 18 months to return my money to me? I guess they’re hoping I die before the 18 months are up and the credit card I used to book is no longer valid. Why would I ever book IBIS again? As a side note: Hotels.com chat line is a quick and easy way to resolve issues and their reps are very understanding . . . for the most part.
From IBIS:

With reference to the French government order 2020-315, known as the “heritage order”. We must offer a voucher for all reservations canceled between March 1 and September 15, 2020. This voucher can be used for 18 months. At the end of these 18 months, we will refund you if it has not been used. We cannot refund you now.

I have many, many examples of ridiculous corporate shenanigans; I’m certain you do as well.

Small Business Customer Service

There is a special place in my heart for small businesses. Many are struggling these days and most have struggled in the past. Getting a business going is a huge risk and the hours one must put in are anywhere from 60 to 100 hours per week (firsthand information). I do whatever I can to support small businesses if and when I can. There are small businesses working hard to cash out and sell to large businesses; these businesses are less appealing to me. It’s usually the founders hoping to get rich and leave their employees fending for themselves.

Pricing is currently out of control in the States due to less competition in the marketplace. Consumers have fewer choices and they are forced to either pay more for less or get less for more.

I find customer service friendly and more accomodating with small business. There is more at stake and you’re usually not too many degrees away from the owner of the company. Often, if you can get to the owner, you’re more likely to resolve your issue. I don’t want more than I paid for, I want exactly what I paid for.

The risk of the company going out of business, is greater for small companies. Before you make a purchase, review their track record and read what other buyers have to say. The same is true for the hiring of small business professionals (e.g., accountants, lawyers, doctors). The more you take control and the more research you do, the more likely you are to come out a winner. I hired an attorney here in Portugal a few years ago who charged me five times the going rate for his services. It’s my fault because I paid it, but I will never refer him to anyone.

Frustration and Reaction

As you know I travel quite a bit. Years ago when I was in my twenties traveling to Europe (pre-Hotels.com) I noticed that a majority of the hotels I stayed in had twin beds. Sometimes they’d push them together for you and sometimes they would tell you they could not; sometimes they’d even make them up as a king (here they call this a double bed, in the U.S. a double bed is smaller than a queen, 54×75 to be exact). The truth is I hate twin beds. I’m 6′ tall and I weigh 200 lbs., a twin bed is much too small. When I sleep in one I feel like I’m 10 years old again. The first thing I do when I book is look to see if they have queen beds; fortunately more and more hotels are offering a queen. When I book a double bed, I often write the hotel to confirm. The following are the replies I usually receive:

  1. We cannot guarantee that we will be able to honor your request. When you check-in we will check availability.
  2. All special requests are subject to availability.
  3. You are confirmed for a double bed.

#1 & #2 are ridiculous. How do you put a man my size in a twin bed, especially when I am paying the same price for the room that a couple is paying. I noticed that boutique hotels are much better about either offering a queen bed or confirming a double. The point I’m making is that in 2020 with Airbnbs and other types of accomodations doing so well, hotels need to be stepping it up and offering excellent mattresses in the right size. And what’s with the crappy pillows?

I was with friends at a hotel is Vila Viçosa last week. They upgraded to a suite and their bed was so squeaky they had to move it onto the floor the second night — that’s just not right.

Choosing Win

It’s not rocket science; we all want to come out on top. In today’s world, if you do not speak up for yourself and demand excellence, you will be forced to settle for less. You have to go into every consumer situation with the knowledge that you may have to fight for what you’re paying for. This seems counterintuitive doesn’t it? We should always assume that will be be getting a quality product, excellent service, and the desire to keep a customer (loyalty). I’m afraid, for the most part, those days are over. There is so much competition for your dollar, you have to be at the top of your game. I always find it empowering to take on the big guns and win. Good luck and stay strong.

Goodbye Brother

My brother Anthony and me shortly before his passing

Brotherly Love

You have to have a brother to truly understand the bond between brothers. My brother Anthony was a royal pain in the ass. He was confused, angry, reckless, often the victim, funny, loving, and he was my brother. Although not diagnosed as such, we are fairly certain he was bipolar and clinically depressed. We lost Anthony over twenty years ago (June ’99) and the “what ifs” and “if I’d known” still creep into my conscious mind quite often.

I don’t want this to be a eulogy or a lesson in dealing with loss. I don’t want it to be about what was or might have been. I certainly don’t want it to be about me. I want this to be about human failure and where it takes us. How do you learn to forgive another and yourself for just being human and why is that so difficult.

Anthony died of a drug overdose. He had been clean for a long time prior, however, a major life setback sent him out on the streets to purchase a lethal dose of heroine. My sister Grace found him lifeless, needle in arm. Nobody saw it coming.

