How to profit from persistence

I will never be an Olympic champion, an opera singer or a crack poker player. I just don't have the skills.

But I am a world-class complainer.

I kvetch, moan and gripe with the best of them — and I am surprisingly effective.

I am the person who politely sends back the steak that was ordered rare and delivered well-done. I call the credit card company when their statement is late and they charge us interest and a penalty as a result. I send back defective mail-order items, and I insist on getting an actual refund — not vouchers for money off future flights — when the airline mistakenly charges us for checking our bags.

I don’t do it by yelling or screaming or by saying nasty things to innocent customer service representatives. I succeed through strategies that anyone can use.

Step 1. Be clearly in the right.

If the steak is just a little more done than you like it, eat up. No one takes pity on a person who makes a big fuss about not much. When PayPal quotes you a transaction charge of $50 and then charges you $150, on the other hand, you have a case.

When the situation permits, it can be helpful to research the laws around whatever problem you're confronting. Federal law, for instance, forbids expiration dates on most gift cards that are less than five years from the purchase date. Federal laws also govern compensation for passengers who are bumped from their flights.

The rules tell companies what they must do for you, at a minimum. You're always free to negotiate for more.

Step 2. Make allies, not enemies.

When you're pleasant and polite, people want to help you. When you curse, make unrelated accusations or call the customer service person ugly names, people want to get rid of you.

Do not complain about things that are simply different than what you're used to. Assume the person you're talking to wants to help.

Further, explain your problem clearly and concisely. Rambling isn't helpful.

Step 3. Let the most conventional, middle-aged person in your party do the complaining.

I'm amazed by the difference between how companies treated me in my 20s and how they treat me in my 40s. Older people get better service because we're assumed to have more money. Heterosexual, light-skinned, well-dressed and conventionally attractive people sometimes also get a disproportionate amount of cooperation in this world. It's not fair.

If solving the issue at hand is your priority, do not make an issue of the other person's bias. Keep the focus on the problem. If the situation lends itself to email or telephone communication, use it. On the Internet, no one knows that you're a cat.

Step 4. Own your part of the problem.

Other people are more likely to help when you let them save face. Acknowledge the possibility that you didn’t speak very clearly when you ordered your drink.

Success StoriesRead more tips on how to succeed financially:

Step 5. Know what you want, but be reasonable.

Don't just tell the seller about the problem. Tell that person what will make the problem go away. The steak arrived overdone? You want a new, properly cooked steak. No one wants to guess at what will make you happy, and no one is going to give you the waiter's head on a platter, no matter how much the waiter deserves that demise.

Step 6. Be willing to compromise, particularly if you helped create the issue.

I recently returned some shirts that didn't fit, but I waited until after the company's 30-day return window to do it. The compromise: They took the shirts back but charged me a small restocking fee. I can live with that.

Step 7. Don't take sympathy as payment.

Customer service representatives are trained to handle unhappy customers in part by sincerely, deeply regretting the problem. Thank the representative for the good wishes and continue to politely insist the company fix the issue.

Step 8. It's company policy, until it isn't.

You'll hear that whoever answers the telephone or email is powerless to help you or that it is "company policy" to do this, that, or the other. These things may or may not be true.

Here is something that is always true: There is someone at the company who has the power to give you what you want, as long as you have a good case and are not asking for the moon. Sometimes that person is a supervisor; sometimes she or he has a different title.

Ask to speak with that person. Repeat if necessary.

Step 9. Politely persist.

No, you probably shouldn't spend three weeks of your life picketing the Delta ticket counter. Still, reaching a satisfactory resolution often takes more than a minute. Junior people have to get solutions OK'd by senior people. Don't give up when someone says they can't help you. Someone can help you. You just have to find that person and make your case.

  • wow really

    9 steps to bitch and moan because you feel wronged. Most people do NOT follow your guidelines. Most people just want to cheat other people/businesses because they feel they are owed. Posts like this just give the average american ideas.

