Dissatisfied customer? Make an effective complaint

Dissatisfied customer? Make an effective complaint

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 Business balls 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

More about...Psychology, Relationships

Become A Money Boss And Join 15,000 Others

Subscribe to the GRS Insider (FREE) and we’ll give you a copy of the Money Boss Manifesto (also FREE)

Yes! Sign up and get your free gift
Become A Money Boss And Join 15,000 Others
guest
42 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Brian Carr
Brian Carr
9 years ago

Because of my timid nature, I never used to complain when I was dissatisfied with a product or service. I just sucked it up and counted it as a lesson learned. Lately though, I’ve started being an “effective complainer” and have been really satisfied with the results. I never attack the person to whom I’m complaining, and just simply state why I am dissatisfied and what I think is fair compensation in order to make me whole. I don’t make threats or ultimatums and I think because of that I almost always get what I’ve asked for, if not more.… Read more »

Andy
Andy
9 years ago

When a rental car company forgot to pick up my girlfriend when her car broke down on her way to a show, she got them to pay for her hotel room she didn’t stay in and the tickets to the show that she missed, totaling about $360. She found email addresses to managers, directors and people high up in the company and wrote what happened, how much she was out because of them not picking her up and what she wanted because of it, and it worked. They wrote back and apologized and asked where to mail the check. She… Read more »

Beth
Beth
9 years ago

Good points! Having worked in customer service, I’ve adopted a “do unto others” policy. Ask yourself: is my complaint (and the compensation I want) fair? Am I treating the business as I would want my business to be treated? I am treating the person who is helping me the way I would want to be treated, or I would want my child, spouse or friend to be treated? Being fair and polite really goes a long way! Also, I would be very careful making a complaint using social media. Maybe it’s just me, but I think the complaint is between… Read more »

Beth
Beth
9 years ago
Reply to  Beth

Oops! I should add I can see the value of using social media to ask questions and get help with something, but I think there are more effective and private ways to resolve a complaint.

Case in point: I had a friend who constantly complained via Facebook and Twitter about a company’s product. She made herself look worse than the company!

SB @ One Cent At A Time
SB @ One Cent At A Time
9 years ago

My personal experience with a major bank, they froze me checking account by mistake. My credit card auto payments were not made which made me delinquent on all my cards. I went to the bank branch to appeal and successfully got my account active again. But since my card companies applied return payment charges, I went to bank branch again to get a letter of fault acceptance. Which I then send over to my card companies. At end of it, 3 hours of productivity loss but got my accounts unfrozen and waived fees and stayed clear on credit, so it… Read more »

Belligero
Belligero
9 years ago

I think you meant to say “dissatisfied”, unless you were purchasing services from certain massage parlours.

Belligero
Belligero
9 years ago
Reply to  April Dykman

You’re very welcome. I’ll sleep easy tonight knowing that I’ve done my bit to maintain internet grammatical standards.

Max From Liquid
Max From Liquid
9 years ago

This is very timely. My auto insurance is up for renewal in September and my insurance agent did the same thing this year as last year: nothing. I received the policy in the mail from the carrier; I haven’t had a ticket since 1985, haven’t been in an accident, yet my premium increased 10% from the prior year. I never heard a word from the agent. I found a new company that got me a better premium, so I called my agent to tell them the bad news. I was polite and told them that I was disappointed and the… Read more »

Ris
Ris
9 years ago

I’ve heard that if you’re going to write a letter or make a phone call, you should direct it to the office of the president, not the customer service department. I recently tried this with a letter I wrote to an airline and found that I got a personal phone call and a trip voucher for my trouble. Perhaps I would have also received this treatment if I’d gone through customer service, but perhaps not.

