Here’s why you should leave your victim card at the door

Don't play the victim card here, please.

What color is your victim card?

I ask because everyone has one, whether they admit it or not. Sometimes they drop by this site and ask for help from my advocacy team, hoping to redeem some of their hard-earned points or invoke their “elite” victim status.

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Does the victim card work?

Sometimes it works, but usually it doesn’t.

Increasingly, I’ve started to think of complaints as a kind of currency. It started off with the card deck analogy — also known as the Elliott deck of misfortune — but it’s evolved into something familiar to those of us who work in the travel industry.

Complaints are a lot like loyalty programs, come to think of it.

No, this isn’t what you expect. I’m not going to turn this post into yet another devastatingly effective critique of airline and hotel loyalty programs and those who promote and participate in them, although I certainly could.

Instead, I’d like to talk about the victim card and explain why you should almost never flash it or try to spend those frequent victim points you’ve collected. I’m here to tell you to let them expire unused.

It helps to understand how the victim card works. Everyone has a sob story to tell — a dead relative (hey, we all die eventually), a streak of bad luck or personal tragedy. Some of the folks who come to us for help know they have a platinum card, but they keep it to themselves. Others are barely silvers, but they act as if the world owes them something.

Here’s how I see it. And for this particular story, I’m going to stay away from specific examples, but I think we can all come up with one or two from the recent past, if not from our own personal experience.

The infrequent complainers

A fair number of the cases are in this category. They’re people who don’t even know they qualify for a victim card. They have a problem with a business but they hope to resolve it based on facts and fairness. They can’t imagine invoking a personal problem in order to receive preferential treatment. These infrequents are pretty amazing, because they’ll refuse to play their cards even when they probably should. Companies should consider themselves fortunate to have them as customers.

The silver level: life or death

Silver-level complainers know their place at the bottom of the food chain and are usually reluctant to show the card or redeem their victim points. They typically only do it in the direst of emergencies: In the travel world, that would be the sudden death in the family, which forces them to buy a last-minute plane ticket, or a tragic terminal cancer diagnosis that makes them cancel a vacation. Silvers are good people, too, but their backs are against the wall. They need the money to pay hospital or funeral bills.

The gold level: making a case

Golds know that complaining can be profitable, and while they’re not overly eager to spend the currency of tragedy, they know that a compelling story can sometimes result in a refund or do-over. Normally, their emails start with, “I’m not the type to complain …” which of course means, they are the type to complain and their emails are long and contain lots of adjectives. The golds are often rewarded with what they want. Think squeaky wheel.

The platinum level: the laundry list

Platinums are absolute pros at complaining — at least they like to think of themselves as that. They string together a series of small misfortunes and send it directly to the CEO (with a copy to me) knowing that they’ll probably get a quick resolution to an inconsequential complaint. For the platinum cardholders, professional victimhood has its perks, and they feel entitled to them. They’re likely to say they missed a day of work because they had to wait for an appliance repair, and that they expect to be fully compensated for it. They may even demand a brand-new appliance to make up for the trouble. (Hey, I’ve seen it all.)

Don’t even get me started on the super-elites, whose level of victimhood isn’t even officially recognized as a level. They turn every molehill into a mountain and are the reason for so many restrictive corporate policies today on everything from refunds to warranties. These entitled elites give the true victims a bad name, and what makes it worse is that they don’t care.

Everyone has a victim card of some sort

Everyone’s a victim of something. Everyone has victim points to spend. But it’s how you spend them that matters.

The longer I listen to consumers complain, the more I’m convinced that playing the victim card is almost always a terrible idea. The representatives listening to you have heard it all, and they’ve developed a special ability to sort the expert complainers from those who are profoundly uncomfortable with disclosing the details of their personal tragedy.

Instead of pulling together a laundry list when something goes wrong, it’s better to just think of your victim card as expired. Permanently. In virtually every instance, your complaint will go further if you stick to the facts than if you’d wave the card in front of an employee.

If your card has expired, do what you’d do with your frequent flier miles. Let it go. The card, like the miles, wasn’t worth anything to begin with.

What color is your victim card?

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17 thoughts on “Here’s why you should leave your victim card at the door

  1. “yet another devastatingly effective critique of airline and hotel loyalty programs”

    I’m still waiting for the first one.

    But I do agree that there are some people out there who do seem to make a career out of complaining and collecting somewhat valuable forms of apology.

  2. I met a man who owned a small construction business once, and he told me that the two worst types of people to work for were people with no money and people with a ton of money. He said while a middle class person would appreciate a job well done, those at the ends of the spectrum both would place a ton of unreasonable demands and complaints (I’m supposing to try and get free stuff or a discounted bill).

    I am wondering if there is scientific evidence to back up his theory, and how this theory translates into the worlds of travel and the service industry.

