Have a Complaint? Don’t Get Mad. Get Satisfaction!

A couple of weeks ago I hit the Carl’s Jr. drivethru with the kids. Let’s ignore for a moment the fact that this was neither a frugal nor a healthy dinner choice. It was that kind of a day.

We ordered our food, paid for it, and the cashier handed us our bags. Since we were in a hurry, I didn’t check the bags to make sure our food was there, like I usually do. Big mistake.

We got home, ravenous and more than ready to eat. The kids opened their kiddie meal bags, and they were both missing their fries. At that point I had two choices. I could get angry and stew about it, or I could try to find a reasonable solution.

In the end, I shared my fries with the kids. Heaven knows I don’t need the calories. And then I called Carl’s Jr. and told them what happened. I explained that we didn’t live close enough to just run down and get the missing fries that night, and that I wasn’t happy about paying for something I didn’t get. The person on the other end of the line happened to be an assistant manager. She asked what she could do to make it right. I told her I’d like two free kids meals the next time we came in, and she readily agreed. Mission accomplished.

Complain…but be nice about it

When I first got home and realized our fries were missing, I was angry. We had been running around all afternoon, we were hungry, and we had places to go that evening. It was more than the fries. This threw a kink into my already tight schedule.

It would have been tempting to call Carl’s Jr. and just let whoever answered the phone have it. But that would have been wrong on so many levels.

  • The person answering the phone is usually not the person who made the mistake.
  • Everyone makes mistakes, and even though it’s inconvenient, it’s a fact of life. It would be wrong to yell before giving them a chance to rectify the situation.
  • I have made mistakes, and I much prefer it when people give me grace when I screw up. It would be hypocritical to not pass that grace along.

In addition, people are more likely to work with you, if you are pleasant. I used to work at the customer service desk at a major retailer, and I can tell you I was much more likely to bend over backwards for the pleasant people.

Know What You Want

Before you make the call, know your preferred outcome. Do you want your money back? Store credit? Charges removed from your phone bill? Sometimes the answer will be clear. If you’re overcharged, you’ll want the amount you were overcharged credited back.

Some situations are a little more ambiguous though, such as my situation with the French fries. Sure, I could have asked for two small orders of fries, but I was pretty inconvenienced. To go back to get a refund was a 10 minute drive in the wrong direction. So I felt OK asking for two free meals the next time we were in the vicinity.

While you may not always get exactly what you ask for, knowing what you want will help steer the direction of your complaint toward a positive outcome. Think about it. If you go into a consumer complaint just ranting and wanting to blow off steam, the customer service rep is going to figure it out pretty quickly. Her goal will be to get you off the phone as quickly as possible. But if you calmly state the problem and what you want the to do for you, even if the rep can’t give it to you, it gives you a starting point for negotiating a solution.

Still not satisfied? Escalate the matter.

If you don’t receive an adequate solution from the first person you talk to, kick it up a notch. I’m not talking about your temper here! Ask to speak to a supervisor. And then that person’s supervisor. But stay calm.

If you don’t get anywhere with the higher ups, look to see if the company has a representative on Twitter. I’ve actually found that many times Twitter is better than the actual customer support line.

And if all else fails, email the CEO, the PR department, and any other high level execs you can think of. They have the true power to give you a resolution to your problem.

If the company still fails to give you a reasonable resolution, your last resort should be to contact the Better Business Bureau and/or your state’s attorney general. Your very last resort, should you feel it necessary, would be to sue.

You may not always get the results you want, but taking a calm, smart, systematic approach to a consumer problem puts the odds in your favor.

Photo by Evil Erin.

12 thoughts on “Have a Complaint? Don’t Get Mad. Get Satisfaction!”

  1. I agree with this article in that being nice helps get complaints resolved–good work on that.

    However, I just can’t help but wonder why you got so worked up about missing fries. I understand it’s the principle, and I don’t fault you for getting what you deserve, but it just seems silly to let it affect your mood that much.

    • The point was that I didn’t get angry about it. I did something about it. Yes, it’s only fries, but the fact is I still paid for something I didn’t receive. So I fixed it.

  2. Great advice. I’ve seen a few people who attempt to get their way by screaming . . . I’m always so annoyed when it works by the way–giving into abuse is just encouraging it!

    But it’s amazing what you can do with a little good-natured complaining.

  3. I couldn’t agree more with this article! I have a friend who is already irritated when she calls customer service lines and they never help her – they do want to get her off the phone.

    Whenever I receive outstanding customer service, I make an effort to either answer the phone/online survey or to send an email to the company giving kudos to the person that just helped me.

  4. Did you get a name. If time passes it may be forgotten the spoken contract that you made and , who is going to remember if not written down (or did you give your name)?
    I have learned, take the name of the person you spoke to! Date, time etc. Or you will just end up frustrated again.
    All good advice!

    • Good point. Yes, I did get a name. I usually write down the name and date and post it on my calendar or some other visible place.

      Thanks for the reminder!

  5. You usually do get a whole lot further by being nice and calm. I’m glad it worked out for you. (And this reminds me that I should try escalating an unresolved matter…)

  6. Glad that you actually called and got some recompense. Too many people just stay angry about a situation because they didn’t do anything about it. I like to tell my husband that he could be a professional whiner because he can write the best complaint letters. He is also my go-to guy for negotiating down our cable, phone, and insurance bills. It’s probably because he knows what he wants to happen and he’s calm about it. Good post!

  7. Tim has had this happen a couple of times lately. Once we got home and the fry container was maybe 3/4 full. But we just shrugged it off. The next time, though, they left off his fries completely. So he called Wendy’s and politely but firmly explained his frustration. He got offered a full combo meal the next time. As the other commenter suggested, it’s always good to get a name so you can refer to it.

    I’m actually going to do a piece later this week on how one of my complaints was handled. (Weds I think?) So I’ll go ahead and link to this piece as further points about how to handle/reap the benefits of a customer service problem.

  8. You handled the situation beautifully. It really does help to be as pleasant as possible. You were assertive, not aggressive, and there is a world of difference between assertion and aggression.

    I had a similar experience a few years ago. My long distance provider got hijacked, without my consent, and I ended up with a huge phone bill. I called the company that hijacked me, and I explained that I had not authorized the switch, and I expected them to remove the bogus charges from my bill. I ended up speaking with three people during that call, but I kept my temper, and they did remove the charges and I was able to get my original phone company back.

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