Dear corporate America, please don’t mess with my mother. Or my grandmother.

Sometimes consumer advocacy gets personal. Even if you’re a professional.

A few years ago, for example, Delta Air Lines lost my grandmother’s luggage. She turned to me for help and I guided her through the confusing claims process. In the end, Delta wouldn’t pay her a cent for the lost belongings.

I made a polite but firm call to someone at Delta, and the airline processed the entire claim within hours. That’s all it took.

The next summer, when my mother became the victim of the infamous codeshare confusion on a flight from Phoenix to Warsaw, I offered to go to bat for her, too. The bat I had in mind was well-worn and had several nails protruding from it, and it was definitely figurative. I wasn’t going to take any prisoners.

But she said no, it was a hard lesson learned. She didn’t want to turn it into a federal case. And just like that, I was off the case.

This time, she didn’t have a choice. And if nothing else, my recent experience of mediating my mother’s case taught me that no matter how professional we advocates claim to be, there’s always a little asterisk under the statement. We’re pros — until you do something to our mothers.

Short version: I gave Mom a $100 Amazon gift card for Christmas. When she tried to use it, it didn’t work.

At first, I thought I’d done something wrong. The gift card was redeemed as part of the Wells Fargo Rewards program, which I’m enrolled in, whether I want to be or not. (No, we’re not going to talk about pointless rewards programs today. Maybe some other time.) Could it be Wells Fargo’s fault? Did it issue an invalid card number?

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I also wondered if maybe my kids, who are old enough to know better, had swiped the card off my desk before I had time to tuck it into a Christmas card, and redeemed it online. But after an extensive fact-finding mission, I discovered they had not.

Neither Wells Fargo nor Amazon likes paper trails. They prefer phone calls, which is telling in and of itself. And to illustrate the absurdity of this, I had to log in to my bank account to send an email, after which I received an email notifying me that I had an email, but that they couldn’t display it because it was “secure.” I had to log back into the site again and read it.

What did the message say? Call us.

I started by calling Wells Fargo. After several days, it sent me a message that my case had been resolved. Their resolution: Call Amazon.

I called Amazon, and a representative informed me that the nonworking card wasn’t Amazon’s fault. It was Wells Fargo’s fault. Call them.

I called Wells Fargo and was told, no, it really is Amazon’s responsibility to fix this.

Is your head spinning yet?

I pressed the matter politely, but firmly. I asked for a supervisor. I asked her to consider owning this problem.

She said she’d get back to me.

That’s when I decided to try another email. I sent one to Amazon and Wells Fargo:

I would be very appreciative of your help with an Amazon gift card that I received through Wells Fargo Rewards. The card was “invalid” when we tried to redeem it. I’ve enclosed the message I sent to Amazon.

I redeemed Wells Fargo Rewards for a $100 gift card in December. I gave the card to my mother as a Christmas present. When she tried to use it, she received a message that the card was invalid.

I opened a case with Wells Fargo Rewards. Five days later, a representative called me and asked me to contact Amazon by phone. I contacted Amazon by phone and was told to contact Wells Fargo Rewards. I contacted Wells Fargo Rewards again and was told to contact Amazon.

I am not accustomed to this level of customer service from Amazon. Please replace the card with a working one. Thank you in advance for your consideration.

I look forward to your affirmative response.

Within 24 hours, I received an affirmative response. Wells Fargo reissued a working card and sent it directly to Mom.

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I thought about all of our discussions about helicopter parents (and kids) and points (and their value, or lack thereof) and pulling the DYKWIA card (Do You Know Who I Am?). Including my email and direct phone line made it easy for them to find out whose mother they’d sent a bad card to, sure. The rest was up to them.

I wish Wells Fargo and Amazon had done this correctly the first time, which is to say, I wish they’d sent me a working card. Then I wouldn’t have spent days trying to fix it and to finally have had to send an email that basically says, “Do you know what you’ve just done?” But what choice did I have? Should I have used a fake name? A bogus phone number?

But, more importantly, it also reminded me of the fact that while it’s easy to be a professional about someone else’s case, it’s much harder to detach yourself from your own. Or your mother’s. Or your grandmother’s.

So the next time you see a passenger losing it because their emotional support cat wasn’t accommodated on a flight, or because they were promised a double bed but only got a single, or the next time someone gripes that they received the wrong cable service, remember this post.

Every case is important to the person complaining. No one can be completely detached.

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 Read more of Christopher's articles here.

  • The Original Joe S

    Keep the small claims court paper in the computer. If they only accept phone calls, Free Sound Recorder. Get the names of the liars and then put them into the small claims court form as respondents. Send copy of draft to some over-paid toad in each company, and tell them that, absent a positive response within 3 business days, you’ll file the form. Be sure to subpoena those executive toads as well, and invite them to attend the festivities at your local courthouse. Should they fail to respond, file. Consider the filing fees as entertainment expenses. If they default, impound their property [such as computers in their office] and sell the stuff on the courthouse steps. Be ruthless. Be nasty. They are.

    Someone who posted here did that with an airplane. Got their attention. Funny.

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