ADVOCACY

What’s this site?
What do you do?
What kinds of cases do you consider getting involved in?
How much do you charge for your advocacy services?
How do you mediate a case?
What do you say to a company when you act as an advocate?
How do you make a living?
Do you mediate every dispute?
Are there any cases you don’t mediate?
Do you mediate business-to-business disputes?
Can I send you a complaint by regular mail?
I’m about to send an email to a company, asking it to address a complaint. Would you review it for me?
I wrote to you weeks ago asking for help. Why haven’t you responded?
I tried to call you. I keep getting voice mail.
I don’t need help, but I’ve sent you an email asking for advice. I haven’t heard anything yet. Are you ignoring me?
You asked me for a “paper trail” — what’s that?
Is there a time limit on cases you will accept?
I saw a story in the news about someone who could use your help. Why don’t you offer your services?

ABOUT CHRISTOPHER ELLIOTT

Who are you?
How did you get involved in this kind of work?
I see you all over social media. Is that really you, or do you have a staff?
I didn’t like one of your recent articles. I thought you were unfair and I strongly disagree with what you wrote. I sent you a point-by-point rebuttal. Why haven’t you responded?
What kind of a consumer advocate are you, anyway?
Wait, I thought you were a travel blogger?
How can you be a journalist and an advocate at the same time?
Aren’t you the co-founder of the Consumer Travel Alliance? That’s a conflict of interest if I’ve ever seen one.
If you’re such a do-gooder, then where’s your Pulitzer?
I understand you have a checkered past. Care to explain?
You’ve done a lot of travel writing. Ever taken a free trip?
I’m a professional, and I find your level of knowledge of my industry appalling. Please stop writing about my business.
I belong to a popular site for frequent travelers, and we think you’re a hypocrite. What do you have to say for yourself?
You spend almost as much time criticizing consumers as you do companies. Whose side are you really on?
What is your agenda?
You like to throw around the phrase: “Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable” a lot. Please explain what you mean.
I hear you talking about the “rules of engagement” a lot. What are they?
I have a PR question. You’ve sent us an email asking about something we’d rather not talk about. What are my options?
Will you speak to my group or convention?
We’re having a debate and we want to invite you — will you participate?
Do you attend trade shows or conferences?
Do you belong to any trade organizations or associations?
Do you do any product endorsements?
What about your other sites? Doesn’t having ads compromise what you do?
What makes you different from the other consumer advocates?
Do you have any weaknesses?

ABOUT THIS SITE

Do you publish sponsored posts?
What’s your comments policy?
Your comments policy isn’t that permissive. Your moderator team often deletes comments and has even banned a few users. So much for free speech!
You don’t seem to understand the difference between a personal attack and a well-reasoned critique of some of your misguided ideas. Need me to explain?
What does “OP” mean?
I recognize one of the stories on your site from another media outlet. Are you stealing stories?
I’m the subject of one of your stories. My case was resolved months ago. What’s the deal?
Is the customer always right?
I’m a professional photographer, and you’ve used my images on your site without permission. What gives?
I’m just about done reading your smug answers. You wrote a blog post that has cost me business, and I’m going to sue you. I’ll see you in court.



ADVOCACY

What is this site?

Elliott is a site that advocates for you. Founded in 1997 by consumer advocate and journalist Christopher Elliott, its goal is to empower consumers to solve their service problems and to help those who can’t. If you’re having trouble with a business — any business — and you’ve reached a dead end, we’ll try to help. and we’ll investigate. Here are more details about the people behind Elliott.

What do you do?

I advocate for customers who have an intractable problem with a business, a role sometimes also referred to as the reader advocate, problem-solver or ombudsman. Basically, I try to help when no one else will.

What kinds of cases do you consider getting involved in?

Any dispute between a consumer and a business.

How much do you charge for your advocacy services?

I don’t charge for the advocacy work I do on behalf of consumers. But it isn’t free. If you ask for help, I may write about your case. Your full name and city will be published.

How do you mediate a case?