    • Dan Barrett

      With a name like "wow really" its obvious that you are a person who makes it a mission in life to not see sense in others opinions and to put others in their place. At least the author is recognized as credible and worthy of publishing their works and not stuck in life as someone who's weightless opinions reside as footnotes at the bottom of others work. Get off the couch and get a life.

      • Booger

        Dan, Dan... stop with the put-downs.... 'wow' has a point... the 'great semi-literate unwashed' DO feel they're entitled, unless, of course they're [fornicating] you. Funny how that works... or doesn't...eh?

        • Sick of everything

          No he has zero pont.

        • Nobody’s Business

          All above are right. Average Americans constitute 51% of the population, all liberals. Guest and Booger describe liberals exactly as they are.

    • pingrava

      No. You're wrong this is not the case. Two examples:
      1. My father owned an Italian restaurant for 35 years. 99% of our income came from local repeat customers. Some were a pain, the overwhelming majority of them were a joy. I can count the complaints we had in that time on two hands. In all but three cases the customer had a legitimate complaint. We fixed it and they remained customers. The other three tried to rip us off (dumpster diving for free coupons we had thrown out) or wanting free meals for the entire table because after licking their plates clean, they decided the food was not to their liking.
      You take the good with the bad. Fighting with a customer even if you're clearly in the right, does not reflect well upon the establishment. Suck it up. Move on. They won't be back. It's the cost of doing business.
      2. When I was laid off several years ago (I work in a technical profession), I took a part time job with Williams Sonoma. I was impressed that even for stock boys they held after hour classes on customer service. I learned more from them in one Christmas season than in all my years dealing with idiot managers.
      The most important thing they taught us was that when someone comes at you with a head full of steam (the housewives in my area are extremely high maintenance and prone to drama) you listen....and listen. When they run their batteries down, you say "I'm sorry you're unhappy with your purchase/situation. What can we do to make it right?" 98% of the time it worked. When you are sincere and exude a willingness to please/help, customers sense it, even if they're seeing red. My manager used to say it was like working in an office were every dressed like they were going to the beach and acted in a very unprofessional manner. But force them to wear a tie every day and the respect level and behavior is much different.

      • Craig

        Frnakly, I do not like it when a customer service person finds it necessary to oppoligize for my unhappiness. that is extremely disrespectful.

        • pingrava

          FIne that's you're quirk. I agree in the sense that I do not like coming into work and having to deal with a mess created by one of my less-than-competent co-workers. But you have to know your customer. And where I worked the customer was king. WS did not really sell anything that unique - they sold customer service and that's what people paid for. If they bought 1000 dollars worth of goods and wanted them gift-wrapped...along with the three items they bought at another store you did it.
          When a less than satisfied customer would call corporate and complain they ALWAYS took the customer's side - always. I don't blame them. In this age of social media a happy customer may tell 3 people about their experience. An unhappy one - especially one with an overwhelming sense of entitlement will tell 50.

          • Craig

            ok ping, but your lengthy comment did not address my comment. isn't that CS 101?

          • pingrava

            I did, just not directly. You sell goods or provide a service. You are part of a team. When the product fails to live up to the customer's expectations an apology is in order. The customer had to get into his car, drive to your business and waste his time Those who feel disrespected by a sincere apology are far and few in between.
            You'd apologize for showing up late for a date or meeting, why not to a customer. The product is somewhat irrelevant. Product can be replaced You (or your company) wasted another person's time and you can never replace time wasted.
            Sorry for the lengthy post.

          • Craig

            Ping that is not what you said. Go back and read it again. What you said was "... you say "I'm sorry you're unhappy with your purchase/situation...." You apologized for the customer's displeasure. That is not only rude but condescending.
            By your rant you do not enjoy customer service employment and should find another profession...or stop ranting. I suspect your tips at your father's restaurant were not terribly good. Maybe technical writing is a better occupation for you. But maybe I am wrong, writing does not seem to be your strong point either.

