Tag Archives: Cleveland

Tweet your way to customer satisfaction

airline lineThere is an art to complaining, and I’ve always tried to emphasize that to consumers who call me for help. If you don’t approach the situation properly, you may be your own worst enemy and end up with no resolution. How the times have changed. I started out in the business teaching people how to complain properly in writing, and then with online disputes, and now it’s turned to social media disputes. If used effectively, Twitter and Facebook are great tools to get customer satisfaction.

Facebook and Twitter have evolved into sounding boards and real time reflections of a company’s customer satisfaction. Companies are beginning to realize they need to manage their social media pages. Some businesses are better than others in dealing with this new frontier in customer service.

Recently, I put social media complaints to the test. We were flying back to Kansas City, and of course it was snowing in Cleveland. Many airline sites now allow you to track the history of your plane, so you can see if it’s on time or delayed in another part of the country. I noticed that our plane was delayed in Canada and still had to go to New York and New Hampshire before making its way to Cleveland. Based on the available data, I knew our plane was going to be four to five hours late.

I called the airline and tried to use the old fashioned version of customer service. After waiting on the phone for a half hour, I got a representative who offered me no help. She just repeated what the computer said. The plane was on a short delay, even though digging deeper on that same computer system showed at least a four hour delay based on all the cities that plane had to visit before Cleveland.

There was another plane leaving for Kansas City just two hours after our scheduled flight. I asked for seats on that plane. I was told that wasn’t possible.

Out of complete desperation, I got on Twitter and shared my travel story making sure I mentioned the airline. Within minutes, I got a direct message from the airline asking me for my reservation #. I sent it back to the airline, and they asked if I wanted to get on the 8 PM flight. Within 30-40 minutes, I had two seats on the 8 o’clock flight.

Once it was resolved, I tweeted my satisfaction showing the airline I appreciated what they did.

When we arrived at the airport to depart Cleveland, we saw long lines of frustrated passengers trying to rearrange their flights with customer service. People were waiting in line and on the phone. I wanted to get on the loud speaker and tell all those people to hang up and get out of line and get online. Sharing your travel nightmare on Twitter or Facebook is quick, easy, and the best way to get customer satisfaction.

Airline social media pages are full of customers who are asking for help, and full of responses from the airlines. While many airlines monitor their social media page, some companies don’t respond to these types of complaints. Some consumers say their complaints are even erased from some Facebook pages.

I think companies need to improve their social media response efforts, so the expectation of a response is more uniform. That being said, customers also need to improve their attitudes toward companies.

I’ve always found that you’re more likely to achieve a resolution if you put aside your deepest hatred for the company. Keep a level head, and share your story in a concise and friendly manner. Don’t be accusatory or sarcastic. Just use straight-forward language and sell yourself as an appealing and appeasble customer.

Next time you have a problem, try social media. You might be surprised at the response.

“Thank you for your business”

What a week of contrasts — thankfulness and greed. Just hours after we finished our Thanksgiving meal with family and gave thanks to all we have in our lives, people lined up to rush into stores to grab a good deal. Some people fought to get what they wanted. Thanksgiving has become Black Friday or Gray Thursday. Whatever you call it, corporate greed and survival is the focus on a day we’re supposed to be reflective and thankful for what we have.

Black Friday camper.

You can’t just blame the stores. Shoppers are so desperate to gobble up the doors they line up a week early.

This holiday, the stakes are higher than ever. Stores are desperate to pad their bottom line, as Internet businesses are making it tough for retail stores to keep their doors open. I think some retailers will disappear before the next shopping season if their sales are not good. Stores have all sorts of gimmicks and promotions to get you to shop like Thanksgiving day doorbusters and price matching policies even for Internet stores and prices. That’s an unprecedented move as retailers are desperate to keep their doors open.

Gordon Square. Cleveland, OH

It’s not just corporations looking to keep their doors open, but small businesses as well. The mom and pop stores of the world. The ones opened by your neighbors who live in your community and support it when their business thrives. Saturday, the corporate credit card company American Express, is promoting “Small Business Saturday.”

It’s a way to get you to support your local business. The ones that are the framework of your community. For every $25 you spend at a participating AmEx small business, you’ll get a $25 statement credit. It’s a free $25. A nice incentive to support your local stores.

I stopped in a few the other day, and I must say it opened my eyes to the unique gifts and good people behind these storefronts that I buzz by every day. You really can find gifts you won’t find anywhere else. You may pay a bit more for your gift, but you get so much more.

