This guest post was written by Mike, who operates a forum for talking about credit card deals and drawbacks. Bad customer service is the most frequent complaint he hears about on his forum, which sparked the idea for this post.
No one likes complainers, but the truth is that sometimes being one is warranted! More specifically, I’m talking about complaining to the businesses that you pay hard earned money to. Whether it’s the store you shop, the restaurant you eat, or the credit card you use. When their service or product doesn’t live up to expectations, there’s nothing wrong about voicing your thoughts. If you do it the right way, you may even get compensated for it!
Step One: Stay calm
When we’ve been wronged (or just think we have) it’s easy for us to blow our lid. “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” is what we’re told in James 1:19 and this most certainly holds true for complaining, too!
You will generally find that the other party will be more receptive when you are calm and level-headed. Think about it… if someone was shouting and cursing at you with their complaint, would you be enthusiastic about helping them? Probably not. So do whatever it takes to remain calm. If you have the luxury of choosing when you make your complaint (i.e. calling it in) then take a few minutes beforehand to collect your composure (that’s what I try and do).
Step Two: Stay focused on the facts and problem
Once you’re finally presenting your case, it’s usually best to stick to the problem at hand and not talk about other things. For example, if you’re at a restaurant and there was a long hair in your soup, then make sure everything you say revolves around that. Don’t start wondering off, talking about unrelated issues, like the restaurant's new landscaping you don’t like. It’s best to keep the focus on the problem at hand.
However there are occasions when bringing up a pattern of related problems might be appropriate. For example if you’re on the phone with your bank complaining about a service related issue, it might be appropriate to bring up a pattern of related events (i.e. long wait times to speak with someone, their credit card customer support now has foreign reps which are hard to understand, and so forth). Discussing a series of related issues (or the same issue happening multiple times) demonstrates you’re at witt’s end and ready to take your business elsewhere.
Step Three: Ask what they will do to make it right
Before you make a request, sometimes it’s better to see what they will offer you first. Why? Because they might end up offering you something even better than what you had in mind!
For example, earlier this summer I was with a group of people at a nice restaurant in central California’s wine country (so as you can imagine, it was a foodie-type place). There were these individual gourmet pizzas on the menu that three of us ordered. As it turned out, their wood-burning oven could only cook one at a time. Being that the place was packed, it took over an hour and a half until they arrived!
None of us were happy about the wait and one man at the table was absolutely furious. He was going to demand those 3 meals be free but instead, I told him to remain calm, because I would first ask politely if there was anything they could do. Guess what they said? The entire tab was waived (for everyone at the table, including our wine). By letting them speak first, we ended up getting a lot more than what we were even going to ask for.
Step Four: Ask for what you want
If the last step was no help and the business doesn’t offer you anything (or offers too little) then it’s time to make your request. Don’t do this off the top of your head – it’s best to think about it in advance and know precisely what you will ask for, including how you will respond if they say no.
When telling them your request, first start off and remind them how loyal of a customer you have been, if applicable (i.e. I’ve had my checking account at this bank for 10 years now). Next, explain not just what you want, but also why you think it would be the fair thing to give you. Try and keep your request reasonable, because if you start out with a totally outrageous request, they might not bother negotiating since you set the bar impossibly too high for them to work with. Instead they’ll just say tough luck and move on.
Step Five: Be prepared to take your business elsewhere
If you’re just bluffing, the business might have little incentive to help you. However if you truly are willing to close that account, cancel your membership, or whatever it may be, then you can bet they will take your complaint more seriously.
For example, there was a poster on my forum who was fed up with the high APR on his Chase Slate. So he called them up and tried everything to get Chase to lower the rate, speaking with several people along the way (entry level service reps and a manager) but none of them would budge. He finally said “Okay then, let’s cancel this credit card.”
He was transferred to Chase’s cancellation dept (account retention) whose job is to do whatever it takes to keep the customer on board. While she couldn’t lower his APR, she could offer him $125 cash back just for keeping his Slate card open and he agreed. I should point out, however, that if he currently had a balance he would have to weigh the cost of interest vs. the $125 bonus. Fortunately for him, he didn’t have a balance so this was free money.
The lesson? Sometimes the solution won’t come until all other options have been exhausted and they know you’re not bluffing.
Other important thing to remember
I would like to close this by saying it’s also important to pick your battles carefully. Sometimes it’s just not worth the fight (the time, stress, or money). Also, even if you don’t get your way, don’t get upset. Remember in the grand scheme of things, it’s likely just a trivial issue you’re dealing with. You can always vote with your dollars by taking your business elsewhere in the future.