          • pingrava

            "ok ping, but your lengthy comment did not address my comment. isn't that CS 101?"
            No it's not. You're not buying, nor am I here to serve anyone.

          • Craig

            you got me there, I am not buying your dribble, though you do seem to be TRYING to sell it..

    • Granny

      Blanket judgment on "most people." I believe most people are honest, and do their best to live good lives. I also believe that the traits a person dislikes in others are the traits s/he dislikes in him or herself.

  • Roseannadanna2

    Please explain this to comcast! The only thing they ever give me is a higher price.

    • RW

      I had a situation with Comcast once where they turned service off for upgrades with no warning. I called, was told about the upgrades, and that my service would be back on by the end of the business day. My cable was out for several days, even after repeated phone calls. I was fed up, so I emailed 3 local news stations, as well as the Mayor's office. It's amazing how quickly Comcast corrected the problem (on a Sunday) after they received a call from the Mayor's office!!

      • Roseannadanna2

        Good for you, RW! That needs to be done more often to these places who try to take advantage of good customers. Plus, now with so many have their payments automatically deducted, it's a lot easier for them to get away with it.

        Since Friday, I'm now free of comcast, yay!!

      • pingrava

        Comcast had a nice scam going with their virus protection. The virus (according to them) enters your computer via e-mail (THEIR e-mail). Then they try to sell you virus protection for 20 some odd dollars/mo.
        Their free fixes did not work. When I called them for the 30th time they told me to get my laptop fixed - and they would not reimburse me.
        So let me get this straight: You allow a virus/bot to enter your e-mail system and then charge us so YOU can fix it?

  • Heather29882

    I'm sorry but anyone who writes an article or blog an HOW to complain does it too much in my opinion. You sound petty and obnoxious and like you have nothing else to do with your life other than look for reasons to complain to the point that you believe it is a skill.

    • Lucille Hollander

      No one questions that sometimes, errors are made, correctable errors. Companies in general want happy customers, happy customers keep coming back and spending money, so it is worthwhile for companies to correct situations where the company is at fault.
      But no one is born with the ability to complain effectively, it is a skill. And it is a skill that benefits both the complainer (because she gets a fair resolution) and the company (because the resolution may mean that the complainer , with her issue resolved, will return for more transactions.)
      Effective, reasonable complaints are a win/win situation.

    • Mark Walker

      Heather...are you really sorry? Why the personally targeted and aggressive opinions towards someone simply offering assistance? Actually conflict resolution is a skill; one that most of us can improve. These skills (steps) are applicable not only for customer service issues but also when addressing a problem at work or personally. How can you argue against the coaching of assessing the potential worth / benefit of taking action, the need to understand the related laws (if applicable), then being kind, clear, persistent in one's request, and then finally appreciative? Sounds like Conflict Management 101 to me. Give it a try; here too...

      • Heather29882

        No, I'm not really sorry.

    • Johnny Morris

      evidently....you haven't been around much..... mabey you should get out more..!!

      • Heather29882

        I am willing to safely bet that I am in an industry and reside in an area where I deal with more people in a day than most do in a month. Yes conflict management is a skill in your personal and professional life. I had a difficult time believing that if a person seems to be dealing with so much conflict as a customer, client, or patron that they turn complaining into a lifestyle rather than an occasional unavoidable nuisance most people move on and forget about , that they are not the problem themselves.

        • Craig

          Ha, you work at 7-11...LMFAO...

  • fats

    Thanks for the tips. Don't give up, someone can help you--is the best advice. Some people have been at their job too long and feel they can just make you go away with some good company rules that will make you believe you are defeated.

