When she contacted me, Sheila Lamb had been fighting with her hotel for months, and she was getting tired. I could tell.
She’d checked into a hotel that didn’t have the amenities it promised her, and after weeks of complaints to the hotel chain’s corporate office, the company had agreed to a partial refund.
But instead of issuing a refund, the hotel charged her credit card for the room — again.
Fatigued and desperate, she contacted me and asked, “Should I just give up?”
The consumer advocate in me reflexively said: “No! Never!”
But the practical side of me (yes, I have one) would say: It depends.
Many customers believe — and their experiences bear this out — that companies intentionally create vast departments staffed with script-reading drones to keep you from that refund, credit or replacement product you deserve. I’ve been helping consumers for years, and in some cases, they’re correct.
Even when you get an answer, it’s often incomplete, as this recent survey suggests.
Here’s when you should throw in the towel, generally speaking.
When the contract says you’re wrong.
If you signed a contract — even if it’s one of those totally unfair adhesion contracts — and that piece of paper suggests you’re in the wrong, consider walking away. It may be unfair (in fact, it most likely is unfair) but in the court of public opinion, and in a real court of law, you’re going to have a difficult time making the company see things your way.
When you’ve disputed a charge on your credit card and lost.
Typically, one of the last-ditch efforts to resolve a complaint involves a credit card dispute. During a dispute, your credit card company must resolve the differences between you and the merchant. If the dispute doesn’t go your way, that’s usually a good sign that it’s time to move on.
When a judge ruled against you.
That normally happens in small claims court. If a judge says the company is right and you aren’t, you should consider calling it a day.
The next step, which is an appeal, will probably cost you far more than the original item or service you purchased. Factor the time, effort and stress into the equation, and it’s almost never worth it.
When the business has closed.
If a company goes under because of its own incompetence, lack of customer service, or a full-scale publicity campaign you’ve waged designed to crush it, then there’s nothing left to collect from.
Bankruptcy laws will make it virtually impossible for you to collect anything from a dead business. (And by the way, if that was you, congratulations on ridding the earth of yet another bad business. You’ve made my job a little easier.)
When it’s just not worth your time.
The most common reason for abandoning any claim is that it’s just not worth your time. Only you know how much your time is worth. Even if you’re pursuing this grievance out of principle, a moment will come when you throw your hands up in the air and say, “Enough!” And only you know when that moment has come.
I don’t like giving up, and it’s always the last thing I advise to consumers who have a legitimate grievance. Lamb kept fighting and sending emails back to her hotel’s corporate headquarters until it refunded her entire stay.
I’m glad she didn’t quit.
Christopher Elliott is a consumer advocate who blogs about getting better customer service at On Your Side. Connect with him on Twitter and Facebook or send him your questions by email.