Have you ever purchased something at a retailer or over the
phone, or on the internet and then been sorely disappointed with the result?
And then to make matters worse you found out, much to your remorse, that they
have about the worst Customer Service you could’ve ever imagined! But wait…
there’s more! as the infomercial selling us useless things says – you’ve also
just learned that their Tech Support team is new on the job and hasn’t a clue
about your specific product. It’s all just TOO MUCH!
Have you ever purchased something at a retailer or over the phone, or on the internet and then been sorely disappointed with the result? And then to make matters worse you found out, much to your remorse, that they have about the worst Customer Service you could’ve ever imagined! But wait… there’s more! as the infomercial selling us useless things says – you’ve also just learned that their Tech Support team is new on the job and hasn’t a clue about your specific product. It’s all just TOO MUCH!
This ‘Perfect Storm’ happened to me only recently and it got me to thinking… as a business owner I know how to deal with large corporations who get out of line, but does everyone else know how to fight a giant, and win? I hope this article will help you as you seek to get what you have a right to when you pay for goods and services.
Be an educated, alert, and wise consumer. Regardless of what you’re buying, or where you’re buying it from you should be:
1. EDUCATED. As an educated consumer you should do your homework – BUY a product or service, NEVER be SOLD. The difference is this, when I educate myself I’m aware of the products or services I need and am also aware of the competition – I KNOW what’s out there and am aware of it’s core values so that if/when a salesperson attempts to persuade me to purchase something else I know what I want and will BUY what I want.
2. ALERT. As an alert consumer you’ve done some research on the reseller/provider and are familiar with their promises to their consumers “The No-Hassle place to shop” or “Now that you’ve tried the rest, try the BEST!” or how about “Shop our stress-free store and enjoy our liberal return policies” – at this point you know what they say about themselves. For most of us, and most times, this is all we need to know.
3. WISE. We could delve deeper and research them online to see what others say about them, realizing if it’s all good they probably wrote it themselves. The internet is nothing more than a convenience – it is NOT the source of all truth! However, and this is the painful part, sometimes step #3 is the one we should’ve taken in the first place. And now with that, let me relay a bit of my own recent story – I’d like to present it to you in the old-fashioned gumshoe style:
In an attempt to ‘save money’ I had decided to order a cell phone through a club that I’m a member of. Several national retailers advertise with them so it’s gotta be good… right? Now that’s not a slam on the club, they made sure the ad was pretty and they got paid for putting it in – but we as consumers connect our favorite sources of information with their advertisers and figure one must be as good as the other, sadly that’s not the case. If I’d started with point #3 I could’ve saved myself a LOT of trouble.
It all started one dreary Friday afternoon when my cell phone quit working, again. “That was it” I’d told myself, I’m going to buy myself a new phone NOW! So I pulled out my worn club magazine and found that ad, you know the one, it had the coffee stain on it. Not to mention the coffee stain was in the shape of an angel and was directly over top of the advertiser’s phone number… it must be a sign!
Without hesitation I dialed the number and in moments ‘Gladys’ answered the phone in a gravelly voice and assured me she was there to help me. Before long she was telling me everything I longed to hear – my new phone would be shiny, smooth, fast and most likely work in my basement, and best of all… I didn’t need to offer up my firstborn to pay for it although, he’s already married, but that’s beside the point. Oh boy… this was going to be good – and my wife would probably approve too!
There were red flags early on in our relationship, I should’ve seen it coming, but I was too impulsive. After I’d said “YES!” so many times I was eager to give her my credit card, and then it happened. Gladys said “I’m sorry, there was a strange error when I attempted to process your card – the machine said ‘REWARD’ but don’t worry, I’ll run it again and there should be no trouble” and she did, and there was. “I’m not sure what ‘REWARD’ means, but don’t worry, your card hasn’t been charged yet, I’ll just grab a supervisor” and she did, but the genie was already out of the bottle by then. “I’m sorry” she said “it did the same thing for my supervisor, but don’t worry, your card wasn’t run, I’ll have someone call you Monday and straighten the whole thing out. Have a nice weekend.”
Well, I did have a nice weekend, I’ll tell you about it sometime. Monday came and nearly went before I finally received – an eMail. No-one from the company called as promised. Then another eMail, and another. By the end of the day Monday I’d received no phone calls from anyone other than a guy promising he could turn my lawn green – I took notes, but I did get three identical eMails telling me my order had shipped… another sign?
Tuesday was uneventful, but it was warm. Wednesday came and with it sunshine and birds singing, my old car started and my shoes were polished – it was going to be a good day, I could feel it. The postman came and in his satchel was a parcel, for me, from that cellphone company. Filled with expectant anticipation I cradled the package in my arms before carefully opening it. First the left flap, then the right, a little more and then “Oh just open the thing already” my wife said. You could’ve heard a pin drop in that room the moment the contents of that box were visible to all – three amazing phones… WHAT?!!!