  • Toni Lawrence

    Ingrid is right, there are times when you have to take things higher to get satisfaction - and we are not talking about petty issues. There are times when billings are wrong, or your order is not as you asked (and remember, you are paying for what you ordered). I have worked in customer service, and owned businesses, for many years and understand that there are problems in every company, and most can be handled easily. Some take a little longer, and more persistence. You don't have to settle for bad service, or bills that are not correct, and you have a right to get satisfaction. Just remember that, as she says, you do it within reason.

  • karma542

    I also would suggest taking notes as to who you spoke with, when - date, time and length of call - and their resolution for when you need to follow up on resolutions. Sometimes the companies need to listen to previous conversations (because most do record everything) to verify what was explained as resolution options and issues presented were covered. I, too, am generally able to get issues resolved satisfactory, but it does take a little time and work to do so.

  • Nolwe

    I work in customer service. Ingrid's tips are 100% on the money - especially about being nice. I have some clients I would climb Mount Everest for. Others I would like to toss off the summit! We do want to make the customer happy. Sometimes we do have to go to a higher authority. Sometimes it really is company policy - and we do have to escalate the issue. Good advice, Ingrid!

    • Shane013a

      I've been talkin' with honey for years to get things fixed.....yep, you got it.

    • BillRiedel

      I almost always mention to the customer service agent I speak to that I understand it is not her/his fault that the problem happened and I am not blaming that person. I use my best, most soothing voice when I say that. Because it is not that person's fault that the problem occurred.

  • grevyturty

    "Heterosexual, light-skinned, well-dressed and conventionally attractive
    people sometimes also get a disproportionate amount of cooperation in
    this world."
    Simply amazing how such idiotic claims are made with no evidence to support them, and are just assumed to be true. Seems to be a problem in our society. Disgraceful, race focused goof of a woman.

    • Bruce Curtis

      Simply amazing that you can claim something is 'idiotic' without a shred of proof either. See how that works?

      • grevyturty

        I wasn't making the original claim, Einstein. Ever take an introductory logic class? Lol unbelievable stupidity.

    • Sick of everything

      She's right, wake up and pay attention. It seems as though the idiotic claims are coming from you. You should pay better attention, that way you don't look like an uninformed dumb ass like you do now.

      • grevyturty

        Again, can you prove what she said is true? People who accept everything they hear without question are sad, pathetic people.

        • Craig

          And that population is growing fast...

          • telephone ear

            Spent 3 hours the other day getting passed from person to person, from supervisor to supervisor. I ended up with the first customer service rep, I was so patient and nice the whole 3 hours. I can't believe it my self!! It would have taken a short e-mail to fix the problem, but no one had the authority to type I guess! I don't seem to have success with any of the suggestions,. Should I just throw in the towel?!!!

          • Craig

            NEVER!

          • curiosity

            Bless you telephone ear! That is major patience, but patience pays.
            I make a phone call first and of course, the representative doesn't usually have authority to do anything significant. My next step is a letter, unless it is an emergency situation. I go online and find the main headquarters of whatever company I am having a problem with. Then, in my letter, I outline the problem, I note the representative I have spoken with and their demeanor and also ask why they reps have such limited authority. I don't usually get an answer about the limited authority of the rep, but I usually get satisfactory results. Additionally, I sometimes get gift cards or coupons for the company with a thank you for my input. I just always keep it civil and professional.

          • Octavian9

            In my case against Best Buys, I originally went to their site to find a "contact us" link to complain about the store employees' using sales pitches like "rebate eligible", then, not being able to follow up and guide the customer when there is a snag. As it happened, the contact e-mail was down! Over loaded, no doubt. My determination led me to searching BB's site for my product, and on that page, found what I needed. I still would like to write to Corporate, but you know what, why educate them further? If they cannot keep the links to communication open, it's their loss.

        • Guest

          No, I cannot prove that this is true, but in my experience I have personally been treated more fairly then I have seen other people, I thought because I was Nice looking and Dressed well, Skin Color might also have been a part of it??

  • curiosity

    I try to make a habit of complimenting since most of us are so willing to complain. So far, in most cases, I have been able to get fair treatment and help in fixing problems.