Jen
Jen
9 years ago

I’ll add one more item to the list of effective letters: make sure your request for compensation is reasonable. I’ve worked in customer service, and was astounded at some of the requests for compensation I received. Example: one woman wanted us to pay for her to have her bathroom professionally repainted because the towels we sold her discolored (we exchanged the towels, which was in my opinion a fair compensation). The number of times I was asked to give deep discounts for minor problems was surprising–I think people sometimes lose some perspective (or they assume “hey, what can it hurt… Read more »

jean
jean
9 years ago
Reply to  Jen

good point about not being taken too seriously if request for compensation is outrageous. lol at the lady asking for her bathroom to be repainted because of a towel!

Slackerjo
Slackerjo
9 years ago

Your point about venting is excellent. All venting does is delay the actual work.You can vent for 10 mins into the phone but after 10 minutes you are back to where you started, with a problem that needs fixing. Vent in a letter. The person reading the letter has plenty of time to reflect on your issue. If you are calling someone at a 800 # they don’t have the time. Their job is to fix your issue and get you off the phone as fast as possible so they can help the next person. Please don’t shoot the messenger.… Read more »

Beth
Beth
9 years ago
Reply to  Slackerjo

Agreed! I wonder if big companies and retail giants have created the same sort of impersonal experience as the internet? I wager its easier to abuse the clerk on the phone or in the big box stores than it would be if you were a regular customer at a small business.

Sometimes I’ve been that clerk, and abusive customers may not remember me, but I sure remember them! It was difficult seeing these people in other social settings and trying to maintain any sort of respect for them.

E
E
9 years ago
Reply to  Slackerjo

I handle the customer complaints in my office. When someone calls and vents, I am usually working on something else while they yell at me. I don’t have the time for them to take forever. I just need to know what happened and how it can be resolved.
And its true, if they are nicer to me about it and understanding that sometimes people make mistakes, then I will go out of my way to help them get it resolved.

Megan E.
Megan E.
9 years ago

I wanted to add: make sure they fully followup with your request.

We had an issue with a moving company, posted on yelp warning people, were contacted by the company and asked to remove it if they gave us some of our money back, we removed it, and we never saw a dime.

If you are promised something, follow-up if you don’t get it in a timely manner.

Steve F
Steve F
9 years ago

It often been said you can get more flies with honey than vinegar, and that’s never been more true than with customer complaints.

If you are complaining to a low level functionary, a great technique to to empathize with them, because after all, they often have limited power to resolve your issue, but can either get you to someone who does, or can make an end run around protocol to help you out.

Always tell the truth when complaining, because once you’ve lost your credibility, your chances of a successful resolution go way down.

Jamie
Jamie
9 years ago

Perfect timing with this post. May help with all of the upset HP Touch Pad customers.

Had a 10 month battle with Samsung over problems in their shipping department. The notes that my wife had taken during each call saved us.

Sara
Sara
9 years ago

I work in customer service (thank god not retail!) and these tips are all great. Especially “be reasonable with what you ask for” and “ask nicely.”

One last comment, and this goes along with being reasonable, is to only complain if it’s worth it. If you ordered something a size M and got an L, that’s worth it. If you order a new stove and it has a 1/2″ long scratch on the back that no one will ever see because it’s against the wall, don’t ask for a discount.

Vinlandi
Vinlandi
9 years ago
Reply to  Sara

“If you order a new stove and it has a 1/2″ long scratch on the back that no one will ever see because it’s against the wall, don’t ask for a discount.” No discount? Okay, come and get it at your expense. Will you be issuing a refund or do you want me to initiate a charge back with my credit card company? While I would probably just keep the stove, expecting a discount when receiving damaged (however slightly) merchandise is hardly unreasonable. In fact, many companies I’ve done business with have given me the option of getting a discount… Read more »

Jennifer Rose Hale
Jennifer Rose Hale
9 years ago

Good post. I’ve had angst recently about the exterminator service I use. They visit quarterly, and twice over the course of a year and a half, they didn’t show up for the appointment. Since I had to take time off from work to meet them, this was a problem. The owner and service guys were very apologetic when they had the make-up visits (and once came after hours), but the fact that it happened twice was enough to set me looking elsewhere, and I’ve been debating whether to talk to the owner just to let him know why and to… Read more »

