Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Combat Consumerism - Lesson One - Get it in Writing

We'll be opening a new website soon, "Combat Consumerism," which will not only continue to honestly review "bad businesses" but will also give consumers tips on how to best stand up for themselves and their rights.  Most importantly, the "right" that the "customer is always right."  "Combat consumerism" is not about fighting, but about standing up for your rights and interests, and taking bold actions when you're not getting what you believe you're paying for.

An example from the other night, when - after waiting 20 minutes for an order that should have been out in 7 minutes - I got cold food at an IHOP.  Then, when I told the waiter I wanted it done over, the shift manager didn't come by to comment, explain, apologize or even acknowledge the problem.  This robbed the meal of any potential enjoyment, so rather than eating hot food I could no longer enjoy, I got up and left.  That's one way of standing up for your rights.  But then I also contacted the company via their website, and (read my blog on IHOP, here), and ultimately received what looks to be a very fair make-good.

In anticipation of this new, informative "Combat Consumerism" website, we'd like to offer an initial thought on what "combat consumerism" is, and how to go about it.  In this case, if you get some offer of satisfaction, get it in writing.

A couple of months ago, I got some unexpectedly bad service at a Macaroni Grill; I called for the manager, explained what had happened, and he not only apologized, but offered me a make-good meal.  I didn't ask for that - I almost never do, as I'd rather see how they respond, un-prompted, as that's a more honest gauge of their commitment to customer service.  He said he'd leave my name "up front."

Last weekend, my wife and I went back there, and I mentioned this.  However, there was no indication that he'd left my name up front, and then seemed surprised that I hadn't been mailed a make-good coupon.  Still, he (more or less) accepted my word, and offered my a $7 discount plus a free dessert. 

That was a nice touch, especially under the circumstances, but once again, I didn't "get it in writing" (i.e., I didn't nail down the offer).  When the waiter said, "free dessert, my wife and I both assumed that meant a free dessert each.  We're not big dessert people (I'm diabetic, so "dessert" is either fresh fruit or nothing at all), and we ate our fill before dessert, but we ordered two to take home.  Imagine my surprise when only one of the two desserts was comped - if we'd understood the offer, we'd have only ordered one.

But that was my fault, not Macaroni Grill's, and overall, I give them good marks for responding to what was, after all, an unsubstantiated customer complaint.

However, it does make the point: if you're offered a make-good, be sure you understand exactly what they're offering.  This is a basic tenet of "combat consumerism."

In our move to our new site, we'll be offering you an ongoing series of useful, practical, ethical and productive tips on the best ways of standing up for your rights - your right to the products or services you pay for (i.e., hot food served in a timely fashion), as well as your right to be treated with the respect due to someone who's putting good, hard-earned money down in exchange for what the vendor offers.

We will also be reviewing books, websites, blogs and other sources of useful "combat consumerism" ideas, and we welcome your recommendations on what you'd like to see, read or learn about.

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