Americans have had to navigate a web of customer service challenges and disruptions during the pandemic as everyday tasks such as banking, refunds and exchanges suddenly became more complicated.
Some companies and industries swiftly responded to the challenges. A long list of broadband and energy companies relaxed their data usage limits to promote remote learning and telehealth options. Many in the retail service industry extended return deadlines.
Others fell short of going above and beyond to cater to customers, according to data from the consumer advocacy service FairShake, which helps solve money disputes with big companies.
Thousands of customers have taken to the platform each month to start COVID-19-related legal disputes with large firms. The most complained about industries include fitness, telecommunication, banking and vacation rentals, according to FairShake. Some of the complaints were lodged, customers said, because companies charged them despite service disruptions. Others were because firms reportedly underdelivered on their promises.
Among the companies consumers weren’t happy with was 24 Hour Fitness, which “continued charging members while their locations closed, while shutting down their phone lines to avoid cancellations,” according to FairShake. In April, the fitness chain faced public scrutiny for blocking membership cancellations, even though gyms were shuttered. In June, it filed for bankruptcy protection and closed dozens of locations. Overall, COVID-19-related claims made against gyms and fitness companies averaged about $700, FairShake says. Customers typically received refunds once the companies were threatened with legal action, according to the platform. In the telecommunication sector, customers lodged complaints against big companies citing a range of alleged offenses such as indicating “they would waive fees due to the pandemic but didn’t deliver” and charging customers for services they didn’t receive. In finance, customers told Fairshake, some banks may not be keeping their promises to delay payment obligations. Users filed complaints against American Express and US Bank.
As the coronavirus-induced shutdown prevented people from traveling, vacation rental companies such as Airbnb were slower to issue refunds, customers alleged. FairShake is in the process of helping hundreds of hosts bring claims against the company.