Consumer Relief at Continental Airlines and Confusion at Amazon

frustrated New Orleans Ralph Nadar may not know anything about politics, but he still knows a thing or two about effective tactics for consumers, specifically threatening and moving to small claims court to resolve obstinate problems.

Recently I wrote desperately about problems Local 100 was having in getting a refund on a plane ticket for an organizer who was going to a meeting in Honduras and suddenly had to have major surgery so was unable to travel in what would have been her first plane trip anywhere ever.  I wrote about Nadar’s tactic, as reported in the New York Times, when he was refused a refund of writing U.S. Airways for a refund and then going to small claims court, which buckled the company into doing the right thing.  Orell Fitzsimmons, Local 100’s field director based in Houston, read the blog, talked to me, and zipped a letter to Continental Airlines, also headquartered in Houston (though undergoing a merger with United holding the whip hand), describing the situation, demanding full repayment, and offering them the convenience of settling the matter in small claims court in Harris County (Houston) where they could both travel by car.  Continental Airlines (where I am an frequent flyer incidentally, which made this even more painful), immediately promised a full refund within 7 to 10 days, and we await it now, expectantly.

That’s the good news.  Here’s comes the bad news.

Next up on our list though ironically is Amazon.com, where CEO billionaire regularly cites their customer service as the secret of their success.  Social Policy has a selling account on Amazon as every magazine and book publisher has to have these days to stay in business.  We have been paying for it on an American Express card on a monthly basis for years.  Unfortunately we cannot access the site, nor can potential subscribers or customers do so, hurting us in “let me list the ways….”   With Global Grassroots:  Perspectives on International Organizing now out and Battle for the Ninth Ward:  ACORN, Rebuilding New Orleans, and the Lessons of Disaster coming out within days, we once again saddled up to solve this problem.  We had a handle on the problem.  The site had been created by a former, long gone employee so we did not know the exact email and password in order to access and fix the problem.  Good luck finding any customer service at Amazon.com!

First in dealing with Amazon Marketplace and any other possible source for a solution none of the listed emails on their website worked.  Neither did the 800 type phone number.  Sigh.  So we called customer service to learn of course that this was not their area and then be transferred to the queue at Marketplace for what turned out to be a minimum half-hour wait on the phone, and then a frustrating 45 minute conversation with many more holds of three to five minutes, where we were essentially asked to “guess” the account number (which miraculously at the 1-hour mark we were able to do, were refused access to a supervisor (or “leader” as they call them), and were not allowed to simply close the account and start over.  They finally told us they would call us back, which of course did not happen!

The next day we steeled ourselves and started all over.  To spare you the pain I suffered, I’ll cut to the chase.  They assigned me to “leader” named Ryan.  He talked to me.  It looked like we had a plan.  He told me he was going on vacation though in 30 minutes, and I would be called back by another “leader” named Spencer.  For two days I never was able to actually talk to Spencer.  He called a couple of times, but of course there was no callback number and the number he called from in Seattle did not work for incoming calls, because believe me I tried.  The final message from Spencer was that they still had not found our account.

So Friday we gave up.  We created a new account for Social Policy to offer our magazines and books.  Sometime today we will be able to see the account.  We gave them another credit card number.  Of course we also immediately upon setting up our account saw our old account under Social Policy Magazine come up – that’s the one that Amazon.com cannot find, right? – offering our first book, Lessons from the Field, for sale.

God knows what it will take to ever get Amazon.com to admit it is there, take it down, and reimburse us for those charges on the inaccessible site?  And, more than likely we are now paying for two sites on two different credit cards.

If this is customer service, kill me now!

So our next step is…?  You guessed right!  Small claims court in Orleans Parish.

Ironically, one of the email addresses that did not work for this all-about-the-internet company was resolution@amazon.com which the company advertises as a way to settle disputes with them before ending up in court.  Ha!

It also turns out, and we are no longer surprised, that when you start Googling around, yes, Amazon.com had good service ratings for the biscuit cookers, the individual customer accounts, but terrible ratings for everything else.  It seems that they are notorious for creating and killing email addresses and phone numbers, leading customers in an abyss rather than forwarding them to the new paths for solution.

I love Amazon.com guiltily for its speed, pricing, and the Kindle, but it’s unrequited it appears.  But, hey, they can explain that all to a Judge at this point, and see how it works out for them.

Try this small claims court.  You won’t like it, but it works!