With the holiday shopping season in full swing, odds are, sooner or later in the gift-giving process, something will go awry. Maybe a product is faulty, a service is poor or an online shipment doesn’t arrive in time for the holidays. That’s when you’ll want to file a consumer complaint.
But as anyone who’s spent mind-numbing hours on a call with a customer service representative can attest, sometimes that strategy doesn’t help you achieve your intended outcome. Maybe your money isn’t refunded or you can’t get your issue resolved. That’s when you need to consider additional steps you can take to get a response — and a solution — for a legitimate complaint.
With that in mind, here are pain-free and effective strategies for fixing a consumer conundrum.
Try the formal channels first. Julia Ahlfeldt, an American business consultant who specializes in customer service and works out of Cape Town, South Africa, suggests emailing or using the call center or contact form on a company’s website to get help quickly. “That way you’re almost always guaranteed that the complaint will wind up with the centralized customer care team and have a paper trail of some sort,” Ahlfeldt says.
She also adds that can be better than going to a random employee at a retailer. “If you raise an issue with a store associate or on social media, there’s less assurance that your issue will be funneled to a team that can help,” she says. “Some organizations have integrated social media into their customer support team, but others have not.”
If you decide to use social media, tread carefully. Keep in mind — if you escalate a complaint into the social media realm and post your grievances on Facebook or Twitter, you can do some damage to a business, since that generally means going public — unless you send a private message through a social media channel. So be fair; give the company a chance to resolve your issue through those formal channels like a customer service webpage or hotline.
But if using the conventional ways of contacting customer service, such as reaching out to customer service representatives by phone or email, hasn’t worked and it’s been 24 hours or longer since you’ve had a response, you may be inclined to go online and vent and share your gripes. But before you publicly shame a company, you may want to ask yourself if you really have a worthwhile complaint. If people on social media get the sense that you have unrealistic expectations, you may be the one who is mocked. ” Social media is sort of like ringing the alarm. Sometimes you need to do it, sometimes not,” Ahlfeldt says.
“Generally, Twitter is my customer service complaint tool of choice,” says Beverley Theresa, a social media strategist and social media consultant in Edmonton, Alberta. “Many companies have customer service accounts set up, so I’ll either tweet them publicly, or I will send them a direct message with my issue,” she adds.
Andrew Selepak, a University of Florida professor who specializes in social media, agrees. “If you tweet it, they (customer service representatives) will come,” he says. “Emails are easy to disregard and phone calls can be placed on hold, but a negative tweet is something most businesses don’t want to ignore. If companies are engaged in social listening, they are paying attention to what customers are saying about them.”
Escalate your message or try to contact a high-level executive. Alan LaFrance, a marketing strategy manager at LawnStarter, a national lawn mowing service headquartered in Austin, Texas, says that the company had significant connectivity issues with its business internet service. The business attempted going through the normal channels with no luck. So, somebody at the company finally emailed the CEO of their internet service, he says. “We were escalated to a special customer support team within the hour.”
While your end result as a consumer, rather than a business, could be different, attempting to reach a high-level executive at the company may be worth a shot. LaFrance says that he was respectful when he wrote the CEO and advises others to do the same. That means it’s best to stick to the facts and avoid letting emotions impact the content and tone of your message.
“As the old adage goes, you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar,” Ahlfeldt says. “Support teams are bombarded with complaints, often stemming from issues that are well out of their control. If you treat brand representatives with compassion and respect, you are more likely to receive this same treatment in return.”
As a last resort, weigh the pros and cons of filing a lawsuit. This isn’t going to be practical option for most people. But say you’ve purchased a car that doesn’t work or a gold necklace that isn’t really made of gold, and there’s some serious money on the line. You may be compelled to get a consumer attorney involved. Fees for legal help can vary, but expect to pay at least $150 an hour.
Federal laws do protect consumers, according to Jerry Zivic, a retired attorney who now works as a consumer watchdog for ABC-7, a TV station in Sarasota, Florida. “One of the best tools that is always overlooked is the use of the Uniform Commercial Code,” Zivic says, adding that every state has enacted it as law. The UCC refers to a set of laws that provide legal rules and regulations that businesses are supposed to abide by.
“The UCC has implied warranties of merchantability and fitness that give the consumer a lot of power, even after the supposed warranty period has expired. This tool, along with a mix of using our tax dollars to work for us by involving the attorney general of the state the consumer lives in is a very potent combination,” Zivic says.
In short: You could sue — or at least contact your attorney general’s office and make a complaint. (You can fill out an online complaint form on the attorney general’s website.) The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau website also has an online complaint form, though there have been media reports of the Trump administration weakening the bureau. Still, it may be worthwhile to file a complaint. Another option: Submit a complaint with the Better Business Bureau, which may be able to help you resolve your issue. Even if you don’t see results immediately, if enough customers file grievances about a poorly run company, there may be changes in the future. Plus, you could help warn other prospective customers of subpar products or service.
But chances are, if you start by calling customer service and fail and then gripe about your problem online in a carefully worded email or social media post, your problem will be solved. “Companies know that positive word-of-mouth can drive business, while negative word-of-mouth can drive business away,” Selepak says.
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What to Do When You Can’t Resolve a Consumer Complaint originally appeared on usnews.com