If you’re not Complaining, Quit Complaining!

He doth protest too much

(c) www.consumerguy.com

Complaining can be evaluated in two basic ways. You complain because you are a complainer – it’s just part of your personality – or you complain because you are mad as hell (for a valid reason) and you are just not going to take it anymore.

    I must own up to being a bit of the former. But I am also a lot of the latter. Some consumers don’t complaint because they just don’t have the moxie. But I haven’t been shy since I hit puberty (except around approaching females, but that ended when I met the Consumer Gal). For some, complaining isn’t worth the effort and upset. But allow me to explain why – if you get the short shrift in a consumer exchange – it often pays for several reasons. First, you get to feel that you have justly prevailed, in contrast to feeling like a wimp. Second, you get money, or some other consideration, back, which allows you to pay for more stuff.

            Let me give a few examples of the dozens, if not hundreds, of ways I have complained to great success.

            For the first time in our lives, the Consumer Gal and I decided to give the post-Thanksgiving “black Friday” early morning sales a shot. We got up at 3:30 a.m., went over to Sears and got in line to buy a name brand, 46-inch flat screen television for 500 bucks. We waited patiently in line for 20 minutes at the cash register, paid for the TV, went downstairs to the pickup area and waited interminably. The clerk then told us the TV we bought wasn’t in stock. We went back upstairs to find a manager and told him of our plight. He went into the warehouse and came back 10 minutes later to tell us he found the set and that we should return back to pickup. After a short wait we got our television.

            The receipt had one of those requests at the bottom that asked for us to log onto the Sears web site in order to let Sears know about our shopping experience. I did so and explained how disappointed we were. A few days later I got a call from a store manager; the very same one who found the missing set. He apologized and credited our credit card with 75 bucks. So what’s better, being pissed off, or being pissed off and getting 75 smackers back?

            Example number 2: We ordered a range and a microwave oven at a regional appliance chain store. We were promised delivery on a particular day within a four hour time window (don’t you just love those?). I won’t go into the whole story, but they didn’t have the microwave and they didn’t let me know until the last minute, even though the appointment was made five days before scheduled delivery. I got a hold of the customer service rep at the store. She apologized, rescheduled with a two-hour window, and gave me a 50-dollar refund.

            But this is my favorite, and it is an object lesson for all of you who are afraid to put your foot (feet?) down.

            We were flying from Anchorage to San Jose, changing planes in Seattle. Due to a mistake on the airline’s part, we arrived late in Seattle. We ran to make our connecting flight. And even though we made it to the gate before the plane pulled away, we were denied boarding. It seems the airline did not bother to hold connecting flights five minutes so the delayed passengers from Anchorage could make their connections.

            We went to the customer service desk where we encountered disinterested and surly personnel. They informed us that the remaining flights to San Jose were full. And so were flights through other connecting cities. And so were flights on other airlines. Some of the passengers in similar circumstances settled with airline by accepting a meal voucher a hotel room.

            The airline would put us up in a hotel. Our baggage, however, was lost. I asked the agent if they would please deliver the baggage to the hotel. “We don’t do that,” was her response. They would notify us when the bags arrived and we would have to return to the terminal to retrieve them – at our own expense.

            Fortunately, one of my best friends lives in Seattle. They picked us up and took us to retrieve our bags and we were able to have dinner with them.

            Upon returning home, I called the airline and asked for compensation. They expressed compassion as deep as window frost and denied our request. I filed in small claims court for, well, to be honest, I can’t remember how much, as compensation for our air fare, the Consumer Gal’s salary for the day of work she missed and miscellaneous expenses. And guess what. Voila! The airline called me. They wanted to make the law suit go away. I demanded the following:

¨       Reimbursement of court costs;

¨       A flight to Fairbanks

¨       A connecting flight to Victoria, BC

¨       A return flight home

The airline’s agent said she doubted she could do that. I asked her to think it over. It’s either my way or the court way. She capitulated. Our next vacation was a trip to Fairbanks, from which we visited Denali National Park. Then a trip to lovely Victoria and a flight home. Beautiful.

My point is, it’s the complainers who make the difference for consumers. I am unhappy with my cable TV service about 25 percent of the time. I pay a full cable bill about . . .  well . . . 25 percent of the time (don’t ask why I don’t change providers – it’s a long story). When they screw up, I demand compensation. And I get it.

So when you get crappy service, complain. Don’t just sit there, unhappy, frustrated  . . . and complaining.