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The Power of Customer Outrage

This article was written by in Consumer. 6 comments.


In what almost seemed like a staged publicity stunt, Verizon Wireless quickly rescinded their plans for a new $2 fee for most bill payment options. An employee leaked an internal memo describing the new fee, and within twenty-four hours, the wireless company both confirmed and then rescinded the fee, citing their policy of listening to their customers. The timing was convenient; Verizon Wireless had been suffering from a number of mobile service outages that had customers complaining about the company.

It seemed to me there was more outrage about the service interruptions than the $2 fee. The fee was addressed within 24 hours while the service outages were never properly addressed. Would a company stoop to creating its own fake conflict in order to distract customers from other problems?

Real customer outrage is powerful, however. Bank of America’s $5 monthly debit card fee was in the works when massive consumer feedback was successful in convincing the company to reconsider its plans, and find revenue from consumers elsewhere.

There are issues more important than these small fees. While fees here and there can have a snowball effect, both over time and across other companies happy to charge the same fees once success is apparent, the bigger issues often don’t get as much attention. Wells Fargo’s change of policy to include mandatory binding arbitration is a much bigger problem for consumers than a fee, but since it isn’t immediately apparent how this could affect customers, people stay silent. Customers who have trouble with the bank will be prevented from availing themselves of a court process that includes discovery and appeals.

Most of the time, binding arbitration clauses won’t have any immediate effect on customers’ wallets unlike monthly fees, but the consequences could be worse. With enough outrage, Wells Fargo would likely change these plans, but the issue is not getting enough attention.

Here are some of this week’s most interesting articles in addition to a few articles I’ve published elsewhere.

Betterment is offering a series of articles surrounding new year’s resolutions. I kicked off the series earlier this week with a cross-posting of New Year’s Resolutions Help, Even If You Don’t Keep Them. The process of self-reflection is valuable, even if you don’t reach your goals or complete your resolutions by the end of the year. The original article is here.

I wrote about MyMoneyCircles, the upcoming personal finance boot camp hosted by Lynnette Khalfani-Cox, for Forbes. It’s free to enroll in the boot camp, and anyone who registers before January 8 has a chance to win an early-bird prize.

Maggie from Square Pennies warns that thieves are watching your trash. If you received, for example, a new high definition television for the holidays, don’t leave the box out by your curb with the rest of the trash and recycling. You could be signaling to potential criminals that your house is a good target. In the article, Maggie offers suggestions for taking care of packaging without advertising your house as a potential crime scene.

Nunzio Bruno claims that financial literacy is overrated. In order to effect change in the level of financial responsibility, focusing on financial literacy is not the answer. We need to spend more time focusing on behavioral change. More education in its traditional context — money management classes in high school that teach balancing checkbooks, for example — will have no effect on creating young adults who avoid debt and make smart financial choices.

I contributed an article for the GoBankingRates blog, It’s Possible to Save Too Much Money. I focus on saving for the future, but for many people, but it’s easy to forget that lives are short and money isn’t just for achieving a big bank balance.

Updated June 23, 2014 and originally published December 31, 2011. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the RSS feed or receive daily emails. Follow @ConsumerismComm on Twitter and visit our Facebook page for more updates.

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About the author

Luke Landes, also known as Flexo, is the founder of Consumerism Commentary. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about him and follow Luke Landes on Twitter. View all articles by .

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar wylerassociate ♦162 (Cent)

it’s nice to see that consumers are pushing back against the absurd fees that companies are trying to implement. I think this will continue as long as the economy is in a very slow period of growth as we are in now.

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avatar Misery Loves Company

If communication customers closely examine their billing, you’ll find all sorts of surcharges, fees, taxes, fines, and usage charges. Confusing to the point that most customers ignore the semantics and just pay the bill. Don’t be surprised if Verizon slips in another mystery charge to compensate for this lost opportunity. I wonder where the Government watchdogs are when big corporations do this. Gouging citizens of hard earned cash seems more serious than a professional athlete’s performance enhancement doping. So what if it’s only $24.00 a year. That’s 24 times how many million customers? Seems like a major offense to me. Try omitting that from a tax filing and see what happens. This outrageous treatment applys to banking and the credit industry as well. ATM’s which was proposed to save the industry millions in salaries and benefits by eliminating personnel from the banking process, is now being abused to glean funds from customers. It’s all electronic, the acceptance of deposit, the dispersing of cash, the transfer of funds, the bookeeping that records and reconciles it. It only relies on one person to fill the machines. Legal theft. The government and IRS plays the same game.

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avatar DonnaFreedman ♦75 (Newbie)

A friend of mine has a New Year’s Eve bonfire for all of the Christmas-gift packaging, vs. setting out the computer boxes et al. That might not be legal everywhere, of course. But it’s a nice pagan offering.
If there’s no recycling station in your area, perhaps you could break down the boxes into small, manageable pieces and put them out in a large garbage bag.

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avatar qixx ♦1,890 (Half-Dollar)

I think part of the lack of outrage in the binding arbitration is that a number of the more vocal Wells Fargo customers are now former WF customers after Bank Transfer Day. If i had stayed with WF i’l call up and complain. Not having that account any more i don’t care so much.

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avatar Emily Hunter

I figure that the companies out there will do absolutely everything that they can to get an extra buck out of their customers – I’m figuring that that’s the influence of corporate greed, and the more more more mentality. It feels good that the population feels good enough to speak with their feet or to scream and yell loudly about it – the unfortunate thing is that the companies are just going to find quieter ways to raise the rates on their customers. Thank you for this article. :)

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avatar lynn ♦155 (Cent)

Would a company create it’s own conflict? Absolutely! The government does it all the time. Trickle down effect.

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