    1. I found the same to be true at the grocery store, strangely enough. Hands down, the rudest customers. I would go a step further and say the women were significantly worse, and the larger the woman, the larger their attitude!

    2. my master carpenter friend (and the guy who built my kitchen) has found exactly the same thing. he finds that the more money people have, the more unreasonable their demands and the more frequent their changes, which often require re-working large portions of a job.

        1. There are plenty of contractors in Atlantuc City who lost their shirts because they weren’t paid by Trump. And Trump doesn’t deny it–he claims their work wasn’t good enough. If that’s the case, an honest person would talk it over with the contractor and find an amicable solution, not refuse to pay anything knowing full well that the contractor can’t afford a protracted lawsuit.

        2. Indisputable fact. Proof all over the internet, and in the court system (actual lawsuits, discoverable). Real live contractors with undeniable evidence, including Trump’s own communications stating that he will not pay, or will pay only a fraction of the due amount, for various reasons including “you’ll get a ton more business because you did work for me, so I don’t need to pay you” (paraphrased).

          Facts matter.

  3. To complain is human, to forgive divine. Most of us have “first world” problems on an occasional basis, whether travel issues, service issues, or whatever. For me at least, it is never the first error that bothers me because people are human, and things happen. It is the second error of trying to cover it up, ignore it, or dismiss it. Most of the time, even those issues are minor enough to be ignored, but as a silver card (or maybe in some people’s eyes gold card) holder, I have complained two or three times about “first world” problems to the provider (over the past 30 years or so).

  4. A true analogy of some of the complaints received here. Thank you for this. The majority of problems I read here are self inflicted but the complainer doesn’t want to accept responsibility for it.

  5. So often I smile reading someone’s complaint and think “Far worse things have happened to me when travelling and it would not even occur to me that someone else was responsible”. Travelling is fraught with opportunities to ruin your day. A dog who barks all the way from Warsaw to Chicago. A teenage hockey team moving into your hotel at 11pm. A cruise ship with engine problems. There’s not a whole lot that anyone can do about this stuff other than wait for it to be over so you can get on with your life.

    So many complaints are so silly that they can obscure the real ones, such as being charged for damages to your rental car three months after you return it … or a rude, incompetent ticket agent makes you miss your flight … or a greedy vacation rental owner refuses to return your deposit.

  6. I don’t think you offered all of the options in the poll….I wish to file a complaint about that. I’m a loyal reader and I faithfully vote in the polls when I can. However, I don’t think I was fairly treated and I think you should give me a full refund on this poll, and some gift card credits to correct another 10 polls in the future the way I want to do them.

  7. I just can’t agree that the cards, and ensuing points/miles are either devoid of value, or are in some way a negative, OR even create a victim.. I think it all comes down to how you use the program. Yes, programs almost always retain the absolute right to change the rules mid-program.. that is for me, one reason why I tend not to ‘bank’ massive amounts of points, unless the contract specifically says that old points remain under the old program rules — or something that effectively protects me. I also carefully weigh my purchase so that I make the best overall purchasing decision.. Sometimes, it DOES behoove me to to do business with someone else, other than where my elite status may belong.. In other words, my loyalty is not absolute nor blind.. I also factor in the value that I get by going with my loyalty-program as opposed to going with someone else.. There have been cases where I knowingly paid a premium to stay with my loyalty business and not go with a cheaper deal from a non-loyalty business, only because the economic value of the perks I received by being an elite created a scenario where the best value still was with the higher-cost but elite business.. and not the lower non-elite business…. but I have to make that calculation myself.. I can’t or won’t buy blindly..
    This does require some investment on my part — to know the program rules, to keep up with any changes and to do the math before I buy.. but for me, I find that by doing so, I tend to get the best overall deal for me given what I want and the price I’m willing to pay.

  8. I only complain when I feel I have been taken advantage of, and the 4 major complaints I have pursued were with airlines. I have learned that you can be persistent, but polite. I have won 3 of my 4 “cases” by doing just that. Usually, they just want me to go away so they send me the refund I request (which is usually a valid request related to a baggage charge). I don’t lie or whine or take advantage of a tragic situation. I just present the facts, usually to their Customer Care department. I had one airline tell me that they do not give refunds after the fact and that my issue was resolved. I wrote back and told him that it was not resolved and that I was not going away until it was. I asked if he would have liked me to get off the plane as it was taxiing away, That must have gotten to him, because I got my refund. Sometimes it takes more than a few emails and/or phone calls,.but it is always resolved in my favor.

  9. i try my best to do business with a company that values my business enough that I don’t have to use a victim card. And, once a company doesn’t value my business, I’m more than happy to take my business elsewhere. Unfortunately, there seems to be such a consolidation of businesses that that might not be as possible as it used to be.

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