Service anyone? When was the  last time you got service at a store? It’s a rarity at a big business. Free gift wrap and packaging? It’s just part of the standard package at a small business. Check one out this weekend. I think you’ll be surprised.

I got a surprise from a local business this week — unrelated to holiday shopping. I needed three tire valve caps to keep the air pressure in our tires. I went to Lakefront Automotive Parts in Cleveland to pick up the caps. I like walking in there because the staff is friendly and always willing to help you find what you need. You’re in and out in less than five minutes and get service with a smile.

The salesman told me they didn’t sell just three caps. They came in a packet of 100. I was willing to accept it and go someplace else. Then, he grabbed the package off the shelf. He opened it up and handed me three. He said, “We’ll get you next time. Have a great day.”

I offered to pay and he refused. The cost  would have been less than a $1, but it didn’t matter. It was the gesture that will remain in my mind. He went out of his way to make sure I was a satisfied customer. It’s something you hardly get anymore. Such a small thing, but it left a big impression on me. It’s the small things in life that leave the most lasting impressions.

Don’t forget to Shop a store this holiday that truly is thankful for your business.

Saving on airfare: Frequent flier miles, airfare sales, and low fare guarantees

Airfares are sky high right now for certain airports. If you live in Ohio, you’ll pay some of the highest fares in the country. Cincinnati charges the highest prices, and Cleveland follows in ninth place. There are some things you can do to reduce the price, but don’t expect as many options as in the past.

Fares go on sale on Tuesday and Wednesday, however, they are not that good anymore. Most weeks the big airports and major routes are discounted, and that’s it. Occasionally, you’ll have a system wide sale.

Right now, there is an airfare sale on American, Air Tran, Southwest, and Delta. The airlines are advertising $60-80 one way flights. Don’t get too excited. The routes with those fares are hard to find in Northeast Ohio.

The sale on Delta is very exclusive and only includes departures from Atlanta and Detroit. The sale on American doesn’t offer many good flights out of Cleveland. Air Tran is offering some discounted rates out of Akron Canton Airport.  You can go to Atlanta for $99 one way, and New York LaGuardia for $104 one way.

With most sales, the cities are selective and there are a lot of blackout dates. Don’t expect these airfares to be good for travel around the holidays. You’ll pay top dollar to fly then, unless you fly on the holiday. I noticed some of the blackout dates don’t include the holiday itself. For example, Air Tran’s blackout days are several days before and after the Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s holiday but the actual day itself is not a blackout date. Consider flying on the holiday to save.

Fares are so high anything under $300 is really a good deal. If you are flying out of Cleveland, the average airfares is $450.

Cashing in frequent flier miles
You can also consider cashing in frequent flier miles. Depending on the airline and when you decide to cash them in you may get a good value for your miles or you may not. It depends on the airline and when you’re traveling. It is still possible to get a good deal for your miles over the holidays is still possible.

Our trip to visit family over the holidays typically costs us $300. I think we paid $350 one year. This holiday the price is $575. It hasn’t budged, and I don’t expect it will. Nonstop flights out of Cleveland stay pretty consistent. At least for the routes I fly, because I check them all the time.

I couldn’t stomach paying $575 per ticket to fly home for the holidays. I looked at other airports, and nothing really worked for our schedule. The savings at alternate airports wouldn’t make much of a difference when you take into consideration the extra time. Plus, around the holidays you could hit bad weather in the air or on the ground so we wanted to minimize our travel.

I decided to look into the possibility of cashing in my miles. I never thought it would even be possible because the airlines have cut back on frequent flier mile availability and you have to book these trips far in advance. Also, as the prices have gone up some airlines have increased the number of miles you need for a reward.

I booked a reward trip this spring for a trip to Florida in May and needed 40,000 miles because the airfare was around $400. I was desperate so I cashed in my miles, but 40,000 is double what you should need for a roundtrip airfare.

When I looked for the holidays, I was fully expecting to use 40,000 miles again. It was a different airline than my trip in May, and I was shocked to find I only needed 20,000. I couldn’t believe it. So, I booked the reward trip and we bought one ticket at $575. It’s still a lot of money, but I’d rather pay $575 for one ticket than two.

You really need to watch the fares everyday. Setup an airfare alert through a travel site like Airfarewatchdog or FareCompare. You will be alerted when the sales are in effect for your routes. Finally, look at cashing in miles or alternate airports to save money.

