How to complain and get results

Liz Weston, CFP®

If you feel like you have more to complain about these days, you may be right.

The products we use are becoming more complex, which often means they have more ways to go wrong. Businesses still struggle to hire and retain workers, so the customer service representatives who are supposed to help you may not know how. And that’s if you can communicate with a human being after navigating websites, automated chatbots, and phone systems that seem designed to frustrate you at every turn.

“You are looking for where to call. Once you pass, you’re going to yell ‘agent!’ on the phone 12 times, and then they send it to the wrong place,” says Scott M. Broetzmann, CEO of the research firm Customer Care Measurement & Consulting in Alexandria, Virginia.

On average, customers made 2.9 contacts with a business while trying to resolve issues, according to the company’s 2020 National Customer Anger Study, which surveyed 1,026 consumers about problems with products or services in the past 12 months. A staggering 58% of those surveyed who complained got nothing (zero, nothing) as a result of their efforts. So perhaps it’s not surprising that 65% of those who had a problem experienced consumer anger.

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If you want to improve your chances of getting results and lower your blood pressure, consider the following tips for effective complaining.

prepare to persevere

Broetzmann urges people to “pick their battles,” given the effort it usually takes to solve problems and the frequency with which they occur. The 2020 study found that 66% of US households had at least one problem with products and services they purchased in the past 12 months, compared to 56% in the 2017 version of the survey.

“You’ll put yourself in a place of exhaustion and depression if you complain about every single thing that went wrong,” says Broetzmann.

Kevin Doyle, editor of Consumer Reports, suggests that people gather all the documentation they may need before contacting a company. That could include account numbers, order and confirmation numbers, warranties, and notes from previous interactions with company representatives, for example. Missing information could force you to start over on whatever phone or digital system you are using to file your complaint.

choose your place

Complainants are likely to use digital tools such as email, live chats, company websites, and social media. pick up the phonefound the 2020 study.

Social media platforms like Facebook or Twitter have the advantage of being public, which puts some pressure on the business to resolve the issue. Posting your complaint on social media also avoids chatbots, call trees, wait times, and voice recognition software malfunctions that can make customer service a test.

But of the 14% of respondents who used social media to complain about their worst problem, almost half did not receive a response from the company, according to the study. So if you’re tempted to turn to social media first, be prepared to have a backup plan that involves connecting with a person via phone, email, or chat.

be concise

Part of your preparation should be to boil down your complaint to its essentials, including what happened and, more importantly, how you want the company to fix it. Too many consumers are not specific about what they want of the company, says Broetzmann.

Just make sure the remedy you suggest is according to the problemsays Doyle. If the seatback TV didn’t work on your flight, don’t ask for a free ticket; ask for a drink or meal credit on your next trip, he suggests.

“Are you going to get it? Who knows? But chances are you won’t get it unless you ask for it,” says Doyle.

Resist the temptation to explain every twist and turn of your journey, or to exaggerate your distress for dramatic effect. Weird details and exaggerations could make it easier to dismiss.

“Stick to the facts,” says Doyle. “Embellishing it is going to diminish its credibility.”

recruit the representative

Being courteous or even kind can earn points with tired reps being exposed too often to abusive or pushy customers. Doyle suggests tapping into that connection by asking the agent to put themselves in your shoes.

“If you invite them to imagine how they would feel, it can be effective,” says Doyle.

If the representative can’t seem to help you, try asking for a supervisor or just call back for a different agent. (I had to call a bank three times recently before I found a representative who was willing to connect me with the department that could finally resolve my issue.)

Anger is an understandable response when you’re being pinned down. But try to remember that the customer service representative is also a human being and did not cause the original problem, Doyle says.

“You want to stay calm,” Doyle says. “Because that’s the old adage: You really do catch more flies with honey.”

This article was written by NerdWallet and originally published by The Associated Press.

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