When not to complain and what you shouldn’t complain about
Don’t complain just to get a lower price. There are plenty of ways to negotiate over price, but complaining about quality or results when that is not the case is a dirty trick. You may end up doing it, but realize it really isn’t ethical. There are better ways to save money. Think how you would feel if someone complains about your product, posts a bad comment on your blog or website, and generally bullies you into a lower price. Then they buy your product and don’t change any of their prior actions. That’s complaining just to get a lower price. Don’t be a douche.
Don’t be rude, mean, or disrespectful, especially to customer service folks. In general, the customer service people that you deal with didn’t cause the problem. They are there to help you are at least appease you, take advantage of this. Yelling at the customer service folks, much like yelling at the waitress because the cook didn’t do something right, will likely lead to more problems than they solve, whether that is being hung-up on, having them refuse to compensate you, or spitting on your burger.
Don’t complain if there is no way to make you happy or if you don’t think there is a solution. If there is no way you’ll ever be satisfied with any possible solution why waste your time and theirs? Some people just want to start a philosophical debate about why they are right and some company is wrong. It may be a perceived slight or disrespect. Most of the time the provider is completely unaware that this may have occurred. You then have someone who just wants to go and complain. This usually is the venting process. It lets them blow off steam, and good customer service reps let it happen, then try to fix the problem. But some people just like to yell.
Related to the waste of time mentioned above, if you’re just asking that the company apologize for treating you poorly in your opinion, but aren’t seeking anything else, just skip it. Pretend they deeply and sincerely apologized to you and move on. Remember everything has a trade-off.
When to complain
You should only complain when the product or service is not meeting your needs. If you’re not happy with a product or service, there is no psychic manner for the provider to know this. The good firms even like to receive feedback, though they’d also prefer that you were satisfied. Given this, the respectable firms will help you become satisfied, and they’ll learn from the process to improve themselves.
Complain only when it will be worth your time to do so. Are you willing to wait on hold because you were overcharged a dime? Will you return to a store after driving home to get an extra quarter off your bill because they missed a coupon? Why bother? There is a materiality threshold, to use accounting parlance, which you need to meet in order to complain. Don’t be petty. A dime isn’t going to make a difference, and odds are you’re not paying yourself for your time very well. Think of life as a big give a penny take a penny jar.
How to complain
Be nice. Be considerate. Tell them what the problem is, what you were expecting from the product or service, and that you are disappointed. Be understanding, stating that you know errors and mistakes can occur, and that if you didn’t bring it to their attention, they wouldn’t have known there was a problem. Be firm that you’d like compensation. You can either let them offer you something, or simply state what you’re interested in receiving. That’s a negotiating tactic that I’ll get into in another article
When asking for compensation, know what type of things you’re interested in. If you were somewhat satisfied with the product or service, a full refund really isn’t in order. You’ll have the best luck with things that you value, but are very cheap for the company to provide. For example, I went snowboarding with a couple of beginners, and of the two lifts that a beginner ticket could take, one was down for the day, resulting in very long wait times. At the end of the day, after about 4 runs, I complained, stating that on a weekend, having a single beginner lift was unacceptable, and that I would like a refund. They couldn’t give me a refund, but they did offer free tickets for the next trip. They can do this because there is essentially zero incremental cost for them to have 2 more people on the lifts than not. Very low cost to them, but saved me $75. Anything super-high margin is good. Free soda in a restaurant, special highlight in a web job listing, or extended access to something.
Readers, what tips and tricks do you have to resolving your complaints? Any stories where things went really well or really poorly for you or someone else? What did you learn from that?
Karl Nygard is the original founder of Cult of Money and created the website to share his ideas on investing, personal finance, and more.