How to Complain

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by Dan Coulter

When’s the last time you had a legitimate complaint and didn’t get satisfaction? Maybe you need to try “strategic complaining.” You don’t even need to buy a system from a late-night infomercial. I’ll share the secrets right now. Just don’t yell at me. Actually, that’s the first step. Keeping your cool. This can be hard to do when the lunkhead on the other end of the phone doesn’t seem to understand your problem or doesn’t seem to care. There’s often a reason for that. Increasingly, companies and organizations hire people to deal with customers and the public who have very little training for their jobs. Many companies have also tried to mechanize the jobs by reducing interactions to a script on a computer screen. If your particular problem hasn’t been foreseen in the script, it can be like trying to order a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich from a waiter who only knows how to put in an order for a hamburger. This can be particularly frustrating when you’re dealing with an important issue, like your child’s health insurance. But the company representative you reach may not be a lunkhead. He or she may just be a poor soul given inadequate training to do a difficult job. And, in fairness, some companies have great customer service reps. Whether you deal with experienced representatives or green trainees, here are some tips that can help you get the results you’re seeking. Do your homework. Before you place your complaint call, gather any relevant paperwork, such as letters, receipts, warranties, forms or instructions. Read them, and have them handy to refer to during your call. Pay particular attention to identifiers like policy numbers or serial numbers. Determine your goal. Get clear in your mind what you want from the company you’re calling. If you can’t get what you want, is there something else you’d be willing to settle for? Write out what you want to say. If you have the questions and key points you want to make in front of you, you can be clear and concise in explaining your issue. Being misunderstood can be frustrating. Be understanding and stay positive. When you place your call, be prepared to discover that the rep you contact can’t solve your problem. Don’t get frustrated or angry with him. He may have limited options, but people tend to try harder to help others who are nice to them. If a rep can’t give you the answers you need, ask if there’s anything else he can try or anyone else you can talk with. Just by being nice, I’ve had success in having representatives go outside of their normal procedures to help me solve my issue. Consider what a welcome change you may be for reps who routinely have to deal with customers who get upset and take it out on them. Be persistent. Stay pleasant, but try and make sure the rep tries everything possible before you leave the call. You can ask if a supervisor might be able to help, but do so in a manner that suggests you know the rep wants to help solve your problem. Take notes. Write down the date, time and purpose of each call. Note the name of each person you speak with and keep a log of what you ask and the answers you get. This can be particularly helpful if you need to make additional calls in the future and need a record of what you were told. Keep your notes in a folder with other relevant paperwork. Try again. I’ve called organizations and been told different things by different reps. If you got the feeling your rep wasn’t on the ball, wait a short while and call back. You may reach a more knowledgeable person. Try another door. When customer reps can’t help me, I’ve called other parts of the organization. Sometimes I’ve been referred back to the customer contact line, but other times I’ve reached someone who could solve my problem. Be results oriented. If you can’t get 100% of what you want, try negotiating for something else. After several calls, a ceiling fan manufacturer sent me a replacement lamp kit at no charge because it was easier for them than replacing a broken part. However, it was a different story when I helped a relative return a walker. There was a question about its warranty. Not getting satisfaction from the customer service department, I called the company’s regional warehouse and talked to its manager. He helped me get a replacement walker at wholesale cost, about half the price I’d been quoted by customer service. Go to the top. If you can’t get satisfaction going through other channels, go to the company or organization’s website and look for the top company officials’ contact information. You’re not likely to find an email address. But you can often find names, titles and the company headquarters’ mailing address. Write letters about your issue to the company president or CEO and any other officials who have positions that might relate to your issue. Be respectful, clearly stating your case and taking the tone that you're confident they will want to make the situation right. In my corporate career, I learned that people in the bureaucracy don’t like to show these letters to the big bosses, so they often try to resolve the issue themselves. Even if the CEO never gets your letter, you may get your problem addressed. Go outside. If an organization is just not responsive to a legitimate concern, consider making your complaint to an organization or government agency that regulates the company, or to the Better Business Bureau, or consider putting an online review of the company on an Internet site, or contacting a local consumer reporter. A word of caution here. If you complain publicly, you need convincing evidence to support your claim and you should to be willing to have your name and issue made public. So that’s strategic complaining. It’s about preparation, keeping your cool and focusing on results. And from my experience, a good result trumps venting anger any day.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dan Coulter is the producer of ten DVDs designed to help people with Asperger Syndrome and autism, including “Manners for the Real World: Basic Social Skills." You can read more of Dan’s articles on his website: Copyright 2010 Dan Coulter All Rights Reserved. Used by Permission.

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