Why we say what we say

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Christopher Elliott

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Aug 22, 2007
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#1
I'm posting this in an open forum because I want everyone to see this.

We've had several recent cases that were real eye-rollers. The customers were careless, didn't bother reading the fine print, or wanted a rule bent even though they probably didn't deserve it.

How do we address these weak cases without sounding like industry apologists?

Of course you can tell a consumer that you don't think they have a strong case. After all, that's what they're asking.

Do I have a case? Will you help me?


Ideally, the answer will be yes, and yes. Yes, you have a good case. Yes, we'll help.

But sometimes, the answer is no -- but yes.

No, you don't have a strong case. Yes, we'll help you anyway.

The point of contention so far has been how we deliver that "no."

Do we link to a company's policy? Do we try to explain why the policy exists? Do we even say that the policy is justified?

The answer: We make them aware of the policy. We can even try to explain the reason for the policy. But we are always their advocate. Even when we both know they probably don't deserve it. This site, this forum, is on their side.

Above all, we want to avoid any perception that we're siding with the company or that the company's likely rejection of their argument is justified. That's why I've said in previous posts on this forum that where possible, we try to avoid giving someone a flat "no."

This is really the hardest part of answering consumer questions in an open forum.

People are coming to us for help and we often feel as if we need to give them tough love by explaining or justifying a policy. But that is not our job as advocates. We're here to help consumers.

All of them.
 
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#2
As a consumer, when I ask for help I look for several things. Compassion on the part of the entity from which I need something? Surely. Where I might have missed a popup, some fine print, or maybe just misunderstood a policy? Most certainly. And advice for me to avoid something going forward? Yes.

Of course, all of it done respectfully.

But if we never point out the "oops" or a better way, are we not harming those we propose to help? If we just tell them how to win their case without sharing how to "play the game" (figuratively speaking) they may experience the same pain again. And we are obliged, are we not, to assess their chances of prevailing lest we give false hopes.

I think it is all needed if dispensed properly ...
 

Christopher Elliott

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Staff Member
Director
Aug 22, 2007
716
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63
Orlando
www.chriselliotts.com
#3
I agree. Offering advice is important. But offering help is more important. People are normally not coming to use to find out how they could have prevented a problem (sometimes they do). They want to know how to get out of a pickle. If we can help with that, and also tell them how to avoid it, then great. But we don't tell them how to avoid it and then say, "You got yourself into this mess, you deserve it. Nothing more for you." I guess that's all I'm saying.
 
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#4
I agree with you as well, but what has been stated here is that we cannot say anything that would be "hard to hear" for them ...
 

Christopher Elliott

Administrator
Staff Member
Director
Aug 22, 2007
716
413
63
Orlando
www.chriselliotts.com
#5
If by "hard to hear" you mean that you're telling someone they are stupid and should have read the fine print, then yes. We really want to avoid telling someone they are stupid.

But if by "hard to hear" you mean, "Your ticket is nonrefundable. It's unlikely the airline will refund it. I wish I had better news." Well, I say that almost every day. We should definitely feel free to tell give it to 'em straight.
 
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