Don’t look now, but that scrappy consumer advocacy site you’ve been reading for years is getting organized.
It was bound to happen. Even though this site bears my name, I’ve always put the customer and the cause first. This is your site, not mine. We advocate for you, not me. And that’s an important distinction.
We live in a world of media personalities who make it all about themselves. They have radio and TV shows and branded luggage. And that’s absolutely fine, but it’s not who I am and it’s not what this site is.
This site is about you.
So what, exactly, does that mean?
About a year ago, I separated my personal site from this blog. My site, Chriselliotts.com, is updated regularly and has a small weekly newsletter (look for the pop-up if you want to subscribe). It’s for friends and family, mostly. I don’t publish blog comments because the people who read it have my email address and they know I’ll answer them personally.
At about the same time, we started building a more robust organization staffed entirely by volunteers. Here are the departments:
Advocacy: We’ve deployed a small team of consumer advocates who do exactly what you’d expect advocates to do. They review cases that come in from our “Help” form, contact companies on behalf of consumers, and then write about the cases on this site. If you’re interested in joining this group, you can email our lead advocate, Jessica Monsell.
Editing: All of our stories go through a rigorous collaborative editing process. They must. In the past, we’ve slapped stories online on the spur of the moment, as all start-up sites do. That’s bad for you, because the articles are sometimes incomplete. It’s also bad for our writers, because it makes us look like amateurs. (I can assure you, we’re not.) People are often surprised to find such a thorough editing process on this site, but it’s something for which we don’t apologize. At the moment, Grant Ritchie is our interim lead editor. If you’re interested in joining the group, please let him know.
Forums: We operate a help forum for people with general consumer questions. Many of the cases we receive from our “Help” forum are eventually referred here. There’s a core staff of forum advocates who answer queries 24/7. They don’t actually contact companies on behalf of a consumer, but they can offer information and advice, which is often all a customer needs. Grant Ritchie is our lead advocate in the forums.
Production: All of our stories are produced well in advance. We have a small production team that pulls the stories into WordPress and adds photos and headlines. We are building this team at the moment. Nina Perry is in charge of production. If you can do WordPress, please get in touch with her directly.
Writing: We have a core group of columnists whose work is featured weekly on the site — folks like Andrew Der, Heather Dratler, Jennifer Finger, Janice Hough, Kent Lawrence and Ned Levi. We also have occasional contributors, whose writing appears from time to time. As time goes on, our stories have become more tied to the cases for which we advocate, but there’s plenty of opportunity for commentary and criticism. I run the writing department myself, but as I’ve always said, that lead writer/managing editor position is open.
Research: We run an online database of executive customer service contacts, staffed by a group of dedicated researchers. They research new companies and update existing ones, posting roughly a new company every day. This information is at the core of what we do. Sometimes, having the right name at a company can mean the difference between success and failure. Corporations go out of their way to hide the names, email addresses and phone numbers of their executives; we go out of our way to find it. Trent Bonsall runs that department.
So where is all this headed? Glad you asked.
You can see this site isn’t about me. It’s not even about the other volunteers I work with. It’s built entirely around your needs as a consumer. What’s the next step?
First, we need to make sure every department is fully staffed and humming along. We’re not there yet. The forums, for example, continue to be plagued by technical difficulties, despite our best efforts to fix them. We need a newsletter editor, a lead editor and a managing editor to lead those departments. I’m optimistic that we’ll get there soon.
Once we do, I’d like to figure out the best way of expanding beyond what we already do. More than 10 percent of our cases are already non-travel, and that number grows by the minute. In a year or two, this will be a very different consumer advocacy organization (yes, I said “organization”), with the potential to help even more people.
If you’ve been sitting on the sidelines as a reader or a commenter, this might be the time to join us. Volunteer to jump into one of our teams, and start making the world a better place. I think you’ll love being part of the solution as much as I do.