When you contact me with a complaint, I will review it as soon as possible. If it’s something I believe I can help with, I will get in touch with the company on your behalf. Please note: By contacting me you are giving me permission to be your advocate. I may use your correspondence with the company as background material, share it with the company at my discretion, or publish it.

What do you say to a company when you act as an advocate?

Typically, I politely request a review of your case. If I have a question about the circumstances of your problem, I’ll also ask. Most of the correspondence between a company and myself on behalf of a customer is private, which means I’m unlikely to share it with a reader.

How do you make a living?

This site is supported by individual and corporate underwriters. If you’re interested in joining them, here’s how. However, there is no obligation to become a supporter if I help you.

Do you mediate every dispute?

I wish I could. Some cases are not solvable. But I give every complaint serious consideration.

Are there any cases you don’t mediate?

Yes. Here’s my list:

  • Visa/passport problems that led to denied boarding.
  • Missing loyalty points.
  • Recently lost or misplaced luggage.
  • Compensation for delays that resulted in lost vacation or work days.
  • Airline seat comfort issues.
  • Asking an company to honor an obvious price error.
  • Getting a refund for a nonrefundable airline ticket or hotel room.
  • Airfares that go up after selecting a flight option (caching).
  • Any case that’s been referred to a company’s legal department.

Some exceptions apply, but generally, I’m unable to get involved in these disputes. If you email me about one of these cases, please don’t expect more than a form acknowledgment.

Do you mediate business-to-business disputes?

No.

Can I send you a complaint by regular mail?

Unfortunately, I can only accept cases by email. I’m unable to respond to letters.

I’m about to send an email to a company, asking it to address a complaint. Would you review it for me?

Because of the volume of email I receive, I can’t offer personal advice on how to write a complaint letter.

I wrote to you weeks ago asking for help. Why haven’t you responded?

I try to acknowledge every email I receive, with one or two exceptions. If you sent a large attachment, it may have gone to my spam filter. Please send your message again without the attachment.

I did. Still nothing.

I generally can’t reply to emails with gratuitous profanity or written in ALL UPPERCASE. Try toning things down just a little, please.

I did, and you’re still not answering.

Did you address the email to me? Sometimes, readers copy me on emails, but don’t send them to me directly. I answer to Chris, Christopher, or even Elliott. Emails sent to “To Whom it May Concern” or simply “Hi” don’t always get a response, because I can’t be sure they’re meant for me. Also, sometimes I’m just overwhelmed with emails and can’t answer. Please don’t take it personally.

I tried to call you. I keep getting voice mail.

Please email me. I need a written record of your grievance in order to mediate a case.

I don’t need help, but I’ve sent you an email asking for advice. I haven’t heard anything yet. Are you ignoring me?

I get a fair number of requests to help plan a vacation or offer advice on buying one product versus another. I wish I had the time to answer those in detail. But I can’t.

You asked me for a “paper trail” — what’s that?

In order to successfully mediate a case, I need to see written proof that you’ve given the company a chance to respond to your customer-service problem. A paper trail — your emails between the company and you — is evidence that you’ve given the system a chance to work. It’s difficult to help you without it.

Is there a time limit on cases you will accept?

Many companies do not keep reliable customer records for longer than a year, which makes it difficult or impossible to mediate a case.

I saw a story in the news about someone who could use your help. Why don’t you offer your services?

I only help if I’m asked by a victim. I have a pretty strict policy against injecting myself into a dispute, and especially one that has already generated some media attention. I’m not doing this to become famous, but to help people like you.

ABOUT CHRISTOPHER ELLIOTT

Who are you?

I’m a consumer advocate and journalist. Here’s more about me.

How did you get involved in this kind of work?

I didn’t choose consumer advocacy — it chose me. I started as a business reporter and began to dabble in consumer disputes in the mid-1990s, because readers asked me to.

