icon-email icon-facebook icon-linkedin icon-print icon-rss icon-search icon-stumbleupon icon-twitter icon-arrow-right icon-email icon-facebook icon-linkedin icon-print icon-rss icon-search icon-stumbleupon icon-twitter icon-arrow-right icon-user Skip to content
Senior Correspondent

Customers Find Unique Ways to Get Company 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 websites. 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 at 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 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 to let off steam (without shooting off an automatic weapon). Complaints.com and  the aptly named ripoffreport.com 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: Starbucked.com and Hel*Mart.com generate all sorts of views and complaints. Airlinecomplaints.org 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 YouTube hits.

I looked for a truly horrific story about the worst voicemail system in the world but I found nothing specific, just lots of gripes about the practice. Personally, I hate voicemail 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.

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?

Stay Up to Date

Sign up for articles by Bob Lowry and other Senior Correspondents.

Latest Stories

Choosing Senior Living
Love Old Journalists

Our Mission

To amplify the voices of older adults for the good of society

Learn More