service-consumer asymmetry: forget a customer bill of rights, call for a new financial product

Jon Steinberg wrote a good post he entitled ‘the rule of no‘ about the stress on the dynamics between customers and service providers.  I really enjoyed the post, largely because I have had my own huge recent issues with JetBlue.

Of course, I started boycotting JetBlue, now I am waiting on the line with Delta after they canceled my flight due to the NYC snowstorm…. 

short version – I booked a 48 hour trip to SF to see my girlfriend…  delta canceled my flight and auto-booked me on another flight that truncated my trip to a grand total of 26 hours best case scenario.  Flying 11 hours to see my girlfriend for a total of 15 hours on the ground (and maybe 8 awake) is worth it in a vacuum, but not when I can just move the whole thing to next week.

result – delta consider that to be an itinerary change rather than a weather related change, so even though they changed my flight on me, I am going to need to pay the fees.  That policy is even worse than JetBlue…  and of course I need to do it by talking to at least 2 different customer service representatives… (we are still going, maybe I can get them to at least recant the change fee later)

why I am writing about it:  partially just to vent, but more because I think that…there are a whole set of services Air Travel, Finance (especially collections agencies, see earlier post), etc. where the asymmetry between the power of the buyer and the seller is extreme.  Delta has my credit card, and armed with some fine print I am stuck in a situation where they are holding me hostage, my options are only to:

1.  pay for a totally irrational flight I don’t want to take
2.  pay a change fee
3.  abandon the ticket and pay a $100 no-show fee

People frequently talk about a ‘consumer bill of rights’ — I don’t think that will work at all…  I also object to regulatory solutions because it is basically the equivalent of hiring a bigger thug to take care of the mini-thug.  We need to put down the clubs, not engage in an arms race, and fix the problem where it really is — which is at the point of monetary transaction… 

Thus, my proposal:  we need a new type of credit-like product which is designed to shift power towards consumers…  we then need to scale it up and get merchants to accept it. 

The key element would be that it would be really really easy to later reverse charges with zero questions asked and zero penalties, even at scale.  Basically, turn it into an escrow for services rendered more than anything else.

I have a few ideas on how to actually structure this so that merchants would accept it… but I will think a bit more before broadcasting those (and maybe even see if a few friends doing something tangential can run with it)..

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