Looking back, I think the one moment that made me decide to do this as a career was when I was paging through a scrapbook my mother kept from 1968, the year I was born. It contained an article from the Charlotte Observer, in which she’d written to the consumer reporter asking for help. He got a refund for her. (Coincidentally, my column is now syndicated in the Charlotte Observer.)

This may sound idealistic, but I’m focused on making the world a better place, one case at a time. I’m not a lobbyist. I have no political ambitions. I don’t even care if people recognize my name. Actually, I rather prefer the anonymity of working behind the scenes.

I see you all over social media. Is that really you, or do you have a staff?

It’s all me. Every post, every comment and every tweet is mine. Also, I don’t game the system in any way — I don’t buy followers or try to rig my pages for better SEO. I believe important content will eventually rise to the top of the search results.

I didn’t like one of your recent articles. I thought you were unfair and I strongly disagree with what you wrote. I sent you a point-by-point rebuttal. Why haven’t you responded?

I’m sorry you didn’t like my story. I believe you have the right to say what you want about my posts, which is why I have a fairly permissive comments policy. I would suggest you leave your critique as a comment on my site.

What kind of a consumer advocate are you, anyway?

I try to focus my efforts on customers who are genuinely wronged. I also help people help themselves by offering advice on how to navigate the system. That’s why I’m here.

Wait, I thought you were a travel blogger?

I’m not a travel blogger. This is not a travel blog, it’s a consumer advocacy site.

How can you be a journalist and an advocate at the same time?

Everyone has an agenda, and maybe I’m just a little more open about mine. I don’t claim to be a news reporter — you know, the kind that requires complete objectivity — but have always referred to myself as a journalist and an advocate. I’m hardly alone. The journalism world is filled with people who wear two hats, like that.

In other words, you know what the story will say before you do your research?

I make every effort to do my homework and decide what the story is after I’m done with my interviews. Drives my editors crazy. But I think you can be an advocate and also be fair to all sides.

Wait a second, aren’t you the co-founder of the Consumer Travel Alliance? That’s a conflict of interest if I’ve ever seen one.

I’ve started a lot of things in my life, but few that I’m prouder of than the Consumer Travel Alliance. As a journalist and advocate, I’ve been criticizing the system from outside my entire career. In 2009, I helped create something that can work from the inside and to promote real change. I currently serve as CTA’s unpaid, volunteer ombudsman. That’s not a conflict with my day job; it’s a complement.

If you’re such a do-gooder, then where’s your Pulitzer?

I don’t submit my work for awards or fellowships. Helping consumers is enough reward for me.

Parenthetically, when’s the last time a consumer advocate won any kind of award? This isn’t the kind of journalism that wins anything — except the scorn of advertisers. I’m fine with that.

Come on. I’ve seen you on TV and I heard you even hosted a radio show.

It’s true, I hosted a cable TV show on travel for one season and I co-hosted a radio show. Both were major career mistakes, because they took me away from what I do best, which is — you guessed it — to help consumers.

But you’re no Mother Theresa. I understand you have a checkered past.

I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t have a few scrapes with the authorities. Anyone who tries to advocate for consumers is going to get into a little trouble — whether it’s a subpoena from the Department of Homeland Security or a libel lawsuit. I’ve been there.

And when you trust your sources — and I almost always do — you’re going to get the story wrong a time or two. I’m actually proud of my combat record. I haven’t won every battle, and haven’t always been right, but I’m still here, fighting for what I believe. Here are a few of my favorite mistakes.

You’ve done a lot of travel writing. Ever taken a free trip?

I used to work for a travel trade publication, and I spent years as a freelance travel writer. Do the math.

I’m a professional, and I find your level of knowledge of my industry appalling. Please stop writing about my business.

I’m the first to admit I’ll never have the deep insight into any industry that someone who works in it does. But your industry is not my subject; it’s customer service. That’s where I’m an expert.

If I happen to get something wrong about your industry, please let me know. I’m more than happy to fix it. But I’m not going to stop writing about it.

