Roseman: The keys to getting help? Hold your temper. Emphasize your loyalty. And escalate
It never hurts to ask. That’s my credo after acting as a consumer advocate for many years.
Whether you want discounts, refunds or extra help — such as free repairs after a warranty expires — you don’t know the answer unless you ask.
Here’s a strategy I recommend: Hold your temper. Emphasize your loyalty. And escalate to a higher level.
Blair Mestel got the result he wanted from Hotwire, even after I told him he’d probably strike out.
Hotwire sells deeply discounted airfares, hotel rooms and car rentals online. Customers don’t know the name of the travel provider until after they book and pay in full. Refunds are usually out of the question.
Mestel, a lawyer, had heard about Hotwire from friends. But he didn’t know how it worked until after making a car rental booking in Florida.
Last November, he reserved a car from Dec. 24 to Jan. 7, only to learn a day later that he had a trial starting on Dec. 21. Several Hotwire agents told him that it was “an absolute, final booking.” Nothing could be done.
So, he wrote to Clem Bason, president of the Hotwire Group, in San Francisco. (Hotwire is owned by Expedia Inc., based in Bellevue, Wash.)
Mestel said he was a first-time user, and was unaware of the no-refund policy. He had cancelled within 24 hours. And Hotwire could easily rebook the car at that busy time of year.
A customer service person responded with another refusal. All bookings were final and couldn’t be cancelled, refunded, changed or transferred.
Coincidentally, I had just booked a hotel at Hotwire when Mestel wrote to me, asking for advice. I had seen a no-refund message before I paid and felt it was hard to plead ignorance under such conditions.
Mestel wrote back a week later to say he had received a full refund. I asked for more details.
First, he responded to the company’s email, countering the points it used. When a supervisor called to offer him a credit, Mestel asked for his money back.
In his earlier emails, he’d said he was flexible in remedying the situation. Now, he was more direct.
“I believe they were always going to offer me a full refund, but only if I asked for it,” he said. “As the old saying goes, ‘It never hurts to ask.’ ”
I used that trick myself when a U.S. owner bought the fitness club I joined and started making improvements. It said that the annual dues wouldn’t increase.
But when buying my usual package of 12 training sessions (which always had a 13th thrown in), I found I’d have to pay $ 5 more per hour and would only get only 12 sessions in total.
So, I sent an email to the club manager, saying how long I’d been a member and how unfair it was to bring in two price increases at once. I got a call afterward, saying I’d still get my 13th session this time (but pay $ 5 more).
Here’s my advice: Figure out what you want from a company. Be polite. Don’t use insults or profanity. Keep cool. If you’re afraid of losing your temper, find someone to help you.
Keep letters and emails short. Use short paragraphs. Use a spellchecker. Include your last name and phone number so that someone can call you to resolve the problem.
Remember that companies want to keep you if you’re a loyal customer. They don’t want to turn a small complaint into a social media sensation.
Don’t be afraid to ask for concessions. All you risk is a denial.
Ellen Roseman writes about personal finance and consumer issues. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.ellenroseman.com
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