Effective Complaints

by M. Carole Wyatt

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Ever read your credit card, phone, or even your utility bill and find a mistake? Your first reaction is usually anger. After all, don't you already pay enough to the company? You may grab the phone and dial the customer service hotline only to be put on hold. This aggravates you more causing you to slam the phone down. Your spouse may arrive home by this time and you unload on your unsuspecting partner. By nightfall, you may have forgotten about the incident until you pay the bill. By that time, you may feel helpless and preyed upon by big business. There is a better way to handle this.

I should know because I did my time as a Customer Service Representative. Yes, I was the one who answered the calls from the irate consumers. Of course, I did my best to meet their needs, but the customer had to help me by doing certain things to guarantee a positive outcome. Here they are:

  1. Before you call, have your bill with the account number on it. Remember if your name is not on the bill, you are not authorized to handle the problem. (If your mother asked you to call, let her get on the phone and confirm this with the representative.)
  2. Be calm. Yelling makes it hard to understand what you are saying. Cussing at the CSR may end up with the call being disconnected.
  3. Remember people call from all over, with all types of accents, so you may be asked to spell your name or city. Please speak clearly and slowly. Remember the customer service representative is not trying to annoy you.
  4. Keep in mind that the mistake was probably computer generated. No one is out to get you. Remember this when addressing your complaint. Say the facts only. Don't offer any opinions about the motive of the company.
  5. Before you call, have a paper and pen beside you. Note the date, time and subject of the call. When the CSR identifies him or herself, write their name down. You might even ask for spelling clarification to get the name right. This lets the rep know you are keeping written documentation of the call.
  6. Be polite. Use the rep's name whenever possible. This lets the rep think of you in a favorable light. Who do you think will get help first, the polite person or the screamer?
  7. Ask specifically for what you want. Ask for the charge to be removed immediately.
  8. Also ask for the written customer service address so you can follow the phone call up with a letter.
  9. Paraphrase what the rep said to be clear on the situation and its resolution.
  10. Finally thank him for his help. Remember the rep didn't cause your problem.
  11. Follow up with a written letter stating the name of the person you talked to, date, explanation of the problem, and resolution or lack of resolution. A written document is legal evidence; a phone call is harder to prove. If you correspond via email, print out your email and the company's response. Keep the emails in a folder, ready to use as documentation if appropriate resolution isn't reached.

Does this work? It has for me about 99% of the time. However, I caution that you shouldn't ask for something that isn't fair. If you were late on paying your bill and you received a late charge, then you need to pay the charge.

I remember one particular time that it didn't work. Maybe I was asking for something I didn't deserve. I complained to a computer dating company I used that they charged a higher rate for women than they did for men. Their response was that I married the guy and that I should simply think of it as an investment. So I did.

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