3 Steps for Complaining Effectively

Complaining Effectively

Have you ever been jilted by a company? Did they charge you excess fees or not deliver on their promises? Well, there are a few ways you can handle the situation.

You can bad-mouth the company to everyone you know. That option may be emotionally satisfying, but ultimately not financially helpful.

You can call up their customer service and give them an earful. Again, it gives you an emotional release, but probably not the best approach.

Or finally, you can learn the steps for complaining effectively to get the financial outcome you deserve. From personal experience, I can tell you that it is just as emotionally satisfying and more financially rewarding. Want to learn how? Read on.

Complaining Effectively

In order to complain effectively, there are three simple steps to keep in mind. First, you need to know what you want as reimbursement for your grievance. Do you want a replacement product? Do you want your cash back? Do you want a free subscription? You might not get what you want, but you need to know what you are going to be asking for.

Second, you need to make it easy for them to help you. How do you make it easy? By providing all of the relevant information to access your file, check their records, etc… This is where good record keeping is helpful. Make sure to do your homework before you start the process and gather all of the relevant receipts, emails, etc…

3 Steps for Complaining Effectively

Even if you do not have any official documentation, at least get the dates and times down because this will make your case more credible and will help the company to search their files if they need to. Also, as you go through the process, keep track of the dates and times that you contacted customer service, emailed someone, etc… Good record-keeping throughout will be really helpful.

Third, you need to give the company a chance to make things right. At the end of the day, most companies will want to do the right thing for their customers. Take advantage of that. If you keep a cool head, give them the information they need, provide clarity around how you want to be compensated, and give them a chance to do the right thing, you may be pleasantly surprised by the outcome.

Here’s the step-by-step process for complaining effectively that I followed a few years ago to get a $400 refund from a Thrifty car rental that had gone bad.

Complaining Effectively Step-by-Step

Back in April of 2011, my family flew down to Florida for spring break. We rented a car and drove all over the place visiting family, enjoying the beaches and generally having a great time. About a month after returning home, I saw a charge on my credit card from Thrifty car rental for an unexpected $250 administrative fee. I was shocked and didn’t know what to do.

After digging into the matter and searching online, I found out that they charge exorbitant administrative fees for administering the electronic tolls in South Florida. For $3.50 in toll charges, they had charged me an additional $250.00 in administrative fees. What a scam, right? Not only that but a few weeks later, I received another charge for a $150.00 fee on $2.50 in tolls. It was crazy!

After the first charge came, I was not only shocked but depressed. After the second charge came, I got angry and decided to do something about it!

Here’s what I did:

  • I gathered all of the documentation for the rental
  • I gathered all of the facts about arrival and departure dates, etc…
  • I crafted a carefully worded letter that included all of the pertinent details, my request, the actions I would take, and when I would take them if I did not hear back from them
  • I submitted the document through their online customer service portal and waited

Here’s the actual letter I used and still had on my computer:

You should notice a couple of things about the letter. First of all, it gave them all of the information they needed in order to find my records in their system, I even included the Rental Agreement number.

Second, I was very specific about what had happened and I was clear that I expected a refund.

Third, I told them that I expected an answer by a specific date and I told them what I would do if I didn’t hear from them, e.g. notify the Better Business Bureau, Attorney General, social media outlets, etc…

Do you want to know what happened? Absolutely nothing. I never heard back. But that was OK because then it was showtime! Secretly, I was hoping they would not respond.

What’s nice about having a well-crafted letter is that it contains all of the information you will ever need, so you don’t have to keep repeating yourself. Here’s what I did.

I reported them to the Better Business Bureau and gave them a copy of the letter with all of the details. I notified the Attorney General of Florida and gave them a copy of the letter.

I also started posting on Yelp and several other review sites. I lambasted them as scammers and guess what I attached? The letter of course! It made everything so easy and the whole process probably took twenty minutes max.

It was very satisfying. But, I wasn’t done yet.

Contacting the Board of Directors

Do you know what’s so great about the internet? It has democratized access to information and leveled the playing field in so many ways. I used that to my advantage.

After notifying the agencies above and giving them a bad review on social media (which by the way was already overflowing with bad reviews on car rental companies), the next step was to take it up a notch.

As a publicly-traded company, Thrifty had its executives and board of directors listed and openly available to the public. I made a list of all of these people and then with a little more internet sleuthing I was able to figure out the email address syntax that they used, e.g. first name, last name @thrifty.com. Then the fun began again.

I emailed the President, CEO, and all of the directors on the board. I told them how upset I was about the situation and that no one from customer service had contacted me and guess what I included in the email as well? The letter from before. I did this on a Sunday.

Within one hour, the president of the company replied to my email and copied two other ladies in the organization. He asked them to take care of the issue. The next day, Monday, they emailed to let me know that the charges had been reversed. It was done.

What I Did Right

I was so happy to get that money back! I was also impressed with myself for contacting the board of directors and executives. To be honest I was a little nervous about doing that and I don’t know why. I guess I’ve never been much of a complainer, but for that amount of money, I had to do something.

So, what did I do right? I followed the three steps of complaining effectively. First, I figured out what I wanted as compensation and I didn’t make them guess.

Second, I gave them the details they needed to solve my case so it was easy for them to help me. When the President forwarded the issue to Customer Service, they had all of the information they needed to take care of my issue without having to contact me for more details.

Finally, I gave them a chance to do the right thing. When they didn’t do it the first time, I gave them a second chance by escalating the issue to the senior leadership of the company. It’s so easy to do nowadays.

What I Forgot To Do

I did forget to do one thing. Remember all of that complaining I did on social media? It’s still out there. I never went back to take it down. Oops.

Well, I guess that’s what they get for not answering my initial letter to Customer Service!

Do you have any other tips on complaining effectively? Do you think this is a useful approach? Have you ever stuck up for yourself and received a big refund?

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