You sunk my battleship!
August 28, 2012 7:23 PM   Subscribe

How do I pick my battles in everyday life?

I'll begin with an example. Over a year and a half ago, I ran into some problems ordering tickets from Ticketmaster online which ended up in me losing tickets I had "reserved" for a show which quickly became sold out. Ticketmaster's support has been absolutely horrendous: very unhelpful which my questions, ignoring my emails and calls entirely, and not fulfilling any of the promises they made (in writing) to me. I'm still trying to sort this mess out (despite their reluctancy to help).

In all honesty I've probably wasted at least 20 hours on this issue and become extremely frustrated every time I even think about it. In retrospect, anything more than an hour on this issue wouldn't be worth pursing for me. Part of me wants to give up knowing they are clearly unwilling to help. But part of me wants to keep fighting for what's right. I believe if you make a promise, you need to keep it and that you shouldn't treat people with such disrespect. While this issue might be small relatively, I think we have a duty as consumers to not let a company take advantage over us (especially companies with complete monopolies, such as Ticketmaster).

This doesn't just apply to bad customer support, but to our every-day life as well.

Is there a good book which discusses this topic? Perhaps an article? Or maybe even a good quote? I need something to think back to so that I know when to stop wasting my valuable time and when I need to truly fight for what's right. How do I pick my battles?
posted by Kippersoft to Society & Culture (20 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Oh, I can relate. What works for me is to ask myself if I am putting more energy into something that is not going to give me the benefit equal to that amount of energy. It is unlikely that ticketmaster will change their entire customer service experience for your somewhat minor inconvenience. Don't fall into the mental error of sunk cost, just because you have spent $20 on an impossible thing doesn't make spending $20 more smarter. When you ask yourself "Is this the hill I want to die on?", try to remember that these choices can drastically change your quality of life.

(Also, a martini always helps.)
posted by Nickel Pickle at 7:30 PM on August 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

If you have a job, you can figure out to the fraction-of-your-national-currency how much your time is "worth". That should be a helpful figure to keep in mind.

But part of me wants to keep fighting for what's right. I believe if you make a promise, you need to keep it and that you shouldn't treat people with such disrespect.

Perhaps you are of a very unusual political persuasion for MeFi, but regardless of whether you believe in corporate personhood or not, relating to a corporation the way you would a person is an error. They don't make promises, and they don't treat anyone with respect or disrespect. Anyone who buys into the idea that a corporation can be respectful of them as an individual person is a victim of good marketing. No one has a duty as a consumer, people have duties as citizens. You can not legislate through shopping.
posted by The Master and Margarita Mix at 7:40 PM on August 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I can only give you my opinion on how I make the decision that I arrived at after many years in management of customer service companies. I look at the situation and ask:

1. What outcome would make me happy?
2.Is this a reasonable or even possible outcome?
A- NO. What is reasonable? (Go back)
A- YES. (Continue)
3. Am I speaking/in contact with someone who has the power to arrange this outcome?
A- NO. Find that person.
A- YES. (Continue)
4. Ask for the desired outcome. Usually "I was very disappointed with blah because of foo. I feel that *thing I want* would really help fix this situation. What can we do to make that happen?"

I have found a huge amount of success with this flow chart. The key points are to come up with a real actionable solution, speak with the right person and be very nice, helpful and clear in all your dealings with the company. You want them to help you. I can tell you from the other side that the nice person who is disappointed is the person that I would take care of rather than an angry crazy person (even if they both experienced the same failing).
posted by saradarlin at 7:43 PM on August 28, 2012 [24 favorites]

Best answer: Whenever I catch myself getting over-amped about something clearly out of my realm of control, I tell myself, "This is not the hill I am going to die on."

For some reason, it helps.
posted by Danf at 7:50 PM on August 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

Best answer: But part of me wants to keep fighting for what's right. I believe if you make a promise, you need to keep it and that you shouldn't treat people with such disrespect. While this issue might be small relatively, I think we have a duty as consumers to not let a company take advantage over us

I think picking your battles has a lot to do with utilitarian ethics versus value ethics. If you look at everything in terms of vague values like duty, respect, the right thing, etc. it can be hard to make a decision, because how do you weigh something practical like wasting your time versus a big important value like duty?

Whereas if you look at it from more of a utilitarian point of view, you can focus on the actual results which are much easier to measure against. Obviously Ticketmaster has done something wrong, so you would like to limit any further wrongs being committed against you by them, you'd like some sort of compensation, and you'd like them to improve their policies so that they don't do it to anyone else. The first one is probably the easiest of the three, just stop doing any business with them. The second is harder because as you've seen, they as a company want to avoid giving you anything because they don't actually care about your customer satisfaction. That's a trade-off between the time you have to spend negotiating some sort of compensation (or trying to sue them if it escalates that far) and however much the compensation is worth to you. The third one is the hardest because realistically there's not really anything that you can do to substantially change a monolithic company well known for their poor customer satisfaction.

