Got a gripe? Whether it’s a faulty cellphone, a cranky washing machine or a designer dress that falls apart, inevitably something goes wrong with something you’ve bought. What do you do?
Too many of us just give up or don’t bother trying to get the store or company to resolve the problem.
“We live in a buck-up-and-take-it society,” said Anthony Giorgianni, associate finance editor for Consumer Reports magazine. “We’re not going to plead for anything; we’re just going to take it. We have a subconscious feeling that when we speak out, we’re viewed as a complainer.”
But consumer experts say the old adage is true: Being the proverbial squeaky wheel gets results.
Most Read Business Stories
- REI picks new satellite office ‘surrounded by trail networks’
- Judge upholds Seattle eviction regulations, rebuffing landlords' lawsuit
- Fry's Electronics executive accused of embezzling $65 million
- Funky electronics chain Fry's is no more
- Alaska Airlines ordered to pay $3.2M to family of woman who died after escalator fall
“Not all consumers are treated equally. If you’re persistent and know how to complain effectively, you’re more likely to get a remedy,” said Amy Schmitz, a professor at the University of Colorado law school in Boulder and author of an academic study of the “squeaky wheel system.”
Typically, says Schmitz, companies have two types of responses to complaining customers: those who get the quick brush-off and the “squeaky wheels” who merit some attention.
There’s an art to getting good customer service. Here’s how:
If you start off angry or arrogant, you’ll likely get shut down quickly.
“Don’t go in with guns blazing or you give them little incentive to help you,” said Giorgianni. “There is less chance the company is going to help you if they feel they’ve already lost you as a customer.”
Instead, make it clear that you like shopping at the particular store or buying the brand of merchandise. Mention that you’re a longtime customer or loyal to the brand. Tell them you assume the problem is uncharacteristic of the company’s normal customer service.
Don’t pick up the phone, go online or write a letter until you have essential details: serial numbers, date of purchase, warranty information, etc.
If you’re shuffling papers or unsure of details or vague about what you want, you’re not going to sound like someone who should be listened to.
Many consumers give up too easily, especially when they encounter a brusque or unhelpful customer-service rep.
“You really should not settle for the first thing you hear, because that person could be having a bad day; they could be mad at their spouse or girlfriend,” said Giorgianni.
If you don’t get a satisfactory answer, “go up the food chain,” he advises. Ask to speak to a supervisor or manager. If necessary, take it to the CEO’s office.
“You need to appeal any decision you get … Companies are not in business to lose customers.”
Often, the most effective way to lodge a complaint is to write a letter.
Do an online search to find the name and address of the company’s customer-service office. Don’t be afraid to write to the CEO. While it’s not likely you’ll hear back personally, the CEO’s office could hand it over to a consumer-response team.
The federal government’s website (www.USA.gov) has sample consumer complaint letters that you can use to get started. (Search under “consumer complaint letter.”)
Begin with the store where you bought the item. Giorgianni says a local retailer, even if it’s a chain, usually wants to treat its customers well. Plus they need to know if a manufacturer’s product is causing problems.
Social media can be an ally, as well. Many companies have Facebook pages where you can post your beef on a message board. The sites are monitored and you’ll often get a reply from a company rep. Same with message boards on the company’s website.
If you personally tweet or post on your own Facebook page about your customer-service frustrations, it also might catch a company’s attention.
And if all else fails, don’t be afraid to lodge a complaint with consumer agencies: the Better Business Bureau, your state consumer protection agency or the Federal Trade Commission.