Be a 'squeaky wheel' with a complaint
By Claudia Buck
Published: Thursday, May 9, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Got 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?
Too many of us just give up or don't bother trying to get the store or company to resolve the problem.
“We 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.”
But consumer experts say the old adage is true: Being the proverbial squeaky wheel gets results.
“Not 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.”
Typically, Schmitz says, companies have two types of responses to complaining customers: those who get the quick brush-off and the “squeaky wheels” who merit some attention.
Maria Papantoniadis, an office manager for a Sacramento 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.
Whether 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.
About 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 could not be repaired locally, so she went online, looked up the warranty information, found the company's customer service department and called.
At 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.
There's an art to getting good customer service. Here's how:
• Be nice. If you start off angry or arrogant, you'll likely get shut down quickly.
• Be armed. Don't 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.
• Don't stop at “no.” If you don't get a satisfactory answer, “go up the food chain,” Giorgianni advises. Ask to speak to a supervisor or manager. If necessary, take it to the CEO's office.
• Put it in writing. Often the most effective way to lodge a complaint is to write a letter. Do 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.
• Tweet it; post it. Social 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.
• 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.
Claudia Buck is a writer for The Sacramento Bee.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Reporter want ad: Did your health insurer cancel your plan?
- Stocks struggle as investors weigh economic news
- Railroad entrepreneur Henry Posner recovers $14.6M from Guatemala
- Flabeg wins court battle
- Companies fear burnout affects bottom line, advises workers to relax
- CMU’s Alice software adds Garfield characters
- Lobby: EPA imperils energy boom
- Jobless benefits to expire soon
- Olive Garden challenges competitors with 6-ounce burger
- Steel Nation hopes to use oil, gas field success as springboard
- RV industry shows more signs of recovery