Low fare guarantees
Should you buy or should you wait? Some travel experts say there are flash sales if the plane doesn’t fill up, but it’s risky to wait. It is an option for you, though. Just watch the seat map to see if the seats are selling. Most booking sites have a link to the seat map next to the fare.

Airfarewatchdog founder, George Hobica, also recommends buying on an airline that will refund your money if the fare later drops. This means you have to keep checking that fare after you book it. You won’t get cash back, but you’ll get a credit. Still better than nothing.

Airfarewatchdog said Southwest, Airtran, Alaska, and JetBlue allow you to get a credit toward the fare difference. There is not a written policy for some of these airlines, but you can rebook your travel without any extra fees and you’ll get a credit for the difference. The airfare alert site put together a chart with the policies. Many of the other airlines charge $150 to make a change to your itinerary.

Does free checking still exist?

Fees are taking over at banks making it hard to find a free account. Bankrate’s annual checking survey found only 39% of surveyed non-interest checking accounts are free of charge. That number continues to decrease. In 2009, 76% of the accounts in the survey offered free checking. However, if you live in Cleveland the news isn’t as fee-ridden.

These increased fees are frustrating consumers. In the Bankrate survey, 72% of Americans said they would switch checking account providers if their bank raised fees on checking accounts.

There are often ways to get around all these fees. A majority of the banks surveyed will waive the monthly fee if you meet certain conditions like direct depositing money.

Also, don’t overdraft your account. You’re automatically opted out of coverage unless you agree to opt into the protection. The most common charge is $35, but Cleveland is below that threshold. The fees are so low in comparison to others, they rank second lowest in the country at $28.74.

That’s still a lot of money, so balance that checkbook even if it’s online.

What will you do for $5?

Need some spare money? Have a unique talent? How would you answer the question — “I will _____ for $5?” If you have a service to offer, and want to buy one for $5, Fiverr might be for you. It’s the latest marketplace allowing you to buy or sell your services, only this site charges a flat fee of $5.

When you offer a service it’s called a “Gig.” People in Cleveland are selling postcards and baseball cards all for the fixed price of $5. However, one of these sellers told me she hasn’t had any takers.

Just like with Ebay, you are rated based on your activity, performance, and reputation. As with most sites, there are good and bad reviews even for the most highly rated.

Getting you hundreds or thousands of Facebook or Twitter followers is a common Gig on Fiverr. While many positive reviews, there are also comments that the Facebook likes are not legitimate or the Twitter followers are people with no profile and no picture.

If you don’t get the service you paid for, you can cancel your order whether it wasn’t fulfilled or wasn’t delivered on time.

There are lots of quirky posts like, “Use a chicken puppet to read a short poem about my website” or “Create a 3 min video of you doing somersaults in various places.” Both were posted as a need. Not sure why you would need either one, but if you can fulfill these needs you could earn $4. That’s how much you’re paid when you perform or sell a Gig.

You can remain anonymous, or let your identity known when paying or getting paid. You select the degree of privacy you want when you sell or buy a gig for just $5.

What will you do for $5? Click comment below.

Stop phone book delivery

Just as we’re all doing some spring cleaning, the clunky phone books appear in our yard, porch, or doorway. Who really uses these anymore? When I need a number, I look it up online or on my smartphone.  The phone book companies make big bucks off these phone books whether you look at them or not. We’ll probably continue to get these books until companies stop advertising in them or people start opting out of receiving the phone book.

The Encyclopedia Britannica stopped publishing copies of the research book because of slow sales. In Ohio, the white pages are also no longer printed. However, there is a big difference between the white and yellow pages. With the yellow pages there is big money attached as sales of ads are upfront.

Phone books are nothing more than junk mail to some consumers. They want to do everything possible to stop receiving these products, and there are ways to opt out.

The site, “Yellow Pages Opt Out” allows you to stop receiving phone books. For my work zip code in Cleveland, I’m scheduled to receive four phone books. You have to register to un-subscribe.

While smartphones and the Internet make it easy to search for phone numbers, some people still like to browse the yellow pages. You can also do that online. AT&T offers the “Real Yellow Pages.” You can download the directory and virtually search page by page. It’s like you’re flipping through the phone book, but doing it online in a green way.

As with most things, there are two schools of thought on these movements to stop production of junk mail or phone books. Many jobs are supported by the phone book and junk mail. With the stop junk mail efforts, counter movements have popped up to continue production of the mail to support jobs and the Post Office.

