Editor's note: Knowing how to file a consumer complaint is a necessary part of being an informed consumer. Here's one experience from a Get Rich Slowly contributor with a list of tips and tricks anyone can use.
A few months ago, I decided that I needed new furniture. I didn't want new furniture. My 3-year-old couch and loveseat were in great condition. On the other hand, I began to realize that I had once again been blurring the lines between being cheap and being frugal.
Since we are now free of consumer debt, my husband generously offered to upgrade our current furniture. I was stoked. After shopping at a few local stores, I quickly fell in love with a reclining sectional sofa. And this wasn't just a reclining sectional, it was the fancy power-operated model. This meant that I wouldn't have to endure the jarring motion of manually reclining it myself. Of course, that probably doesn't sound like a big deal to someone who doesn't have back problems. Yet, those of you who have experienced recurring pain can probably attest to what a big deal it really is. Being in chronic pain can make almost everything a burden, and it is often something small that has the potential to set off some sort of episode. Anyway, I was thrilled to be offered the option of “push button” reclining and I eagerly bought the couch on the spot.
The unfortunate delivery
A few weeks passed while I excitedly awaited my new furniture. In the meantime, I sold my old uncomfortable set on Craigslist and prepared my home for the new arrival. The scheduled delivery day finally came, and I was ready to enjoy some serious relaxation. Unfortunately, when my furniture was delivered I was disappointed and angry to find that the couch I received was not the one I ordered. In fact, they sent me a couch that was identical in appearance but only manually reclined.
My initial reaction was to send back the wrong couch that they had delivered. However, the customer service representative calmly assured me over the phone that I would indeed get the correct couch in a few weeks. Since I didn't have any furniture to sit on, and since this was obviously their fault, the store even nicely offered to let me keep the couch they had delivered as a loaner. I was slightly skeptical of the situation, so I refused to sign for receipt of delivery. The furniture store seemed to understand and promised that they would make everything right. Despite my concerns, I decided to proceed. After all, it could be another month until my new couch arrived, and I didn't want to spend it sitting on the floor.
So, what is taking so long?
Several weeks went by as I waited for my order to come in. Frustrated, I called the store to check on the delivery date and status. I was completely perplexed when they couldn't find my order in their system. Something was definitely wrong. I pulled out all the stops as I pleaded my case for a refund or replacement. They eventually succumbed to the idea of giving me a full refund and coming to pick up their stuff. Considering the circumstances, I suppose that this is the best resolution that I could have asked for.
One would probably think that I am thrilled to have won this battle of right and wrong. You might think that I really “stuck it to the man,” or something like that. However, I am anything but happy with the entire sequence of events. I'm sad and angry. I'm deeply concerned with what has become of customer service. I also wonder what would have happened if this same situation happened to someone who was unable to state their own case. What about someone who didn't have the energy or knowledge to fight for a rightful refund?
What is someone supposed to do when they find themselves in a situation like this? What recourse do we have if we find ourselves on the receiving end of bad customer service — or worse yet — being blatantly ripped off? There are steps you can take to ensure justice:
- Start by asking to speak to a manager or supervisor. Speak to the highest-level person you can access and be open to resolving the situation with them. This is an important first step in customer service and might be enough to resolve an issue before it needs to be escalated any further.
- File a report with the Better Business Bureau. For those in good standing with the BBB, this can result in quick action in your favor. Businesses who care about their reputation do not want a negative complaint on their record. You can file your complaint in the United States and Canada at bbb.org.
- Contact your credit card company. If you paid with plastic, certain credit card companies can work with you to withhold payment until a resolution is reached or even resolve the issue for you. Choosing this option might be all it takes to settle a dispute. When a company's own money is on the line, they may be more willing to negotiate.
- File a complaint with your state. In most areas, you may be able to file a consumer complaint at the state or local level. Doing some research online can help you determine which specific consumer protection agency covers your area. Filing an official complaint may be necessary in order to reach a resolution.
- Go online. Sites like ripoffreport.com and pissedconsumer.com offer a great sounding board for you to complain about various businesses and services. Don't be afraid to tell your story. You might just save someone else from having the same experience.
- Be a squeaky wheel. We've all heard the saying, “the squeaky wheel gets the grease.” I have seen firsthand how a company will sometimes do what is right if you are loud enough, if only to get you to leave them alone. Don't be afraid to speak up in order to get what you paid for and rightfully deserve.
They say that a dissatisfied customer may tell as many as 20 people about their experience, while a happy customer may tell only a few. In my case, this particular company probably didn't realize that my words would have the potential to reach many, many more. On the other hand, we all truly have a voice. Each one of us has the opportunity to vote for services, products and the way we allow ourselves to be treated. We vote with our dollars, and, thanks to the Internet, our complaints may be much further reaching than could ever be anticipated. Don't be scared to take matters into your own hands if you feel that you are being wronged. Don't hesitate to speak up, loudly if needed. And don't be afraid to be that annoying, old squeaky wheel. Just make sure to keep squeaking until you are heard.
Author: Holly Johnson
Holly Johnson is a credit card expert, award-winning writer, and mother of two who is obsessed with frugality, budgeting, and travel. In addition to serving as contributing editor for The Simple Dollar and writing for publications such as Bankrate, U.S. News and World Report Travel, and Travel Pulse, Johnson owns Club Thrifty and is the co-author of Zero Down Your Debt: Reclaim Your Income and Build a Life You’ll Love.