Seven years prior we were walking on the beach in Puerto Rico; a conversation that shook me to my core resurfaces periodically. My brother was about to become a father. He had been clean for a number of years and he was very much in love with his wife. He was hopeful, excited, and cautious. Toward the end of our walk he asked me to make sure that his child was well taken care of if anything happened to him. I was a bit angry that he would even suggest that his passing was a possibility. He had worked so hard to stay clean and he was my best friend. In retrospect, I can’t help but think that Anthony knew he would not live to be 40. I was dismissive, but agreeable; never thinking I would have to honor that pact seven years later.

What a Brother Knows

Your brother knows what’s in your head better than just about anyone. I’m not sure I can fully explain it. It’s a combination of sharing the same history, the same space, the same biology, similar thoughts, and love; most of all love.

My brother played by his own rules. He was always in some sort of battle — with himself and everyone else. We were as different as night and day, but we understood one another. There was a good deal of chaos and pain around us at home and we processed it differently. I shared my feelings and frustrations and Anthony kept it all in. I would say the wall is blue and Anthony would say it was green and then we would fight about it until we were too exhausted to keep fighting. I was two years older with strong opinions and most of the family on my side (or at least I thought). Anthony was probably stronger physically, however, his respect for me outweighed his strength. When he got angry, things were destroyed. We shared a bedroom up until our teenage years; the damage from his rage could be seen throughout the room. My mother seemingly ignored it and my father paid little to no attention.

Sibling Rivalry

Anthony and I were competitive in different ways. I was determined to do well academically and Anthony loved sports; he lived for it. Not only did he excel, but he was the envy of most boys we grew up with. Everyone wanted Anthony on their team and no one wanted me. My brother was aware of the bullying I was subjected to. He would fight my battles when I was out of sight. I later learned that he did not want to embarrass me because he was younger and smaller. Fortunately, I learned this early on and I could express my gratitude and appreciation while he was alive. The older brother is the one who should be doing the protecting.

Seeing Yourself

Looking at your brother, is like looking into a mirror. In Anthony, I saw my own distorted self-esteem and misguided rage. One cannot help but see similarities in the way information is processed and although you see differences as well, strong character traits have an overshadowing effect.

How can you not be shaped by the traumatic death of a sibling? One moment you are laughing and sharing life’s secrets and the next moment they’re gone. You can examine your sibling’s life and find meaning in their choices, their successes and failures, their laughter and their pain, and their love. You can learn from them and love more deeply by fully embracing their faults and failures — you are a better for having shared space on earth with them. Your brother can help you to see who you are and accept your own humanity; even after they’re gone.

Lessons Learned

Losing my brother taught me more about my own life than just about anything else I have ever experienced. Mortality is a huge slap in the face. You can temporarily ignore it, however, in the long run, you are forced to examine it. You ask yourself the big questions like: why I am still alive, does fate play a role in my future, what did he leave behind that I can learn from, and can I be a better person in his memory?

They say a parent should never have to experience the death of a child. My mother was a strong woman; drama and hyperbole were her go to responses to just about everything. She used my brother’s death as another way of getting attention. It would have been easy for me to call her on it and push her away, but cruelty is not one of my personality traits. I was patient and attentive, hopeful that the impact of his passing would ease. She eventually came to accept my brother’s death; however, the self-blame and remorse never ended and followed her to her death. She lost my sister Grace a few years after Anthony passed, but for some reason, she saw that death as a merciful one. As one can expect, losing two children made her paranoid about losing other children. I had to constantly reassure her that I was not using drugs and being safe. I was very much aware of the fact that my own death would kill her. As it is, she was a young 78 when she died and I was certain she hastened her own death in order to gain some peace.

My brother Leo and I became closer as a result of Anthony’s death. We have scolded one another for reckless behavior a number of times. Neither one of us wants to lose another brother. Our shared love of Anthony and his memory, have forged an unbreakable bond. We can never fill the void Anthony left in our lives, but we can try our best to love and enjoy our lives as a way of honoring his memory.

Anthony left behind a seven year old daughter. She is now a woman with children of her own. It would be unfair to comment on the impact her father’s death had on her life. As her Godfather, I hope life provides the answers she needs in order to understand the hows and whys that allow us to move on.

My Brother’s Presence

A number of years ago I was riding a mountain bike in a Mexican forrest. At one point as I picked up speed and became lost in the moment, I felt my brother’s arms around my waist. His strength fueled my momentum and bathed me in hope and joy. I know it was only moments, but it felt longer. That was the embrace of a soul I was fortunate to know and love. Anthony was with me that day and has been with me since the day I meet him in his bassinet 59 years ago. It is a brotherly bond that can never be severed and I am a better man for it.

Anthony to my right and below that, Anthony to the left of Leo.

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