That is in my latest Bloomberg column, here is part of the argument:
…complaining at a hotel…very often yields a relatively high return, whether your complaint is justified or not. If you tell the front desk that your room was not cleaned promptly and properly, or contact the hotel chain with a similar message, there is a good you will get an upgrade or extra points on your account. Most hotels have empty rooms most of the time, so they are not forgoing very much revenue by granting such favors. They might even be turning you into a more loyal customer.
The injustice you cite doesn’t have to be that serious — what matters is that you brought it to their attention. That means you are looking for a benefit, perhaps with an exploitative motive, but still hotel management may respond. If you are a complainer by nature, you might also be especially likely to post on travel websites, and hotels want to prevent that.
The basic service and pricing model of hotels was never egalitarian to begin with, and that too makes it easier for them to give you a break. They usually charge different prices depending on the time and manner of booking — so if they cut you a special favor, no one looks askance.
The basic “economics of complaining” are becoming clear: Complain when the marginal cost of extra service is low. Complain when the reputation of the seller is evaluated online in a meaningful way. Complain when the service norms are something other than equal treatment.
…Complaining to the airlines is a tricky one. They often have free inventory to give away or offer at a discount, but unlike hotels, almost all their customers have something to complain about! (The same is often true of social media services.) Unless your case is strong and well-documented, airlines also tend to be pretty stingy about complaints.
As progress proceeds, and more services become automated and homogenized and well-functioning, businesses will resemble hotels more than airlines — at least from a complaining point of view. There will be fewer reasons for complaints, but the complaints that surface will be treated very well. Return on a complaint will be quite high, and if you (like me) do not love most complainers, you may find this slightly upsetting.
…What about complaining about the economics of complaining? The sad reality is this: Complaining is most lucrative precisely when and where it’s needed least.
If you have any complaints, you may leave them in the comments section. And I thank an emailing “Peter” for drawing my attention to this question and suggesting some possible answers.