Thomson, a vacation packager that serves some seven million customers a year in Britain, has admitted that it keeps a blacklist of customers who complain too much. If those grumblers try to book another vacation, they'll be unceremoniously denied. "They'll be told that we are unable to meet their expectations," a company rep told the U.K. Times.
"There's always been a philosophy that the customer is right," said the Thomson rep. "But these people will never be happy."
Some people don't stop at sending back soup when it's too cold or asking building maintenance to change light bulbs. There's the crew that trashes rooms and endangers others, and there's also a whole underworld of pikers who make a game out of picking fights in an apparent effort to pressure businesses into free upgrades or refunds. They dabble in outright fraud, ripping out wiring before marching to the lobby to complain about dangerous exposed wires. And as times get tougher and budgets stretch tighter, the something-for-nothing trickery is bound to get worse.
According to one service industry professional, the web has made it easier to target businesses with demands. Once a few complainers successfully extract refunds from a hotel, word gets out, and soon the career grifters swoop in for easy pickings. When a new hotel opens, for example, the white-gloved harpies get wind of it and arrive to find fault with minor issues such as faulty lighting and pool heaters that don't work properly yet.
Don't laugh. Your name could be on the naughty list, too. Seinfeld's Elaine was famously tagged by her doctor as a difficult patient (something my aunt, who's a nurse, says happens all the time), but that situation wasn't fiction. Last year, Sprint scored some bad press by sending a Dear John letter to customers it deemed too demanding.
Customers may not even know they're on the outs. Service reps may play nice with you when you complain because they can't tell at a glance if your gripe is legitimate. But don't fool yourself: They're keeping track. The web directory Customers2avoid was created for merchants as an analog to the Better Business Bureau. Instead of calling out bad companies, the site names troublesome customers, and it even distributes modules for online shopping carts that automatically ban iffy buyers. The subscription Australian website Guests Behaving Badly will also tar your name for infractions as minor as smoking in non-smoking areas.
Travelers have sites like TripAdvisor to weed out the bad hotels. If makes sense for hotels to have sites to weed out the bad travelers. Of course, the difference is that if a good hotel gets slammed on the customers' review sites, multiple customers can contradict scathing write-ups and set the record straight. On a blacklist sites, those penalized as bad customers may never know it.
If those independent databases exist, I'm sure that many of the American hotel chains maintain secret lists of problematic customers. Sometimes, when you're told there's no room at the inn, the hidden truth is that there's no room for you.