I've often heard that there are two kinds of customers, those who will complain and those who won't. The ones who complain are better for a company because they're more likely to stick around if the company can successfully resolve their issue. The customer who doesn't complain, on the other hand, is more likely to quietly go elsewhere.
But sometimes it's uncomfortable to be the squeaky wheel. Even though I write about money and personal finance, I often avoid complaining. I feel uncomfortable being in the presence of others while they are complaining — I stopped going to lunch with a former coworker because he complained to the manager at almost every restaurant.
While that's a little extreme, it is important to speak up. Companies want to retain you as a customer, especially if you're reasonable and have a valid complaint. Good customer service still exists. The key is to approach the complaint process with a plan.
Figure out what solution you want
When you call to complain, make sure you know what it is that you want. Do you want a replacement or a repair? Do you want to dispute a charge, have a fee waived, or receive a discount?
Review warranties and store policies
Gather any and all documents, such as receipts, warranties, and store policies, and read them carefully. This doesn't mean you should give up if the policy says “no returns” and you think you have a case, but make sure you have the documents handy to refer to during the call.
Be prepared to take detailed notes
I don't mean scribbling some confirmation numbers on sticky notes — you need to keep a record of every call, e-mail, and letter.
Ramit Sethi of I Will Teach You To Be Rich logged into his account and saw that the bank treated an overdraft, which he had already had waived, as a cash advance from his credit card, charging a $27 finance charge. “Always, always track your customer service calls (you can use this free spreadsheet),” he says. “I got that waived (with a fight), but imagine if you're earning $400 a week.”
Be direct, but cordial
When you call,” writes Forbes contributor Tom Barlow, “don't shoot yourself in the foot by venting — focus the conversation on resolving the problem.” He suggests sandwiching a complaint between two compliments. “A cordial but confident tone of voice will be most effective with customer help representatives, people in whom most companies invest serious time, money, and training.”
Choose your words wisely
Asking close-ended questions makes it easy for a customer service rep to say no. For example, instead of asking, “Can I have a refund?” try “What can you do to help me?”
Go up the chain of command
Noemi Lardizabal-Dado, editor of citizen media site Blog Watch, took her daughter to the emergency room after a category III animal bite left her hand punctured and swollen. The doctor prescribed rabies immunoglobulins and a vaccine, but her health care provider insisted the vaccines weren't covered, even though it was life-saving emergency care. She paid for treatment and called the insurance company once she was at home, only to be told by a customer service representative that it was policy.
Noemi says, “I told her, ‘I know you can't do much more at your level so could you please elevate my case to your superiors?'…with the help of friendly customer service representatives and their superiors, I received the reimbursement.”
Make a social networking plea
I worked at a nonprofit that monitored Twitter carefully for mentions of the organization. When a member tweeted that he was having problems registering for a company event, we reached out to him quickly to resolve the problem. Afterward he tweeted about how much he loved our organization.
Many businesses have teams of employees who monitor mentions of the company on Facebook and Twitter. As John Yates writes for The Chicago Tribune, using social media can get a quick response: “Your online complaint is…immediately visible for anyone on the Internet, a fact that can put pressure on companies to respond. Often, they will resolve the matter quickly in an attempt to mitigate the impact of your post.”
The downside? Sometimes a company will respond quickly to save face, but be less motivated to actually resolve the problem.
Send a letter or e-mail
A letter or e-mail can be more effective than a phone call, especially if you send it to the head of customer service or a senior executive. Development resource site Businessballs suggests writing complaint letters that are positive in tone, no matter how angry you might feel when you write it: “Imagine you are the person receiving customers' letters of complaints. This helps you realize that the person reading your letter is a real human being with feelings, trying to do their job to the best of their abilities.”
The most effective letters have the following characteristics:
- Brief. Unless yours is a particularly complicated situation, keep it to one page. Stick to the important facts.
- Polished. Don't scribble a complaint letter on a scrap of paper— a professional, well-written letter will appear more credible.
- Specific. The more numbers, dates, amounts, and specific details you include, the better. Hard facts and figures show solid justification for your request.
- Constructive. Read your letter before you send it and make sure you include positive statements that suggest constructive resolutions. Complaining without a reasonable call to action doesn't encourage a favorable result. Remember your desired outcome.
- Polite. You catch more flies with honey, as they say. Customer service reps respond better to customers who ask for help in a friendly, cooperative manner than to those who angrily insult the company, product, and all the idiots working for such a corrupt establishment. No matter how frustrated you get, remember that your chances of a resolution are better if the reps want to help you.
If you've tried all of the above and still can't get no satisfaction, you can reach out to media outlets, such as local television stations, and contact consumer groups such as the Better Business Bureau, Federal Trade Commission, or Attorney General's office, depending on the situation.
For more tips, check out past GRS articles on how to make an effective consumer complaint and how to get better customer service.
Sources: Chicago Tribune, Forbes, I Will Teach You To Be Rich, MSN, Rutgers, Businessballs, About My Recovery
Author: April Dykman
As a freelance writer, editor, and blogger, April Dykman specialized in personal finance, real estate, and entrepreneurship topics. Her work has been featured on MSNBC, Fox Business, Forbes, MoneyBuilder, Yahoo! Finance, Lifehacker, and The Consumerist. Now she does direct response copywriting but, in her free time, April is a wannabe chef, a diehard Italophile, and a recovering yogi.