Are companies trying to avoid leaving a paper trail of promises?

Maybe they don’t want to leave a trail of evidence. Maybe it’s the threat of having the entire exchange posted on a blog like this one.

But for whatever reason, more companies seem to be asking their customers to pick up the phone when they have a grievance — particularly if it’s a serious problem.

For example, here’s the written response Thomas Neil received from a customer service representative at an online travel agency, even after he specifically asked to keep the correspondence by email so he could maintain a record of the exchange.

We understand your concern and have contacted the airline and hotel for the refund and we are awaiting a response from their end. We have also escalated your file to a Customer Relations Supervisors and you would receive a call from one of our manager in 24 to 48 hours time frame.

In other words, the company wanted to communicate with him without leaving a meaningful record of it that might be recognized by a court, at least in his opinion.

The scenario has repeated itself numerous times in the last month, in industries from travel to telecommunications. A disgruntled customer will write to a company, only to have it send a form reply, requesting it to “call us at your convenience” to discuss the matter.

That’s the thing about oral agreements. Unless you can prove a representative said you’d get a refund or replacement, you’re out of luck. Companies know that.

Email is a great tool for handling customer service grievances — except when it’s not.

The savviest corporations have cleverly chosen to limit their exposure on difficult cases by confining their communication to phone calls. It doesn’t make a difference to the companies, since they record all calls and can access a transcript almost instantly.

It does, however, make a difference to consumers. They don’t have any evidence of promises made, and without any evidence, their case against a company is severely weakened.

My advice? Insist on getting everything in writing. If you can’t, try to record an online chat, as this customer did. Failing that, record the calls.

Don’t let corporate America off the hook.

(Phone: samantha celera/Flickr Creative Commons)

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at Got a question or comment? You can post it on our help forum.

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