Paper trail? We don’t need no paper trail!

By | January 26th, 2016

What happened to Barry Frankel?

He’d accumulated $544 in Target gift cards and decided to finally redeem them at a store. “The money was gone,” he says.

Frankel tried to call Target to retrieve the money.

“After being on the phone with customer service reps two hours on Sunday and two hours on Tuesday, they told me to file a police report,” he says. “They were not responsible.”

We’ve had several similar Target cases on the site and in our help forums.

I wanted to help Frankel. There was just one little thing: I needed to see his paper trail — the written correspondence between him and Target.

And it never came.

Every day, roughly 30 percent of incoming cases go into the “Case Dismissed!” file, because there’s no paper trail, and no evidence that the customer has given a company the opportunity to resolve a complaint.

Frankel received the following request from me. I’ve written this so many times that I have it saved as a form letter.

In order to help resolve your dispute, I need to see the paper trail of correspondence between you and the company.

Do you have any emails between you and the company that you could please forward to me?

If you don’t, then I would strongly recommend that you start a paper trail. I can’t get involved in a case unless I have a written record that you’ve tried to fix the issue yourself.

So what happens when people receive this request? With apologies to Alfonso Bedoya and his famous line in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, do 3 out of 10 people really say, “Paper trail? We don’t need no paper trail!”

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The way I see it, they don’t all say it exactly like that. They fall into three major groups:

1. Sorry, I’m a phone person. Some consumers strongly prefer talking to someone. Frankel’s correspondence suggested he didn’t want to write, but preferred to spend four hours on the phone talking to someone. This desire for a real-time resolution suggests the patience of phone people is limited. I may not be able to come up with a resolution in time to make customers like them happy.

2. I don’t want to deal with their form letters. Many people who come to this site for help have an aversion to the form letters they’ll receive from a company when they try to start a paper trail. That’s a fair concern. I dislike the form letters as well, but it’s absolutely necessary to go through all the channels to establish a strong case for an appeal.

3. I’ve done enough. You do something! There’s a subset of customers who have the wrong idea about consumer advocacy. They think my team of advocates sits in an ivory tower, flicking their magic wands at problems and making them disappear. When we ask for the paperwork, they’re incredulous. “I’m not going to do that!” they exclaim.

Does anyone ever get out of the paperwork requirement? Actually, yes. Some businesses — notably wireless, telecom and credit card companies — make it virtually impossible to send an email. They’d rather do everything by phone, which makes it impossible to verify anything. For those customers, we waive the paperwork rule. (But it’s worth keeping a phone log, if possible)

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I don’t know what happened to Frankel, but I suspect he called Target again and either got it to fix the problem or gave up in despair.

Such a shame. I think I could have helped.

Should we have a paperwork requirement for new cases?

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