Depending on where you fall on the issue, you can take action either way. If you still want the phone book to support jobs, then recycle the phone book when you’re done with it. Cleveland has an entire recycling program for phone books, and many other communities do too. Click here to find a recycling option in your community.

Related stories you may like:
Getting rid of junk mail 
Post Office wants to keep junk mail
10 consumer reports you should check

Southwest owns Air Tran – when will travelers see changes?

Continental and United Airlines just completed their merger, and customers are still feeling the effects. I spent more than an hour on hold the other night waiting for someone help me merge my frequent flier accounts. Slight variations in the two accounts previously made me unable to do it myself. Now, get prepared for round two. Southwest and Air Tran are finalizing their merger plans and consumers will start seeing changes soon.

Right now, Air Tran is a subsidiary of Southwest airlines. However, it takes time to fully transition with two companies this size. On March 1st, the two airlines received a single operating certificate from the FAA making the merger one step closer.  However, the two airlines will continue to operate independently for ticketing and frequent flier issues until all systems are integrated. It could take another year or so, but you will see changes this year.

The website promoting the merged airlines, “Spreading Low Fares Farther” recently changed. Now, there’s very little information this site. If you have questions or need more information, the links send you to Southwest’s site as Southwest bought Air Tran.

In the first half of this year, Southwest will also rebrand Air Tran planes by painting the Southwest color scheme and adopting the single class seating configuration on Air Tran flights.

Eventually the reservation, ticketing, web system, and frequent flier programs will merge.

The next issue – will Southwest and Air Tran both stay in the Cleveland / Akron market. Right now, the companies say they are dedicated to the communities they serve. However, reports from some cities say there have been service losses do to the merger. USA Today says 15 cities learned they’re losing Air Tran service and not picking up Southwest flights.

So far Cleveland and Akron have both survived. Time will tell if the fully merged airline keeps flights in two nearby airports. Let’s hope they both remain as already there is not much competition to drive prices lower in the Cleveland market.

While little is changing for the customer at this point, you can take some action. Check your frequent flier accounts with both airlines and make sure they are exactly the same. Make sure your full name is used on both, an no nicknames. Also, check the address. If street is spelled out on one mailing list, make sure it’s spelled out on the other one. I’ve had a lot of problems linking my United and Continental account because of differences in my name. I’ve spent hours on the phone and needed to send in paperwork to prove the changes. So, act now. It will save you time later.

Related links you may like:
Southwest and Air Tran merging – what this means for travelers 
Merging airlines cause customer confusion
Tips to save money on your next airfare
Southwest changes Rapid Rewards program
Don’t fall for Southwest offer on Facebook

Consumer agency announcing credit card changes in Cleveland

There have been many changes to credit cards in the past few years. The most noticeable change is on your bill. The new format makes it easier to see how long it will take you to pay off your balance / debt and the interest you will pay. More credit card changes will be announced in Cleveland on Wednesday as officials with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) come to town.

It’s a big week for the CFPB as the Senate is expected to vote on the first ever director on Thursday. I was at the confirmation hearing for former Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray in September. The committee recommended confirmation, but a full Senate vote has been postponed for months as several dozen Republicans vow to block any nominee. They admit it’s not Cordray they are blocking, but the entire agency that Republicans feel is too powerful.

Despite the director roadblock, the agency continues to get input from consumers and industry. The input is leading to changes.

Agency releases data on credit card problems
The agency took complaints for credit cards first because the agency says it’s the most widely used financial product and historically there have been a large number of complaints.

The agency just released its first review of credit card data collected from July through October 2011. Less than half the calls to the agency resulted in a formal filing of a credit card complaint. The CFPB says most of the calls resulted in general feedback or consumers were directed to informational resources to answer general questions.

“When consumers contact us, we get a snapshot of how the consumer finance markets are working,” said Raj Date, Special Advisor to the Secretary of the Treasury on the CFPB. “And we are learning that there is a lot of consumer confusion about credit card terms. We will continue to work with consumers, credit card companies, government agencies, and others to improve consumer education and ensure CFPB’s regulation, supervision, and enforcement efforts are effective.”

In 74% of the complaint cases, the card issuer reported full or partial resolution to the problem. In almost 20% of the cases, there was no relief.  The important number — 71% of the time the consumer agreed with the resolution.

