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When Squeaky Wheels Get Rusty

posted by Amy Schmitz

Yesterday, I wrote about the "squeaky wheel system," or "SWS" for ease of reference, which I explored in my article, Access to Consumer Remedies in the Squeaky Wheel System.  The research shows that consumers who have and take the time and resources to complain (or “squeak”) often get what they want. For example, consumers with the time and patience to endure the labrynth of their phone company's customer assistance line and actually speak with a representative regarding an increase in their bill are much more likely to get "loyalty" and other such discounts.  

That said, I have noticed that companies are even becoming more stingy in providing assistance to proactive consumers. For example, a manufacturer recently insisted on charging me for shipping to send me a replacement for a blender that was under warranty.  Sure, the warranty covered replacement . . . but  not shipping (a la "fine print").  The warranty was therefore meaningless since the blender was worth about the same as the shipping cost, and it would be silly to expend resources to sue using UCC Article 2 or other warranty arguments.  Furthermore, I have been unable lately to catch many breaks on increased fees for phone and internet service, and had difficulty in obtaining any assistance from some credit card companies when trying to rectify the issues I faced when my purse and all my credit cards recently were stolen.

I do not wish to lament my consumer woes.  Instead, I hope to again highlight the need for cost-effective remedies for consumers. To that end, I have been co-charing an effort with others from legal practice, academia, and other policy circles to design a user-friendly online dispute resolution ("ODR") mechanism for consumers in the United States.  I also have been involved with the UNCITRAL (a United Nations commission) working group for consumer ODR on a global level.

 I first became enthusiastic about the possibilites for ODR when I wrote "Drive-Thru" Arbitration in the Digital Age:  Empowering Consumers Through Regulated ODR some years ago, and now am even more hopeful that we can harness the power of technology to empower consumers in obtaining remedies while cutting dispute resolution costs for companies.  ODR could be a win-win.  Of course, this is not a simple endeavor.  There are many fairness, safety, implementation, and other issues that must be addressed.  However, it is worth a try!


Professor Schmitz:
A very interesting working paper 12-04,3/16/2012 about access to consumer remedies. The process needs change so allow me to bring the oil can and SIGN ME UP!
Ray Bell

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