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?
many of us just give up or don’t bother trying to get
the store or company to resolve the problem.
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."
consumer experts say the old adage is true: Being the
proverbial squeaky wheel gets results.
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 J. Schmitz,
a professor at the University of Colorado law school in
Boulder and author of an academic study of the
"squeaky wheel system."
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
Papantoniadis, an office manager for a Sacramento,
Calif., graphic design firm, is definitely the latter.
"Most people don’t want to spend the time to
write a letter or spend the money to ship (an item). I
used to give up, give it away or let it sit in a
drawer," says the ardent eBay and mall shopper.
it’s an Igloo picnic cooler or a Pottery Barn
umbrella, Papantoniadis is not shy about pursuing a
replacement item or parts when something goes wrong.
two years ago, a Michael Kors watch that she’d bought
on sale at Macy’s stopped working, long past the
original warranty period. It couldn’t be repaired
locally, so she went online, looked up the warranty
information, found the company’s customer service
department and called.
her expense, she shipped the watch to them and Michael
Kors sent her a $250 replacement watch, which was more
than she had paid for the original.
an art to getting good customer service. Here’s how:
you start off angry or arrogant, you’ll likely get
shut down quickly.
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
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.
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.
STOP AT "NO"
consumers give up too easily, especially when they
encounter a brusque or unhelpful customer service rep.
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. Some customer service reps, he said, can
even harbor "subconscious biases" against
women or minority callers.
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
need to appeal any decision you get … Companies are
not in business to lose customers."
IT IN WRITING
the most effective way to lodge a complaint is to write
a Google 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.
out clearly — but not in laborious detail — the
nature of your problem, what you want resolved, how to
reach you and when you expect a reply. Be respectful but
federal government’s website (()
has sample consumer complaint letters that you can use
to get started. (Search under "consumer complaint
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.
OUT THE CARD
Reports says you should always fill out the paper
warranty card that comes with most major purchases. Even
though it’s not required to activate the warranty,
"Make sure you return those cards so if there is a
problem with a product, the company will know where to
find you," said Giorgianni.
can skip all the questions about your shopping and
consumer habits, but do fill out the pertinent details
on serial numbers and date and place of purchase.
if your warranty has expired, it doesn’t mean there’s
no point in trying. Giorgianni says the legal concept of
"implied warranty" means there’s a
reasonable expectation that a product should be workable
and usable. For instance, "No reasonable person
would spend $3,000 for a fridge that breaks down in a
a Web search on the product name and "consumer
complaints" or "problems with" to see if
others are posting similar gripes, he suggests. It can
bolster your request to the company that something isn’t
right with that blender or flat-screen TV you’ve
lot of companies have a very strong incentive to build
good will by offering you something … It’s a lot
cheaper to keep (current) consumers happy than try to
attract new ones," said Schmitz, the law school
if the limited warranty is long past or you lost the
original receipt, you still might be able to get
satisfaction. A few years ago, for instance, Schmitz had
a blender that stopped working but she didn’t have the
original paperwork. Even so, when she called the
company, they offered to send her a new blender. Her
only cost? The $7 shipping fee.
IT; POST IT
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.
you personally tweet or post on your own Facebook page
about your customer service frustrations, it also might
catch a company’s attention.
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.
being a squeaky wheel means "not being afraid to
ask," said Papantoniadis. "You have to go in
with the idea that you don’t expect anything. And the
worst they can say is ‘No.’ "
more often than not, the self-described "queen of
returns" has found that companies will reward those
with persistence. As with her replacement Michael Kors
watch, "If I’m happy, the company knows I’ll
TO COMPLAIN EFFECTIVELY
how to be an effective griper can get results. Here are
with the store where you purchased the item or the
company’s toll-free consumer line. If there’s no
response, write a letter to the company’s corporate
your cool. The person helping you probably didn’t
cause the problem.
use an angry, threatening or sarcastic tone.
writing or talking by phone, don’t forget to:
the product name and serial number.
date and place of purchase.
your problem. For instance, "I am disappointed that
my blender (broke, stopped working, etc.)."
for specific action. Request a repair, refund,
replacement item, charge card credit or other
copies. Do not send originals but include copies of your
original receipt, warranty, model and serial numbers and
other pertinent documents.
your contact information. State how you can be reached,
including address, phone and cellphone numbers.
a timeline: "I look forward to your reply and will
wait until XX date to hear back before contacting the
Better Business Bureau or my state’s consumer
copies of all letters, faxes, emails and related
social media, such as posting your complaint on a
company’s Facebook page or other consumer message
boards. Many major companies have staff that monitor
public sites and often respond to consumer problems.