    • Granny

      I do the same. I compliment where deserved. I have called a manager over on many occasions, or requested a way to contact a supervisor in order to praise superior service.
      I also voice objections in cases where I've been overcharged, purchased defective items, or in one case, appealed a health claim that was denied for an emergency appendectomy -- which saved me thousands of dollars.
      The author has made many good points on rectifying wrongs, and remaining calm and professional at all times.

    • BillRiedel

      My wife and I do that regularly when dining out. We will complain if we have particularly bad service, but just as quickly call the manager over and compliment when service is especially good (as well as tip appropriately). We usually see the worry on the face of the manager when s/he hears a customer would like to speak to her/him and then the smile on her/his face when we relay the compliment about our server. Managers don't usually hear the good.

      • curiosity

        I also find that I feel good when a compliment makes someone else feel good!!! Wouldn't it be nice if complimentary behavior became contagious?

  • Sick of everything

    Pretty good advice, I too have developed a pretty good ability to right many wrongs. I get asked all the time, "how do you do that!?" Comcast is one of the easier one's to get free stuff especially since they screw up a lot. Sometimes you have to ask for compensation, like with Comcast. I got them to tell me how often they can give us deals by just asking. Climbing the ladder of authority is a good idea especially if your completely in the right. It can be both fun and really aggravating but for the most part worth it. One other thing, most businesses or companies worth a crap will not only respond to your complaint and try and make it right, but will thank you for the input. They can't be around 24/7 so they have no idea what goes on all the time which is where we come in. The good one's will make a point of this to you.

  • macrogirl

    Now that I know the secret, I always ask to speak to a higher up, such as a supervisor, to get the result (or close to it) that I want. The regular reps just don't have much power and I'm sure they're not encouraged to send you up the chain of command. Act nice and then just ask to be switched to a supervisor. Even archenemy Comcast will sometimes do the right thing!

  • The New Mayor Of Medinah

    freeloaders tend to do this the most, always looking for a hand out or something to be comp'd

    • Barbara Harrington

      Not always, had a problem at a bank absolutely not my fault, but they messed up my credit reports because of it. Eventually they apologized and had the errors removed from my credit report. But only because I was persistent, they even told me there was nothing they could do about the credit report, but I knew better. According to you I should grin and bear it and let them ruin my life! We are not all deadbeats and freeloaders who complain. You must own a company!

  • PlayNice

    It amazes me that "some" of those giving advice here or making comments color it with name-calling. If you have to resort to name-calling to get your point across, you have already lost. It is a desperate person who feels the need to resort to name-calling. The things I take away from this article are: 1) Be nice - it's true that you can get more results with honey than you can with sour grapes. 2) Be persistent in reaching your goal. 3) Make sure you have the facts to back up your claim of a company error. Also, if you plan to sling mud - at least make sure your spelling and grammar are correct. Good grief! LOL

  • ltsims

    Rosannaadanna2,

    OMG, Comcast is the WORST in dealing with customers! After spending minutes waiting and waiting and waiting to talk to a real live person, if they don't or can't help, you get "disconnected". On line forums, cough cough, there is probably a special place in hell for Comcast! When my bill increased each month for 6 MONTHS and it was SUPPOSED to be a $99.00 special, I had had enough. I kept track of who, what, when, outcome, time, etc... The notebook is 8 pages back and front, it really did no good. I finally filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau on Sunday morning (internet problems for 2 weeks! no end in site). I was amazed when I got a call from a Ms. Brighton, one of the higher ups at Comcast. I can't tell you the number of brainless, incompetent, foreign (could not understand what the heck they were saying) but I can tell you that I did get to speak with 3 people who actually investigated problems and actually tried to help!!! In order to stay calm and sane, I'd make a pot of tea, get comfy, and expect to be on hold, punching numbers, etc. And I start each conversation saying I know it isn't "your" fault, but I am having issues that aren't getting resolved. You would be surprised how quickly the tone of their voices change when they know you're not taking it out on them. My family calls me the Queen of Bitch letters!