Amy
Amy
9 years ago

I think this was a great article, and all the comments I’ve read so far have been helpful. I just wanted to add that, as a former A/R/billing clerk for a law firm, I would never waive a late charge unless the client asked. So if you are disputing a fee or late charge (whether it was your fault or the company’s), it never hurts to ask for a one-time waiver, if you’ve never had one before or haven’t abused the privilege (yes, they keep track of your previous charges, requests, and waivers). I know a former bank of mine… Read more »

JJ
JJ
9 years ago

Most of the time I do not complain, because it is not my job to provide that input to the company. Part of my consulting work is to do just that, find problems and fix them before the customer sees them. Unfortunately, too many companies use their customers as their quality assurance department. Recently I had to make 3 calls to get my phone company to correctly credit my account for a bill that I had paid. I had cancelled checks for the last 6 month’s bills with their routing number and the date that it was presented and honored… Read more »

chacha1
chacha1
9 years ago

I have had *several* mail-order issues lately. In three cases, clothes were incorrectly sized (I know size deflation exists, but something sold as a medium should not be cut to fit a 36″ waist). In one of those cases the return was received but the refund has not been processed after three months, and two emails to customer service have not had a response; can never get through on their customer-service phone line. I’m escalating to a postal letter (with delivery confirmation) this week and may also find them on Facebook. On the flip side, two pieces of home equipment… Read more »

jim
jim
9 years ago

Why does the picture have the BestBuy logo in it? I don’t see anything in the article about BestBuy. Is BestBuy supposed to be synonymous with dissatisfied customers or is that just random?

jim
jim
9 years ago

Be nice. I work in customer support and if you are mean to me then I have very little incentive to help you get what you want. But if you’re particularly nice then I might go out of my way to help you out. Chat is a good way to log everything. Most big companies have some sort of online chat support setup. I find the support to be pretty good and it gives you a handy log of the conversation you can save as a file. Don’t demand escalation right off the bat. Some people have decided that they… Read more »

Sara
Sara
9 years ago

Also – along with “no venting” – I’d like to add that unless you know 100% that you’re a valued customer, don’t threaten to take your business elsewhere. Last time a customer used that line with me, the only thing that ran through my head was “You do $20,000 worth of business per year. Our top 20 accounts all do at least $1,000,000 per year.” No, I didn’t say that to him, but I sure was thinking it.

imelda
imelda
9 years ago
Reply to  Sara

A business needs to value all of its customers. If I feel like the company doesn’t care about my business because I’m not rich, that’s a BIG reason for me to look somewhere else.

Vinlandi
Vinlandi
9 years ago
Reply to  Sara

@Sara: When I started banking as an adult my income was low and my net worth was $1800. My bank provided lousy service and treated me like I wasn’t a valued customer. Now I have a net worth high enough that the bank would love to have me as a customer. It’s not going to happen. They showed me that they didn’t value me as a customer, they only valued the number of dollars they could bring in the door. My family and friends won’t bank their either. Some had their own experiences, but most just listened to me. That… Read more »

Beth
Beth
9 years ago
Reply to  Sara

I can see Sara’s point. The small business I worked for it was the people who hardly bought anything who made the biggest fuss about how they were such good customers and how we should bend over backwards for them. The regular customers didn’t throw temper tantrums and make threats — if there was a problem, they’d bring to our attention and we’d resolve it.

I agree businesses should value all customers, but as a customer I’m appalled that people who are willing to be bullies get the better deal.

Sara
Sara
9 years ago
Reply to  Beth

Beth has it exactly right. The customers who threaten to take their business elsewhere are always the ones who just want to bully the company into getting their own way. The customer is NOT always right just because they are the customer. And if someone wants to try and throw their weight around and threaten to do business elsewhere, I’m usually happy to let them. They can be someone else’s problem. I’m not saying small customers are unimportant. I’m saying small customers who act like their god’s gift to the vendor and we’ll go out of business without them don’t… Read more »

krantcents
krantcents
9 years ago

Interesting timing! I just called the local park to complain about sprinklers being on during the day and flooding the bike path. I provided 3 solutions and resolved the issue.

