5 Customer Service Battles You Just Can't Win

Regular readers of my articles will know that I am something of a consumer watchdog. But even I have to admit that some battles cannot be won. They can certainly be fought, but you will end up wasting your time and money trying to get any kind of outcome on the following five customer service issues. (See also: 9 Ways to Get Exactly What You Want From Customer Service)

1. Returning an Open DVD, Blu-ray, or CD

Once upon a time, you could return open box media. I personally returned a few VHS tapes in my time for different titles because I just wasn't happy with them. Reviews were hard to come by back then, and copying a VHS tape took some major hardware which most people didn't have access to (I know I didn't).

These days, copying media is so easy my grandma can do it. Because of that, no store is going to let you return an open DVD, Blu-ray, or CD (including software) unless you are going to swap it for the exact same title. Basically, something has to be wrong with it. But if you're looking to swap it for another title, or get a refund, you may as well talk to the wall. You will get nowhere.

2. Getting a Free Replacement Without a Warranty

Things are certainly not made to last these days. It's actually called "planned obsolescence" and manufacturers first started doing it with light bulbs. They'd make them cheaper, sell them for the same price, and you'd buy replacements sooner. Warranties are there to protect you from defects for the first year, but to be honest most products will pass that test. It's after two or three years that things go bad.

But whether your TV or iPad stops working a month after the warranty expires, or three years, you will have an impossible time getting a free replacement. If you're really lucky, you may get a discount on a new product, or some kind of deal on a repair. But "like for like" will not happen unless the retail gods have blessed you. (See also: The "Secret" Credit Card Perk That Saved Me $300)

3. Terminating a Service Contract Without Consequences

Whether it's a cell phone contract, the lease on a car, or the alarm system on your home contracts are there to protect the company. When you signed the contract, you gave up certain rights in order to get something from the company, be it a free phone, a discounted rate, or other free equipment. That contract will also state, very specifically, the consequences of getting out of the deal early. This will almost always be a hefty "early termination fee." If you somehow think that being super friendly and giving the company a "great" excuse is going to get the customer service rep to waive the fee, think again.

There may be a few loopholes you can use to your advantage, such as moving out of state or having a massive life change, but generally you signed the deal, and you take the penalty. Next time, read the contract and know exactly what you're getting into. Also, some of these companies, and in particular the alarm companies, will auto-renew your contract annually without even telling you. The same early termination fees will apply; so, get to know your expiration dates.

4. Getting an Airfare Refund Because You Missed the Flight

So, here's the deal. Whether you buy a refundable or non-refundable ticket, you're pretty much screwed once the flight has taken off. At that point, the ticket you hold in your hand has lost its face value. Now, you will most likely be offered another flight if you get to the airport within a few hours of the original departure time. But after that, kiss goodbye to your ticket. And refunds are just never going to happen unless you know someone who works for the airline that can pull a few strings.

You may think that buying travel insurance will help. Check the details though. The most common reason people miss a flight is due to bad traffic, and travel insurance doesn't cover it. It will cover tornadoes and hurricanes, but those are much more rare than being stuck on the highway. Remember, before you book, make sure you really want to go. You'll pay more for refundable flights, but you'll have more options prior to the flight departing.

5. Expecting Insurance to Cover "Wear and Tear"

Many people seem to confuse insurance with maintenance, and that's a big mistake.

Normal wear and tear happens, especially to homes, and you cannot expect the insurance company to replace an old roof for free, or jump on your cracking concrete and repair it free of charge. The bottom line is this; if it has broken over the natural course of aging, or your own pets did the damage, you can expect to get a big fat no from the insurance company.

Have you waged any fruitless customer services battles lately? Vent below!

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