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.