So if you look at it as "What result am I trying to achieve?" and "How likely is it that everyone will be satisfied with that result?" and whatnot, instead of "What's the right thing to do?" and "What is my duty in this situation?" it makes it a lot easier to make tough decisions and judgement calls.
posted by burnmp3s at 7:59 PM on August 28, 2012 [5 favorites]

Best answer: "Five years from now, looking back on this, will I still think it sufficiently important to keep pursuing it?"

That's how I avoid this kind of thing. Usually the answer is "no", and then conclusion is that I should let it go.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 8:25 PM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm not sure that the distinction is between utilitarian ethics and value ethics, as mentioned above.

Rather, I think about in terms of costs versus benefits. The time you spend on any one thing has real costs: time is money, and your time is worth some amount of money. To make this concrete: Assume that the tickets in question cost $100. If you spent 20 hours trying to resolve an issue, you're implying that you're only worth $5 per hour (20 hours * $5 = $100). Presumably, your time is worth more than $5.

posted by dfriedman at 8:33 PM on August 28, 2012

I share the problem (in the sense of "I need to spend those hours on hold or calling the state board of blahzeblah, because I don't want anyone in society to be victimized by this ever again, and because I'm one of very few people who would actually follow through.")
Meditation practice has helped some with the equanimity to prioritize more beneficial things.
And I've never actually accomplished anything great (like making an insurance company change its policies) and maybe that's helpful to remember.
I'm sure I'm not cured, though. :-)
posted by spbmp at 8:35 PM on August 28, 2012

Rather, I think about in terms of costs versus benefits. The time you spend on any one thing has real costs: time is money, and your time is worth some amount of money. To make this concrete: Assume that the tickets in question cost $100. If you spent 20 hours trying to resolve an issue, you're implying that you're only worth $5 per hour (20 hours * $5 = $100). Presumably, your time is worth more than $5.

Unfortunately, "they" think this way too. You can't win if they have already decided that you aren't worth letting win.

Think about the Ticketmaster thing. Their job is to sell tickets. They sold all the tickets. Why go out of their way to kiss some person's ass when there is nothing they can do to solve the problem anyway??
posted by gjc at 8:41 PM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Congratulations on having a sense of duty and responsibility -- and no, I am not being sarcastic -- because those are increasingly rare attributes.

Are there times when standing on principle is the right thing to do? Definitely. Not every principle, however, is worth dying for.

Not every fight we engage in is about principles, either, despite the howls of, "It isn't the [money|item|person]! It's the principle!" Often the principle invoked is actually a bruised ego.

Taking a stand is a) unpopular, b) generally very challenging to maintain, and c) costly, in ways social, economic, temporal, and sometimes physical, to name but a handful.

Learning to weigh all of the (potential) costs of any particular fight against the value of the principle(s) involved is a noble act in itself.

Examples abound from raising a pair of teenage daughters. They would routinely violate any number of minor principles, rules, guidelines, policies and traditions. Rare was the case that the cost (potentially ruining our relationship for a very long time) could be approached by the sum of the offended values.

At the same time, it was made crystal clear that there would be none of this Law & Order-style taking-the-fall for any (theoretical) criminal conduct. If they got arrested for a crime, I would pay a lawyer to help them but ain't no way I would do their time for them.*

That's what is meant by "choosing one's battles."

*In truth there was a near-zero chance of them doing anything criminal. Somewhere in the back of their minds, however, they knew they were on the hook if they did.
posted by trinity8-director at 8:57 PM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I So SO feel you. I will be eagerly reading these responses myself.

I usually ask myself how much effort/time it will actually take me to prevail and go from there. Typically with ticketmaster, my cable company etc. etc. the answer is that is that it will take me hours of aggravation for potentially a $20 or whatever benefit. It's bullshit, and I hate HATE hate being a consumer, but what are you going to do? With these big companies you are never ever right. (ok maybe one in a million. But it's not you or me).

At first I thought my partner was crazy because he never disputes a credit card charge, fights with Verizon, blah blah blah. But he seems a whole lot more at peace and it's not like I'm rolling in the dough after my 5 one hour long calls with DirectTV (I got $5 off my bill if you are wondering-- that's after months of no freaking OnDemand service). I'm getting worked up again...
posted by murfed13 at 9:22 PM on August 28, 2012

Like many here, I find it useful to try to put dollar values on intangibles like my time and my mood, and perform those calculations when I fear I'm getting too invested in something.

But I've found in addition that a simple two-step process can really help.

Step 1, as some people have pointed out, is to ask yourself: Self, even if I won, would this be worth it? Often the answer is no: like in your example, it's a large company, it's not even going to notice your victory in the event you ahve one, the most you're doing is giving some low-level employee a hard time.

