Prime directive: Make sure your claim is reasonable! Otherwise, forget it.
First thing: If you have a legitimate claim denied or a beef with a company (my method can be applied to insurance companies, dealerships, bad fish, or whatever), prepare yourself for the likelihood of frustrating conversations with people who either can't think for themselves or have been told by their boss not to.
If whoever takes your initial complaint is reasonable you'll be pleasantly surprised. If, however, what you're being told sounds like it isn't addressing your individual problem beware ? the answer you're getting may be being read from a script. Companies often give their customer service reps pat, formulaic responses they must give and not stray from!
Get a name!! The person who answers your call will often say their name, if at all, in an inaudible light-speed mumble. Take the time to ask them to repeat their name if necessary. 3 times if necessary. Be sure you write the name down. When you call next time and the person answering doesn't know what you're talking about you want to be able to answer the inevitable "Who did you talk to?"
Always, always, always: Keep notes on not only who you talked to, but when, the gist of the conversation, and the date and time. These records may be invaluable (see below).
If you expect BS you won't get as upset when you get it. This is especially true with the first person you talk to. By definition this is the low person on the totem pole. Anticipate they have zero decision-making authority and you'll save lots of energy right at the get-go.
Ask to speak to a supervisor. Do this sooner than later (see above). Don't make the "lateral move mistake!" As soon as you detect you're being stonewalled move up. Get a supervisor, then their supervisor, and on and on. Go as far as you have to go. You're looking for a person who sounds reasonable, understands your problem, and can do something about it.
Save time and energy, big-time. When you're connected to a "supervisor," make sure you haven't been passed to someone on the same level or, worse, some unrelated and useless department (happens a lot). As soon as you get a supervisor ask their position. Ask also, "Do you have authority to remedy my complaint?" If not, move on immediately.
Present yourself as cool and confident. This sends the message "I know I'm right and you're not going to wear me down." Some industries (did someone say "insurance companies?") count on you getting frustrated and giving up. Don't let them know if you are upset. Remember: If the facts are on your side you don't have to sweat. They do.
Depersonalize the issue. Don't become what psychologists call "ego invested." It will help you to be polite and in control if you keep in mind you're dealing with a human being who's got a hard job, is almost certainly underpaid, and is very likely working for a jackass.
Keep your eyes on the prize! Keep in mind your goal; you want to get your money or promised services ? not to get angry at the person you happen to be talking with.
Don't be a wimp! Lots of people tell you to be nice because you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar. I say don't worry about being "nice." If they aren't worried about your feelings you don't have to worry about theirs. That doesn't mean being rude or obnoxious.
It's a good idea to be able to show you've tried everything to remedy your problem. It might help, and for the record, write a letter to the company outlining everything you've gone through.
In the letter make sure you ask for exactly what you expect them to do! Do not expect them to figure it out because they won't.
Secret Weapon: Small Claims Court*
A small claims court case is the best-underused tool for people who've been screwed by big - or little - companies. It's the customer's weapon of mass destruction!
I know, you're saying 'you can win but you can't collect.' That's not the way big companies see it. Believe me, they don't want legal judgments against them hanging over their heads and will almost always take these claims very seriously. Often, just filing or even threatening to file a complaint will get the attention and results you seek. 99% of the time it is far more expensive for companies to defend these cases than to make good on their original promises. If stating you're intention to file doesn't get attention the order they receive to appear in court is guaranteed to. And if they don't show up you win by default.
Case in point: Recently I got a long-overdue reimbursement check from a health insurance company. How? After many, many frustrating conversations and unreturned promised phone calls I left this message: "I have spent all the time I'm going to with you people. If this matter isn't resolved to my satisfaction by tomorrow at 3pm I am filing a small claims court suit for xxx $'s against your company." Result? The check was overnighted to me.
Don't let them intimidate you! It's the oldest trick in the book. If you file, you're likely to receive a letter from the defendant's legal department insisting your claim is "frivolous." They will then threaten to counter-sue you for their legal fees (big bucks) if you lose. Unless your claim is intentionally ridiculous, don't fall for it! Just losing doesn't make a case frivolous. This tactic usually means they're scared.
Absolute musts! You must have records of what your claim is and what you've been through before filing. Your claim must have merit! There are no guarantees you'll win should you go to court but if you don't have your records and documentation in order, you'll lose.
An Ounce of Prevention
You can lower your risk of future problems. Before you do business with a company check to see if they're listed and/or rated with the Better Business Bureau. They have an Online Reliability program and companies who participate have to agree to dispute arbitration in order to participate.
Article from PREOWNEDCARS.COM, where 7% goes to charity. Visit us at WWW.PREOWNEDCARS.COM
File a Complaint Online: To file a complaint or to get free information on consumer issues, visit www.ftc.gov or call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357); TTY: 1-866-653-4261.
*I am not a lawyer, and I don't play one on the Web. The following is from my research and personal experience. Note: small claims court rules vary from state to state, however, you can find out what you need at http://www.lawguru.com/faq/17.html.
About The Author
J D Sallen is a writer and long-time Internet free-speech crusader.