    • huey1022

      Comcast is the BIGGEST joke 4 a company on EARTH, ever since they started to try to buyTurner they let Comcast go to Hell in a Basket.You never no what your monthly payment going to be, It's differnt every month. I could call them almost every single day cause I have a problem every day, But all I ever get from them is it's your COMPUTER even though it say's comcast not responing. I'm so sick of calling that I'm only calling one more time n if they don't fix it I'm all done with them, Spent way to many hours of MY TIME to get NOWHERE with them.they just offered me some special that was going to take care of all my PROBLEM'S what a JOKE got more PROBLEM'S now then I ever had. NO matter what I hit on it freeze's up for 5 min's, sometime's it won't go back so you have to go out all the way n then come back in but it's not their fault it's your COMPUTER.

      • ltsims

        I actually had one of the service reps ADMIT to me the "ticket number" they give you means nothing! It's something they do so the customer will think they're being heard.They got too big too fast. And customer service was no longer important. You never know who you're talking to. Sometimes not even in the same country. It comes down to you're paying a lot of money (my bill is higher than my BGE bill almost) for a service. I believe in "you get what you pay for". And when I receive great customer service, I make sure to get the person's full name and both call and email tjhe restaurant and corporate office. I always get a thank you from the company, and an assurance that the store's manager will be notified.

  • Octavian9

    I recently complained to Best Buys but they were unable to help me. The salesman had told me the model AC unit I would purchase was eligible for a rebate from PECO. He instructed me to go to PECO's site for the application. Of course my model no. was not listed on their site! Repeated calls to BB did not help me. At first, all the service reps were busy with other customers. I felt like they were through with me after I paid the cashier. Later, I was told the manager was at lunch. Finally, I solved the problem myself when I thought to go to Best Buy's site and search my model AC unit. The page had a link to the rebate program and all the forms I needed to apply. When I got home from the Post Office, I called them once more and, being the big person I am, told them what I did to solve my problem.

    • curiosity

      Sadly, I have found that in-store employees are often totally unaware of online offers. Must be something lacking in their management's leadership because if their employees are not informed of special deals, your type of situation happens. Lesson I learned: if possible, I print out the page I am shopping from online and take it with me to the store. I just had a nightmare with Lowe's because of that. However, after some time and several phone calls, Lowes was very accommodating and apologetic for several missteps.

  • Richard Tebaldi

    Guilty of not complaining enough. 10 of us went to Pinocchio's new restaurant Center Square in E. Longmeadow. Ordered a flat Iron steak med. rare. It must have sat on the warming table for a while because the gorganzola sauce was congealed and the steak was way overcooked...to inedible. I left 3/4 of the steak in the plate. I enjoy cooking myself, and I know stuff happens, but I hate when it does, especially when there's a group of us. By the time the meal is replaced, everybody else is done eating and are ready to leave before I am. I'm done with that. From now on, I'll send it back and ask them to take it off the bill. Having had an excellent small plate of calamari, which I could not finish if I ate the steak, I'd had enough to get me by anyway. Good, helpful article.

  • Zellie

    This is totally understandable for a customer who truly has been wronged, but in my experience, more often than not, you just have to deal with fussy people who just want THEIR way and act extremely rude to the employees trying to help them. I'm concerned this advice won't be put to honest use, but instead will only fuel the already entitled brats who think the world revolves around them.

  • gunnygil

    Between FCC, Comcast, Microsoft, and many other conspirators in the communications industry, the lower income (unless on public assistance) consumer is at their mercy of higher costs and lower service. This includes phone, internet and so called free air digital broadcast constantly interfered with by low flying aircraft, large trucks, emergency radios, police radios, air traffic control transmissions. Also added cost by all of these to have problems fixed when one has already paid for the service in the cost of their systems