Saturday 1 July 2017

It looks like a pattern

It is wrong to form stereotypes?

Generally speaking, yes, I think it is. It’s obviously wrong to make sweeping generalisations about groups of people based on things they can’t change such as their gender, skin colour, ethnic origin, country of birth or sexual orientation. You could perhaps argue it’s slightly more acceptable, but still dangerous, to make assumptions about people based on things they can control such as their political and religious viewpoints.

But you certainly should judge people by what they do. By their actions. Ye shall know them by their fruits.

I think that goes for organisations as well as individuals. I think you can judge a company by the way it behaves.

Sensible, mature, grown up organisations behave like sensible, mature grown up people. They don’t have tantrums when people complain, they don’t get aggressive when someone criticizes them, they don’t start throwing things when the quality of their products and services are questioned.

Unfortunately not all companies are sensible, mature and grown up. Search through our blog and you’ll find a wide range of organisations who have been upset by things we’ve said about them and instead of having a dialog with us about their complaint, have instructed attorneys to threaten us with legal hellfire and damnation. Do I need to say that not one of these threats has ever gone further than those threatening letters? All they’ve done is cost themselves a lot of money in attorney’s fees. If they’d just grown up, picked up the phone and asked to come over for a chat we’d have been happy to oblige. Instead they behaved like a spoilt child in a supermarket who was refused chocolate.

Before we even get to the tantrum stage I still think you can judge a company by how it behaves every normal day of the week. Or how it allows its staff to behave. Or its agents.

Hotel Express International is a case worth considering. I don’t remember how many times people have complained about the conduct of Hotel Express International agents but I know that I’ve reported on the situation fifteen different times. Now sixteen.

The story is always the same. A reader gets a “cold call”, an uninvited phone call from a stranger in South Africa explaining the amazing benefits of paying to join Hotel Express International, offering them discounts on hotels, car hires and flights. As part of the sales process they ask for the potential customer’s credit or debit card details either “to keep on file” or to check whether they are eligible for “Gold” or “Platinum” membership. Every time, the readers claim, they most certainly did not give permission for Hotel Express to actually deduct money from their accounts but guess what, that’s exactly what happened. Without the customer’s explicit permission they get enrolled into Hotel Express International, their bank balance is debited and they then have enormous trouble getting their money back.

We’ve sent these complaints over to Hotel Express International and sometimes we’ve been able to help get their people’s money back but not always.

As well as being upset for people who feel they had their money taken without their consent I’m also surprised that people are still falling for the suggestion that you need to pay to join a scheme like Hotel Express International to get hotel discounts. You can get discounts for free. I stay in hotels in South Africa quite often and do you think I ever pay the full rate? Of course not.

Just for example, I needed to stay in Joburg some months ago and booked a suite, yes, an entire suite in a hotel at a discount of around 40%, just by booking using their web site. Was I required to pay to join a scheme to do this? Of course not. In fact, if you compare the rate I paid against the official “rack rate” the hotel quotes I saved 60%. I even once got a discount of over 80% in a hotel in Cape Town, just by signing up for a newsletter from the hotel chain. For free.

So why would you need to pay to get a discount when hotel give them away for free?

The bad news is that this isn’t just something from the past. Just a few days ago we received an email telling the same old story.
“I received a call from Hotel Express International selling me an ‘exclusive membership discount’ card for hotels, a call that successfully ambushed, conned and bullied me into unsuspectingly giving them my credit card details so the caller could ‘check if my card is good for acceptance’ by the company. Lo and behold, an amount of R4,265 was debited, without consent, from my credit account!”
To make matters even worse, he told us that a few days later he “received yet another call from them this afternoon wanting to sell me an additional card. I told him I do not need want an additional card. A lady called me shortly thereafter, again I told her I do not need another card. A few moments later I saw an alert on my phone for another debit of R4,265. This is an unauthorized transaction and I want it reversed before I take action.”

Action certainly is needed in his case. So far they’ve taken R8,530 of his money without his consent and that’s a lot of money. We’ll get in contact with Hotel Express International yet again and see if they can remedy this situation but frankly I’m not optimistic.

So here’s my suggestion. Don’t give your credit or debit card details to Hotel Express International. In fact, don’t give your credit or debit card details to anyone who called you. If you called them, it’s a different matter but in 2017, I think that any company that calls you and asks for your card details over the phone is acting suspiciously. And can you really trust a company behaving that way with your money?

Wouldn’t you rather spend that money on a heavily discounted hotel stay? A discount you didn’t have to pay to get?

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