How to Complain
As businesses compete for the tight budgets of Americans, there is little room for error. Consumers expect nothing but the best, and the current world of social media and technology is taking the act of complaining to a whole new level.
Consumers complain about everything from canceled and delayed flights to defective products to long waiting lines at the DMV. (In fact, complaints to the Department of Transportation regarding airlines jumped 28% in 2010 compared with 2009.)
We asked industry experts to break down the different ways to submit a complaint and reveal the strategies consumers can employ to ensure a complaint is resolved.
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Write to the CEO
Will the CEO of a huge corporation who makes a seven-figure salary really care if your flight was delayed? Probably not, but even if he or she does, chances are slim your complaint will get that far.
Judy Woodward Bates, author of Money Management By the Book, does not encourage consumers to write letters, since they tend to get filtered out before reaching the intended target: “In most cases, it's someone on the bottom of the food chain who is likely to ignore you or send you a generic apology. When I phone, I immediately ask for the supervisor of customer service. It may take a little patience to get there, but I do manage.”
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Use Social Media
Aside from sharing your thoughts or letting the world know what’s on your mind in 140 characters, Twitter can be useful for solving complaints, since messages posted on the network are public. Simply find the appropriate Twitter handle and tweet your complaint away. Chances are the company will respond by sending you a specific email address, allowing you to elaborate on your frustrating experience.
Here are some companies that have a good track record of answering customer tweets:
Best Buy: @twelpforce
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Talk to Your Credit Card Issuer
Instead of spending 20 minutes arguing for a refund with customer service over the phone, some people cut right to the chase and dispute charges for an unsatisfactory experience on their credit card.
Small-business owner Bill Elward runs printer supply website Castle Ink and has noticed an increase in credit card disputes when a consumer has a complaint, rather than the person contacting him via Twitter or Facebook: “Credit card companies make it so easy for consumers to contest a charge, really putting almost all the onus on the business to defend itself.”
When buying a product from a lesser-known retailer, using a credit card to make the purchase adds more security should a product be defective, since the credit card offers the disputable-charge option.
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Exploit the Web
There are a ton of online resources that help you process your complaint as well or better than a long phone call. Consumer savings expert Andrea Woroch of The Frugals suggests posting your complaint on an online complaint site or board. According to Woroch, “Tell the merchant that they need to fix the problem for them to remove the complaint. This would be a last resort, as it can have long-term damage to a merchant.”
Additionally, Shai Atanelov, founder of online cellphone retailer Bigtime Wireless, suggests visiting sites such as ResellerRatings.com, MeasuredUp.com and PissedConsumer.com to voice your complaint, since retailers monitor their reviews.
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Alert the Media
The last thing a company wants is negative PR, but if you have a complaint that is not quickly resolved it’s worth letting others know so they can steer clear of dealing with that company. Contact your local television stations and community newspapers to draw attention to your complaint if you think it has gone far enough to merit a public shaming — or at least the threat of one.
Sharron Ragan, who lectures regularly on business strategy and branding, has had success with this strategy: “I drafted a press release to CNN and The Wall Street Journal and faxed it to the merchant company’s VP of marketing and their PR department. Within one hour a corporate representative was on the phone to me and immediately resolved the $450 refund I was entitled to that had been in limbo for over three months.”
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Complain to Third Parties
There are organizations that exist specifically to help consumers find ethical and “complaint-free” companies. One well-known organization is the Better Business Bureau. Woroch suggests filing your complaint with the BBB, since companies don’t want to have a poor record with the bureau.
The BBB has its own internal standards, and it gauges how companies meet or fail to meet those standards. In other words, it can be tough for companies to earn the BBB seal.
Scott Gamm is the founder of the personal finance website HelpSaveMyDollars.com. He has appeared on NBC’s TODAY, MSNBC, Fox Business Network, Fox News, ABC News and CBS. Follow Scott on Facebook and Twitter.
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