Sometimes, facts can be painful. But the truth should never hurt, at least physically.
Which brings us to Anita Lavine’s request. Actually, it’s not hers, but her client’s: Hotwire.com.
Lavine works for Porter Novelli, Hotwire’s public relations firm. And she contacted me recently to ask a favor.
“Hey, I have a sort of unusual question for you,” she wrote. “I’m wondering if it would be possible for you to update the address listed for Hotwire on your website.”
I publish Hotwire’s address on my company contacts section. My researchers and I do this as a public service. When someone runs into a problem with a company, and a low-level call center employee informs them that there’s “no manager” to which the problem can be escalated, this information helps.
My first instinct: Of course I can update that address! In fact, I love it when companies provide us with accurate information about themselves.
Then I continued reading.
“Over the past few months,” she continued, “there have been a couple of situations where angry folks have arrived at the Hotwire offices after finding the address on your site, and caused a bit of a security issue, while making the receptionist quite uncomfortable in the process.”
Hotwire, she explained, “definitely” wants to hear from customers. But it prefers contact by phone, email or snail mail.
“That being said, would you be open to listing the P.O. Box versus the physical address, just so we can help make sure that all staff and employees stay safe?” she asked. “Let me know if this works, and thanks so much for your consideration.”
I wasn’t sure what to say to that.
Hotwire’s physical address — 655 Montgomery Street #600, San Francisco, CA 94111 — is available on multiple sources online, including Yelp, the BBB, and Bloomberg. Perhaps most notably, it’s available on its own website.
I wondered how Hotwire knew whether these disgruntled customers found their address on this site? Did they ask? Did the mad customers offer this information?
Even if every angry customer originated from my site, what makes Hotwire so certain that removing it would fix the problem? I mean, it publishes its own address on its own website.
Here’s another thing: Hotwire has already successfully hidden the name of its customer service managers from our researchers. You’ll note that there’s no VP of customer service, no service manager. We only list the president.
Curiously, Lavine never mentioned that Henrik Kjellberg, who we had listed as the president, was no longer in that position. But our incredible research team, let by research director John Galbraith, quickly found his replacement, Neha Parikh, and updated the page. (Thanks, John.)
As I review this request, it seems as if Hotwire is doing its best to scrub the internet of any useful information.
Then there’s the suggestion that somehow, I’m responsible for aggressive customers who make the receptionist “quite uncomfortable.” But who is really responsible for an unhappy customer? Is it the consumer advocate who is trying to help, or is it the company which has failed its own customer?
I’m having a hard time accepting the blame for these confrontations. Hotwire had an opportunity to avoid those before the customer showed up at the front door. Why didn’t it?
Removing a physical address would also allow other companies to make similar requests, citing “security” concerns. How many other businesses listed in our directory would love to edit their information, making them even harder to access? I can think of one or two.
Still, if the physical address is not really relevant to resolving a consumer complaint, or if Hotwire’s employees are in actual danger because of something I’ve done, I would feel compelled to help.
So I ask you, dear readers, what should I do? Do I bow to Hotwire’s wishes and delete this information, or leave it online, potentially exposing their receptionist to more “uncomfortable” situations?