For the past 10 years, I've worked at various capacities in a consumer focused call center. I've heard every story, complaint, and demand that you could ever dream of. From time to time, I get really frustrated with the level of entitlement some people feel. The business I'm in provides no shortage of laughter, and funny stories to retell. It has also groomed me to become the go-to person for any of my friends or family that need to get what they want from a service or support line. I pride myself on the fact that I get what I want, when I want it, every time! There's a method to this, and below, I will share that method, and my tips and tricks with you.
Why should you complain or contact a company to begin with?
For one, if you buy a product or a service and you are not happy with the result, you have a right to ask for the value to be repaid in some form. Second, most companies want to hear about their products and services. When they don't get something right, they actually want to fix it. Keep in mind that wanting to fix something, and actually being able to are very different things.
What should you contact a company about?
Of course there are standard complaints. "I bought this
inventor of Liquid Paper? (True fact, Bette Nesmith Graham invented Liquid Paper, known as Mistake out. She was Michael's mom!)
How should you go about contacting a company?
What a wonderful age we live in. It used to be that you had to sit and actually handwrite a letter, then get a stamp, and an envelope, and then find contact info (maybe it's on the product, maybe you have to use a phone book!). Then came phone service and 800#s. Many of these lines are open 9am – 5pm Eastern. This is not an ideal time for everyone. We're now in the most consumer friendly age yet. The web and social media have allowed consumers to bind together and create a voice that makes the idea of "tell two friends" take a long hard look in the mirror and hope no one notices all the steroids it's on. Any company that values consumers has a phone number, facebook, twitter, email contact form, ratings and reviews features, message boards, and a plethora of monitoring tools to see what you are saying about them. At my company, you don't even have to @ us on twitter, all it takes is a mention of one of our brands (even misspelled!) and you might get our attention. This is a HUGE advantage for consumers, and brings us to
You sold me, I'm getting in touch, what should I do?
If you have a product complaint, have the product with you. If it's a service, take the time to write up exactly what happened and when, before hand, so you won't be searching for details later. If you are calling over the phone or in person, have a pen and paper ready.
2. Document everything:
Save emails, or keep detailed notes of dates and times of phone calls, or social media interactions. Ask for a reference number, and note the name of anyone you talk to. Document what was offered or any follow up needed. If you don't understand something, speak up.
3. Keep an even tone:
DO YOU LIKE GETTING YELLED AT? Of course you don't like it. Few people do. Don't do it. The same goes for Writing. Enough with ALL CAPS. Don't let emotion overtake what should be a simple discourse. The person helping you likely gets very little pay, and has rigid rules that they are supposed to follow. There are exceptions to these rules. These exceptions are granted to nice people that aren't annoying, but aren't happy with the standard reply either. Remain dedicated to the outcome you want, but work with the person to get there, instead of against them
4. Be clear about what you want:
Along with documenting the situation clearly, you'll want to send a clear message about what you expect in return. This should be reasonable, given the situation. A good rule of thumb I use is to ask my mom. If I present a situation to my mom, and tell her what I think the company should do, she'll tell me if I'm full of crap. I hope yours will too.
5. Be grateful:
Most people in a service roll hear the same thing over and over again. These jobs have a high turnover rate due to burnout. Thank them for what they do for you. Write back after a situation is resolved, and praise the person that helped you. One of the best compliments I've ever gotten was with a consumer that asked for a supervisor to tell them how helpful I was. I didn't do anything exception for that person, I just did what they wanted me to. If this is a person that you have to work with a lot (say a company you contract with for an ongoing service) make a special effort to recognize that person for a good effort. You'll get an even better effort the next time!
What to expect?
Expect satisfaction, but temper your expectation with some humility and be realistic. What do I mean? This is a fictional example, but I promise I've heard things as ridiculous, of not more. A consumer is on his way for a job interview, and being a good prospective employee, he arrives early (but not too early). While waiting, he notices that there is a typo on his resume. Luckily, the interview is for a cashier job at a local drugstore, so over he does to stationary, and he buys liquid paper to cover up the mistake. While doing this, liquid paper drips off the bush and gets on his tie. He does not get the job. Knowing what a wonderful prospect he is, he attributes this to the spot on his tie, and decides that it's liquid paper's fault! He calls the company to demand they provide him a full refund for the product, as well as compensation for the mental pain and suffering as a result of losing the job, and a full years wages which he estimates would have been $100,000 because he assumes that there was a management position just waiting for him shortly after starting. If you don't comply with his demands in the next 24 hours, he will blog about it, contact his lawyer, the BBB, the CSPS, the President(of the company, or of the country… either one), and all the major news outlets. He'll also call, and call, and call. He'll start a boycott website and facebook page, and he'll tell everyone he knows about what an awful company you work for. I'm being very serious; some people feel this level of entitlement. What he'll get… a sincere apology and a coupon (it won't really be sincere, or an apology… it will be a scripted non-apology along the lines of "I'm very sorry you had this experience, and I'm happy to help" Note, they are never sorry that the product spilled, just that you experienced the product spilling. The former admits guilt, while the latter is "empathy.")
What if I'm not happy with the reply, or didn't get one?
Escalate! Ask for a supervisor, take to the web, or use the Consumerist Executive Email Carpet Bomb strategy. Do what it takes, and if you really feel that you deserve what you're seeking, stand firm behind your position. I can tell you, from the level that I'm at, when it goes above me, it means we have someone that is really off the rails, or we've really messed up. Either way, undue attention from those above those above me is something we all would rather avoid. We're willing to deal!
Contacting companies as a method for saving money:
A final note, don't feel above contacting companies for free items. Most will offer coupons and samples on their websites. Most have special offers for facebook fans and twitter followers. Many will send you a free sample just for saying you like them, asking for a sample, or simply for being you (meaning someone whose money they would like more of in the future). Use that to your advantage when you want to try a new product. Look no further than King C. Gillette, and the Gillette Company. Mr. Gillette was fond of suggesting that if you give people a razor handle; they will have no choice but to buy refills. Think about how many people you know that got a free razor when they turned 18… the company is 100+ years old, and it still uses the same market strategy as its founder. Companies would like you to try them, and will make accommodations for you to do so! But don't scam them, you can get caught, and in certain really abusive cases end up getting charged with mail fraud (I'm not kidding, I've seen it happen).
Best of luck, and please contact me for any consumer contact advice you would like.