Susan Kelly’s grateful emails are the kind any consumer advocate lives for.
“As a faithful reader of your column, I have learned many worthy travel-related tips,” she began. “I had been fairly lucky in my own travels and avoided many problems your column discusses.”
But her luck changed recently when her father suddenly fell ill and passed away.
“My daughters had just embarked on a three-week trip to Europe and had to return quickly,” she recalls. “Aer Lingus would not work with them at all, and it ended up costing me over $3,000 to get the girls home.”
What happened next is not just a reminder of the power of self-advocacy, but a warning to anyone who wants to try to help. This line of work is difficult and dangerous, and you have to be a little crazy to do it. I’ll tell you why in a moment.
Kelly remembered my column, which constantly reminds readers that they can be the most effective advocates for their cases, as long as they use our super-helpful executive contacts, which we publish on this site.
“After several attempts with customer service and five months waiting for a resolution, I looked up the CEO’s contact information on your website and emailed them about the problem,” she says. “In less than 12 hours I received an email of apology and full refund to my credit card.”
Well, that looked easy. And it is — as long as you know where to find the contacts.
So what’s difficult? Glad you asked.
Publishing executive contacts can be a hazardous and often thankless occupation.
Let’s talk about the “thankless” part for a moment. Finding, training and keeping a dedicated team of researchers has been almost impossible from the start. Few people like to do research, and fewer still are good at it. When you find people who are, they usually lose interest quickly. Face it, updating a phone number for a cruise line is no one’s idea of consumer advocacy.
But it’s so important, it can’t be overstated. Hundreds — no, thousands — of consumers access our company contact database every day. They get quick resolutions to their problems without any further assistance from our advocacy team.
That’s the problem — and the “hazardous” part. Companies don’t want their executive contacts listed. They’d prefer you call them (no paper trail), and they want to tell you “no” without actually having to put it in writing. When someone comes along and shows consumers a better way, corporate America often goes to great lengths to block the road.
This is exactly what happened to this site recently. On a quiet Tuesday afternoon, hackers forced their way onto our server and infected five company contact pages with malware. This wasn’t the first attack, and I’m certain it won’t be the last. But what makes this noteworthy is that it was so targeted. They wanted to take out certain pages.
We promptly removed the malware, but it took the search engines another 24 hours to acknowledge that the pages were clean. In the meantime, our site was blacklisted by the big engines, making us harder to find. For the operatives, it’s a meaningful victory.
That’s why you don’t see other sites with detailed company contact information. Between the time I write this and the time it’s published, I’m sure I’ll receive at least one takedown order from a company.
Ever gotten one of those? They’re pretty intimidating, because they imply your life will be over if you don’t do exactly what they say, which is to remove the names, direct numbers and emails of executives.
Kelly is grateful that our advocacy team and this site have stood up to these operatives and taken advantage of our First Amendment right to publish.
“Many thanks to you for having these resources available on your site and teaching everyone how to get their travel problems resolved,” she says.
If you’d like to join our group as a researcher and problem-solver, please send me a note.