Shut up — and fire up your computer

Linda O’Kane wants to talk.

Companies know she does. They love the fact that she likes the convenience of a real-time voice conversation, and they take advantage of it. It’s precisely why our advocacy team hates to talk.

Why? Talk is cheap. Talk can’t be easily recorded, so there’s no permanent record of it. When you want to talk, it puts you, the consumer, at a disadvantage.

Bottom line? Shut up — and fire up your computer.

I’m not trying to be rude, and I’m certainly not trying to downplay Linda O’Kane’s problem with Vantage. She’d signed up for a trip with the tour operator but made her own air arrangements. Then Vantage changed the dates of her trip.

“I had to pay to change air travel dates as well as pay for a fare increase for new dates,” she says. “I feel Vantage should compensate me for these charges.”

“I would like to speak with one of your representatives,” she adds.

One of our representatives? As in, one of our advocates?

Actually, we’d love to catch up by phone, but it won’t help O’Kane’s case. Our advocates will first ask for a paper trail — the thread of emails between her and the company — in order to establish that she has a valid case and that she’s gone through all the channels to fix it herself.

How many times do I have to say this? The emails are proof that you’ve done your due diligence. Phone conversations — even when you make extensive “notes” — are not sufficient.

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What about talking to Vantage? Nah.

You could contact one of the Vantage executives, and if one of them happens to answer the phone, you’ll still have to do the paperwork. More frustratingly, even if an executive happens to feel generous and agrees to compensate O’Kane, there’s still a possibility that when the case gets kicked back to the customer service department, it will be rejected.

Why? It’s a she-said/he-said, and the company almost always wins.

Let’s pull back from this case for a minute. I don’t want you to think our advocates are antisocial. They are not. I speak with them all on a regular basis, and they are warm, friendly and helpful. But I also advise them to stay off the phone. Don’t let anyone call you with their problem.

You don’t have to persuade us that you have a valid case, so a lengthy conversation about the merits of your complaint will not be time well spent. But that’s not the only reason. We can’t go to a company and relay a conversation we had with one of its customers. Nor can you — or should you — try to relay your case by phone to a representative.

It’s exactly what they want.

The script-reading call center operators are trained to listen patiently, give you a non-answer, and send you on your merry way. But if you’re asking for something that the company doesn’t want to give you (like a refund) then a series of phone conversations are just perfect. You talk. They listen. Nothing happens. Around and around we go, until you lose patience and just leave, only to return when you see a deal.

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See the problem? They love the phone. They hate putting anything in writing.

A paper trail can be forwarded to a supervisor or published on a website. And believe me, companies don’t want that.

So Linda, take it from this old advocate. Stay off the phone and log on to your computer. I can’t promise Vantage will credit you for your change fees, but I can guarantee that you stand a much better chance by taking the vow of silence.

And that’s all I have to say.

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at chris@elliott.org. Read more of Christopher's articles here.

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