Step 2, though, is most key, because usually the realisation from step 1 just makes you frustrated and angry, and step 2 is a way to address this. Here you ask yourself: Is there anything I can do to MAKE it worth it? In your example, instead of trying to redeem the tickets, I might instead focus my energies on writing a bad review for Ticketmaster, or posting on Facebook about how they suck, or whatever. In the long run it hurts them more to spread the word that they are horrible, and it also costs me much less since it takes a fraction of the time. Step 2 is often the thing that enables me to move on psychologically.
posted by forza at 10:30 PM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

One of the ways I slack my way reasonably calmly through life--even though there are things that happen to me and upset me--is by recognizing that a lot of the crap stuff isn't personal, whether dealing with a person or a corporation.

(I also find I feel a lot better responding to a slight, insult or whatever with a pleasant or neutral demeanor. It someone sends me an insulting email I try to respond with something like "Thanks for the kind words. As to your issue...")

I will take up battle if the issue is important enough, but as for things involving money I just think of it in terms of the endless money I've spent on ill-advised or poorly-thought-out hobby projects. I would say of my old car and bike restorations, for example, 10% of the money expended is "wasted" via crappy parts or things I break or whatever. This can be a significant sum. So when it turns out I'm overcharged by $10 on something I can very easily equate that to other lost money in my life and not get angry about it. The sum might be worth a quick phone call, but that's about it.

Speaker phones and a computer were made for this, I should note. Fire up metafilter or tumblr or whatever and enjoy your favorite sites while the crappy hold music tinkles away. In that way, you're not really losing that time, you're multi-tasking.
posted by maxwelton at 10:56 PM on August 28, 2012

Agreed with Chocolate Pickle - will you care in a week? Month? Years? If you wrote your emotions down now and couldn't mail it for a year, would you still want to mail it or would it seem pointless and SO in the past? That's how I decide.
posted by jitterbug perfume at 10:59 PM on August 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I absolutely agree that you should work out a minimum hourly rate and place a value on things you're going to pursue.

But, while I could tell you more about how to let go, I'm going to go in a different direction. I write letters of complaint not infrequently. I probably get something for my trouble in 98% of cases. Sometimes it means I get a policy changed, a danger addressed, a process modified - or a refund, a gift card, free meal or replacement product. However, I write very quickly and I know exactly what to put into a letter - and I have a $20 per hour ROI target and never send fake or silly complaints. I'm really focused and I get results almost all of the time. Maybe you would benefit from taking a persuasive writing course. Maybe you are upset about things and you could channel your energy more effectively.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 12:19 AM on August 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

I do this less than I used to, but I have always viewed it as a positive attribute -- that I was willing to go the extra mile, detail-oriented, etc.

I sometimes feel guilty now that I don't do things like harass the state board of whatever to correct a mistake. It's really interesting to see that you view this as a flaw.

Now I feel better about myself for "slacking off" on this type of issue.
posted by 3491again at 4:47 AM on August 29, 2012

Response by poster: "Is this the hill I want to die on?"
This is exactly the idea of what I was looking for in a quote. Perfect!

"It's really interesting to see that you view this as a flaw."
I, too, viewed this as a very positive attribute. However, even though I'm pretty young, I've recently realized the whole "life is too short" mindset. I truly want to work together to correct mistakes, but I don't want to die on Ticketmaster's hill trying to do so.

My biggest conflict is that I believe in fight for the collective good. With Ticketmaster, I care very little about the tickets, but I don't want to this happen over and over again to anyone else; I would be happy enough with a "Sorry, we'll fix it and make sure it doesn't happen again," but instead they ignore the issue entirely. I feel like pursuing the issue will at least keep it in their mind and maybe eventually be fixed, but I'm not willing to die for it either.

These responses have been great so far. Every one has really helped build my view on this. I'd really like to hear more thoughts on the "it's the principal!"argument if anyone has any.
posted by Kippersoft at 6:35 AM on August 29, 2012

Maybe you could sue them? Sounds like you have a paper trail.
posted by oceanjesse at 7:53 AM on August 29, 2012

Send your email to top staffers. Don't go through low level customer service. I often email the heads of a company (even through LinkedIn) and CC the PR director.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 1:33 PM on August 29, 2012

I'd really like to hear more thoughts on the "it's the principal!"argument if anyone has any.

I definitely have this tendency myself.

What I have unfortunately noticed is that if someone is unwilling to take action, arguing from "the principle" isn't going to change their mind. Especially if they are wrong- arguing in principle is just going to make them entrench even further. See: every discussion about moderation and site policy in Metatalk. Like the Pope, the moderators are by-definition correct in matters of interpretation of site guidelines, and they aren't going to change their mind once a decision is made.

The "it's the principle" arguments are almost always the counter argument to the "if you don't like it, go somewhere else" argument.

There is no winning.

The only way out is to remain steadfast in the belief that monopolists and authoritarians ultimately get their comeuppance. If Ticketmaster screwed up your purchase, they probably screwed up a lot of other people's purchases too, and you and they will flock to any competitor they can.

(However, it helps to reframe the argument. Your complaint might go farther if you direct it to who *actually* pays Ticketmaster: the act that is performing.)
posted by gjc at 7:32 AM on August 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

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