I belong to a popular site for frequent travelers, and most of us think you’re a hypocrite. We know more about the industry than you ever will. By offering people a shortcut to getting their problems resolved, you’re encouraging them to remain ignorant about the rules. Also, your implied threat of writing about an unresolved dispute amounts to nothing less than extortion. What do you have to say for yourself?

That’s an interesting perspective. First, as I’ve already mentioned, you may know more about your industry than I do. If journalists had to be experts on every subject before writing about them, there would be no media organizations.

Second, I write this site to inform consumers, not to make them ignorant. If you read only a few posts, you would see that. I struggle with reader problems every day, and there’s often a spirited debate in the comments about whether I should mediate a case. I frequently refuse to get involved in a complaint because, well, rules are rules.

Finally, regarding the bullying: Ouch! But I can see how it would look that way. I wish I could show you the emails between company representatives and myself, in which we work together to find the right resolution to a problem. And don’t forget, I only write about a fraction of the cases I mediate, so most companies know that when I contact them I’m just trying to help a customer.

But in the end, I doubt I’ll be able to convince you that I’m doing the right thing. You’ll just have to believe what you want to.

I’ve read your work. You spend almost as much time criticizing consumers as you do companies. Whose side are you really on?

Look, it gets messy out there in consumerland. I’m interested in a fair outcome of a dispute. I want people to get what they paid for. I’m not here to stick it to any business and I don’t have a hidden anti-corporate agenda.

Well, what is your agenda?

When every consumer reads their contract carefully, asks all the right questions, patronizes only ethical, customer-focused businesses and knows how to resolve any disagreements in a polite and productive way, I’ll fold up my laptop and ride off into the sunset. My work will be done. Until that time, I’m here to help.

You like to throw around the phrase: “Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable” a lot. Please explain what you mean.

That’s an old journalism adage. I see myself as being a voice for the voiceless: comforting the afflicted, in other words. Many consumers have knowledge, attorneys and money at their disposal, and they don’t need me. I’m fine with that.

Sometimes, when you stand up for the little guy, you realize that the people who have everything — the “preferred” customers with the gold cards sitting in the first-class lounge, are part of the problem. If they’re offended by my sometimes populist rhetoric, then I feel as if I’m doing my job. That’s what “afflicting the comfortable” means to me.

I hear you talking about the “rules of engagement” a lot. What are they?

They’re common sense rules that your parents should have taught you, like “no hitting below the belt” and “no name calling.” And “mind your manners.” When you don’t observe these rules — which is to say if you’re impolite or if you cause others to be impolite — then I have a pretty strict policy about not responding to you online, offline or anywhere. I’m terribly sorry, but shouting won’t get you noticed.

I have a PR question. You’ve sent us an email asking about something we’d rather not talk about. What are my options?

I would answer the question honestly — but also, let me know about your misgivings. After all, I’m here to make things better, not worse.

Ignoring my inquiries, or claiming you never received them, usually backfires. So does saying that you decline to participate in a story.

Will you speak to my group or convention?

Yes, I do lots of public speaking. But I limit my topics to customer service and consumer advocacy issues.

Please don’t ask me to talk about travel writing, making money as a travel blogger, or travel and social media. I think I’ve said all that I’m going to say on those topics.

We’re having a debate and we want to invite you — will you participate?

If by “debate” you mean you want me to politely discuss an issue in a public forum, then yes. I love a spirited and friendly back-and-forth online or through one of my columns. If you mean a “debate” as in “high school debate team” then I’m sorry, that’s not really my thing.

Do you attend trade shows or conferences?

Not if I can help it. I avoid crowds unless it’s absolutely necessary.

Do you belong to any trade organizations or associations?

Sorry, I don’t play well in groups. Nothing personal.

Do you do any product endorsements?

My email newsletter is supported by corporate underwriters, just like NPR or PBS. I do not sell links on this site. Underwriters support my consumer advocacy. I used an affiliate link to track the sales of my last book on Amazon. I’m a terrible shill (trust me, I’ve tried it). I feel compelled to tell the truth, always. I think I make a much better consumer advocate.