Des
Des
9 years ago

When I worked in customer service for a bank I had multiple supervisors over me. One was very hard-nosed and was a stickler for protocol. Another was a total pushover, and would basically refund anything we asked. When callers were rude to me or obnoxious, I would go to the first one, if they were nice and kind I would ask the pushover. Even though I didn’t have any power “per se”, I could still basically determine who got their refund and who didn’t because I knew which internal forces to manipulate. It pays to be nice to the little… Read more »

Jason
Jason
9 years ago

I find that the use of the word “unacceptable” is very important. I guess it ties into the “no venting” thing. You have to keep the complaint professional and firm … not rude and off the hinge. You’ll do better that way.

Virginia
Virginia
9 years ago

NEVER!!!!! feel bad about saying anything to a manager of any provider of service. I have been a manager. NO ONE can correct what they do not know about. It is all in the way the situation is approached. Anyone a position of leadership, in a “problem”situation should be completely open to your comments and want to correct any wrong doing so that you will be satisfied as well as giving the provider of service the chance to make any changes for future customers.
Always let someone know if you see a problem!

Vinlandi
Vinlandi
9 years ago

What do you do when customer service is completely unresponsive? One of those websites that buy and sell gift cards wouldn’t let a transaction through because I wasn’t in the same geographic location as my billing location. Well, duh. I travel. I buy things online all the time both at home and away from home, to be shipped to the house, to be shipped to others, or to be downloaded/emailed to me wherever I am. I’ve never had this particular issue happen for any website. I sent a nice email explaining what happened and asking if there was anything I… Read more »

ferriz
ferriz
9 years ago
Reply to  Vinlandi

I would contact the company and if I received a form response I would write back saying that it did not address the problem and you require more assistance. If that still does not work and the company is unresponsive consider using the BBB. This should be a last resort and usually only when money is involved or has been lost. Most companies care about their BBB rating and they will work with you. I have worked in customer service for 4+ years doing everything from phone, to email, to credit department support. What others have said is true, remain… Read more »

Lindsey
Lindsey
9 years ago

Great advice, especially about being polite, specific, and keeping detailed notes. The best customer service tip I ever received: compliment *every person who helps you* to their manager/supervisor. Most companies with corporate customer service lines (this includes your local services/utilities) keep notes on each phone call. If your last call’s note says “customer sent compliment to supervisor”, the current phone call will go a lot smoother… the representative knows that they can earn positive feedback from you, something they may not get often because most people call when something is wrong, not when it’s right. Taking just a couple minutes… Read more »

Aquedita
Aquedita
9 years ago

I work as a CS rep for an airline and sometimes things get heated. Some people just don’t get anything. Yes, being polite goes a long way. Trust me, when I put you on hold to ask my manager for some kind of authorization for a good will gesture he/she does ask are you being nice to me. So remember about that the next time you are calling me a useless bitch! Believe me, if you really piss me off I will disconnect you (after warning you of course!) and leave a note on your booking to let others know… Read more »

R.A Darby
R.A Darby
7 years ago

My wife, Courtney and I flew cross country from Atlanta to Seattle to attend a cousins’ 50th birthday weekend. The guest of honor (Vanetta Arnold) asked if my wife and I minded accompanying her husband (Sterling Fowler) to pick up additional beer & wine for both of the weekend events, at Costco. She handed the card to my wife, while they were in another store together. Vanetta had another stop to make, so the three of us, pressed for time, proceeded as requested and stopped at the store to shop for those items. After finding what we needed, it was… Read more »

lakeshia mccants
lakeshia mccants
4 years ago

I have a complaint yo file against Any Credit Auto Sales in Macon ga. I have a case of fraud an I would like what’s going on to go public so that it want happen to the next single parent like myself
….

shares