Tuesday, September 02, 2008

How to Complain: Getting the Most from Customer Service Reps

The journey from the checkout lane to the family garage can be bundled with regrets, especially if purchases fail to live up to advertised promises or expectations. That's what happened to a friend of mine, Deborah Gilbert, a photographer. She purchased an outdoor canopy that was difficult to assemble and was missing a few parts. It was a do-it-yourself nightmare, she said.
But by filing a complaint directly with the manufacturer, Gilbert received new parts, company assistance and an apology. Here's how she did it:

  • Go to the manufacturer. Although retail stores and distributors are often willing or able to help with defective merchandise, I've had superb responses from manufacturers. Locate contact information on the package or visit the company's Web site. From small food items to large machinery, most reputable companies provide a toll-free customer service number.
  • Stay calm. "I was polite. They were polite," Gilbert said about the canopy company. In plain but polite language, she told them that the canopy was difficult to assemble because key parts seemed to be either missing or incompatible.
  • Use humor. She tried to provide a funny, but accurate description of her attempts to wrestle with the horizontal and vertical parts of the canopy. "I had to fight with it," Gilbert told the customer rep, adding that she would have to start a weight-lifting program in order to successfully assemble the canopy.
  • Mention competitors. Gilbert was lighthearted, but she didn't want the manufacturer to make light of her complaints. Therefore, she mentioned her interest in a competing canopy. What's more, Gilbert made it clear that she would buy products from the other brand if her complaints weren't seriously handled. Gilbert successfully used this tactic because she had done her homework and offered specific details about a different brand.

From cellphone contracts to office supplies, many companies will make adjustments in service, price or delivery if you have information about competing products. As a result of her complaints, the manufacturer tested the assembly products in their back office. They called her back and admitted that the assembly kits had been mistakenly sold with ill-fitting and missing parts. "They offered to send a replacement," Gilbert said, adding that she was pleased with their response.

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1 comment:

MW said...

I have had good luck going this route as well. I bought some patio furniture from Kohl's online last year. When it arrived I discoverd that one of the cushions had been pinched, which caused a tiny cut in the fabric. I was also missing one of the bolt covers. I e-mailed the manufacturer, including pictures of the cushion. They promptly sent me a replacement cushion and a whole set of bolt covers. I had a similar good results several years ago with a Weber grill. Good advice!