What about your other sites? Doesn’t having ads compromise what you do?

I’m involved with several other sites that either accept ads via Google AdSense or that have paid sponsors. But there’s a wall between the business operations of those projects and the editorial decisions that get made on this site, just as there is at any large news organization between advertising and the news department.

There are a lot of other consumer advocates out there. What makes you different from the others?

I love the other consumer advocates. Most of them do great work. The world needs more people like them.

I became an advocate to help you — that’s my only cause.

I don’t charge anything for my advocacy. I read and answer every email I get personally. I work every case myself. And I don’t just write about the problems I successfully resolve. Instead, I openly discuss my failures, too. (Often, you can learn more when you strike out. Trust me on that.)

Another thing that makes my advocacy practice different is my emphasis on fairness and self-sufficiency. I try to let all sides speak before making up my mind about a case. Wherever possible, I also help consumers help themselves. Indeed, in a vast majority of cases, I quietly remain in the background, advising consumers on how to resolve a conflict.

Put differently, consumer advocacy is not my career — it’s my calling. Just knowing I could help is enough recognition for me.

Do you have any weaknesses?

Sure! I have a thing for tabloid headlines and online polls that ridiculously oversimply an issue. My stories aren’t always fair (even though I try to be) and I sometimes lose my objectivity.

Also, in order to make ends meet and support my family, I sometimes do freelance work for businesses. I’ve written speeches, press releases and made appearances on behalf of corporations in the past. These relationships are always disclosed. But as someone with a traditional journalism background, I wish they were not economically necessary. It would make my life so much less complicated.

ABOUT THIS SITE

Do you publish sponsored posts?

No. I don’t post advertorials, native advertising or sponsored posts. (Think about it: On a consumer advocacy site? Seriously?) When I mention underwriters on social media or in my newsletter, I always comply with relevant Federal Trade Commission requirements.

What’s your comments policy?

Here it is.

Ahem, your comments policy isn’t that permissive. Your moderator team often deletes comments and has even banned a few users. So much for free speech!

I have a staff of volunteer moderators who ensure a level of civility is maintained in the comments. As for free speech, this is a personal website. I’m under no obligation to publish every comment.

You don’t seem to understand the difference between a personal attack and a well-reasoned critique of some of your misguided ideas. Need me to explain?

Not really. I consider any post or comment that invites ridicule, scorn or encourages trolls to show up on my site to be the attack it was intended as. If you’ve made that kind of rhetorical assault on your blog or any other public platform, please don’t let it happen again. If you do, you will regret it.

What does “OP” mean?

Original poster. In discussions, it refers to the person with the grievance.

I’m the subject of one of your stories. My case was resolved months ago. What’s the deal?

I average a one-year backlog of cases. That means if your case is resolved today, it might not be published until next year. I’d love to post something sooner, but my frequency is limited by the publications that run my stories in syndication.

I recognize one of the stories on your site from another media outlet. Are you stealing stories?

Nope. Many of the articles you see here are syndicated. That means I write them for a newspaper or online syndicate and give them permission to publish the columns. I also retain the right to publish the articles on this site.

Is the customer always right?

No. But the most common reason for turning down a case isn’t the rightness — or wrongness — of a customer, but insufficient documentation. Keep those receipts and contracts, folks. Get everything in writing.

I’m a professional photographer, and you’ve used my images on your site without permission. What gives?

All images on my site are derived from Flickr under the Creative Commons license. I also have an agreement to use images from Shutterstock. If you believe I’ve used one of your images without permission, please .

I’m just about done reading your smug answers. You wrote a blog post that has cost me business, and I’m going to sue you. I’ll see you in court.

Why, thank you. I used to have an editor who said if you aren’t being threatened with a lawsuit, you’re not doing your job.

Before you file your complaint, why don’t you let me put you in touch with a long list of others who have either threatened to sue me or have done so? If, after that, you still feel like wasting your money on an expensive lawyer, be my guest. I’ll even write a blog post about it.