The top complaint categories include billing disputes, APR / interest rate, and identity theft, fraud, or embezzlement.

Patterns in credit card data
While the sample was unscientifically collected, the CFPB found a pattern of complaints. It says consumers are struggling to understand the terms of credit cards and products like debt protection services.

Secondly, there is a pattern of third party fraudulent charges on consumer credit cards. The complaints have revealed recurring scams. In some cases, the information has been passed along to authorities to investigate.

Third, some complaints do not match the facts from the credit card company however most card issuers have been willing to resolve the issue.

Let your voice be heard in Cleveland Wednesday night
Officials with the CFPB will be in Cleveland Wednesday to announce improved disclosure forms for credit cards. It will be called Know Before You Owe and follow similar initiatives for mortgages and student loans. 

According to Bloomberg Businessweek, four people briefed on the still announcement said the agency will propose a more user-friendly credit card agreement as well as an “owner’s manual” for cardholders so they know what to do when their card is lost. Bloomberg reports that it’s sources say the use of this simplified form will be used voluntarily by credit card companies. The sources were not named in the article as the announcement is still not public.

It wouldn’t be surprising if this simplified form is announced, as it follows the other Know Before You Owe announcements. The agency is creating a simplified mortgage form, and taking consumer and industry comments, so you know what you’ll owe when you sign up for the loan.

Thus far, the agency has focused on making financial products easier to understand for the average consumer. Legal lingo and confusing terms and conditions have been removed from forms already reviewed. The mortgage forms that have been revamped clearly display the terms and conditions of the loan in an easy to follow format. There are few words, but lots of focus on the actual numbers and likely cost of the loan.

I’ll be at the announcement at 11 A.M. and will bring you updates on NewsChannel 5 and via social media: Twitter: JennStrathman / Facebook: JennStrathman.

Later in the day, the CFPB wants to hear from you. At 5:30 P.M. local leaders and CFPB leaders will be holding a town hall meeting at the Cleveland Public Library at 523 Superior Avenue N.E. to hear what’s on your mind as it relates to financial products.

CFPB wants to hear about more than just credit cards
While credit cards were the bureau’s first focus, it recently began accepting complaints for mortgages and other home secured loans. By the end of 2012, it will accept complaints on even more financial products.

Related links you may like:
Consumer bureau opens – what it means for your money
Weigh in on mortgage forms 
Checking your credit report
Best rewards cards
Are credit cards a thing of the past on college campuses?
Can’t return an item at the store – return it with your credit card

Cleveland has lowest ATM fees in nation

Cleveland may top the rankings in surveys it doesn’t want to top like poorest city, but there is one survey we’re tops in and it’s a good thing for consumers. Bankrate says Cleveland has the cheapest ATM rates in the country, even though nationally ATM surcharges hit a new high for the seventh consecutive year.

The average ATM fee hit a new high for the seventh consecutive year at  $2.40.  In 2001, the fees were $1.36. The fees went as low as $2.06 in Cleveland. Minneapolis followed at $2.15, and Cincinnati came in fifth place with fees around $2.22. Denver has the highest fees at $2.75.

You’ll pay even more if you use an out-of-network ATM.

“A few years ago, Bank of America moved to the $3 surcharge, which at the time was uncharted territory. Now, it’s the most common surcharge that we find in the survey,” Greg McBride, CFA, Bankrate’s senior financial analyst said. “There was a lot of negative reaction at the time, but it didn’t take long before the industry embraced it.”

You’ll pay even more if you go to a bank not affiliated with yours.  Bankrate suggests smartphone apps to help find an in-network bank to avoid fees. You can also use a debit card (even though I don’t recommend having one — I realize most people have them) to make a minor purchase at a drugstore or other merchant and ask for cash back.

Bankrate surveyed 10 banks and thrifts in the 25 large U.S. markets for its 2011 Checking Study.

Click here to see all the fees for a particular market.



Money names Huntington Bank tops in Midwest

Every week, there’s a new survey that shows consumers are paying more to bank. If you’re in Cleveland, there’s good news. Huntington Bank earned the top spot in Money’s Best Midwest Banks of 2011.

Money said Huntington’s Asterisk -Free Checking is really asterisk free, and charges for other checking services are typically lower than others.

There’s even a “24 Hour Grace” program that allows you to transfer money into your account if there are insufficient fees. You have until the next business day to move the money to avoid fees.

Huntington has branches in Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

Click here to see a list of the other top banks online or in your region of the country