“Did you order three phones?” asked my wife. I was still in shock moments later as she continued saying something, something, something – I have to get out of here, find someplace safe… maybe it was something I had for lunch, then it all went dark.
When I was able to see and think clearly again I went to my trusted landline and dialed the number to my bank, surely this nightmare couldn’t have reached my bank account with as much destructive force as the package the postman brought me earlier. The look of terror on my face told my wife everything she needed to know – what was that she was saying again “something, something, something” and then it all went dark, again. Thoughts of darts and poison lipstick swirled in my brain as I felt the tug on my shoulder and heard my wife saying “something, something, something… and what are you gonna do about it?!”
I struggled to my feet and stumbled to my basement lair where I got on my trusted landline once again and called the cellphone company. Guess who answered? You got it right, Gladys. “Yes, of course I remember your order from last Friday, who could forget it? REWARD, REWARD, REWARD, right? Like what’s that all about anyway?” “Gladys” I said “I received THREE phones today!” The line was quiet for the longest time and then a muffled gasp as Gladys uttered four fateful words “No, it can’t be!” So, THIS was where it all began, last Friday Gladys had released the demon on me. Fear gripped both of our hearts momentarily as we struggled, valiantly, miles apart, to think how to defeat this nemesis.
It was that gravelly voice I’d come to recognize that first broke the silence “Well, what do you want me to do?” That was when years of training and drilling for just such an occasion came to the surface in a gush like an oil well that had waited thousands of years to be released, and I told her “GIVE ME A REFUND, WHAT DO YOU THINK?! I ordered one measly phone for $134, which I had, mind you, in the bank – now I’m the proud owner of THREE phones and nearly $300 OVERDRAWN! This is not right, and for once – it’s NOT my fault! You give me credit for two of these today and eMail me a UPS label and I’ll drop them in a box tonight to be returned to you!”
“Relax” Gladys tells me “don’t worry about a thing, I’m gonna take care of you.” Oh boy, at this point I’m wondering should I ask for someone else or stick with her and give her the benefit of the doubt? So Gladys says “Since you have so many phones you might as well pick one of them out and activate it, after all, that WAS why you called last Friday in the first place” y’know, I have to give her that one. I chose one of the phones and we did activate it, what could go wrong, right?
I wish I hadn’t asked that last question. Later that day as I was setting up the cellphone to be personalized I began having difficulty – it wasn’t recognizing the information I was inputting. I went back to my trusted landline and called their Tech Support hotline and ‘Hazel’ picked up “How can I help you?” she asks, so I tell her what model I have and give her a very brief telling of the “tale of 3 phones” and she tells me to remove the battery from the phone to reset it. This is where it gets interesting. So I tell her the battery is integrated and cannot be removed. Hazel then tells me “Turn it off, remove the SIM card and wipe it clean, then re-insert the SIM card and turn it back on.” It still doesn’t work. She says “Ok, NOW remove the battery.” I tell her I can’t… because it’s STILL integrated into the phone and NOT removable!! At this point I’m beginning to lose it again. After several unsuccessful attempts to get the phone to reboot in “Safe Mode” she suggests grabbing one of the other two phones and swapping out the SIM cards, so I do. “Now” she says “remove the battery from THAT phone and re-install it” at which point I’m nearly certain she cannot possibly understand my incoherent babbling about how 3 identical phones wouldn’t have different battery systems (which they didn’t) and that she must be new on the job and how dare anyone put an inexperienced person at a help desk to advise about products they obviously know nothing about, and blah, Blah, BLAH!!!!! “I’m sorry” I told her, “I have to leave now to get my son at work and this is going nowhere, I’ll call back later!”
“later” arrived I returned to my trusted landline and called the ill-fated
number for the cellphone company. This time I got ‘Mildred’ “And how can I help
you today?” she asked pleasantly. I don’t think Mildred and I will ever be
friends after that phone call. “Here’s my account information” I said, then
“Take it back, TAKE IT ALL BACK! NOW!!!” To which
Mildred, in her sweet, soft, lilting voice replied “That’s fine, we’ll mail you
a return label for the Post Office and once they arrive and are inspected and
placed back into inventory we will issue you a refund – LESS a restocking fee.”
This is where the gumshoe story ends, I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I did writing it, but the FACTS are – this is a TRUE story and could easily bring a person into a fit of frustration or rage. How dare a company make such a HUGE error, inconvenience a paying customer so severely, offer such horrible service after the sale, and then PUNISH the customer financially?! Not only that, but how do YOU as the customer get THEM to make it right after you call and call and no-one takes responsibility, it’s just company policy they tell you, and management blows you off without so much as a phone call or an eMail? Well, I’ll tell you how, and you can use this technique with ANY business, regardless of size.
1. Give them ONE LAST CHANCE to make things right. State your demands calmly and clearly to the highest person you are able to reach, then tell them you are going to do Steps 3-6 as listed below and it’s off your shoulders if they don’t wish to cooperate.
2. Do what you should’ve done in the first place, get the goods on them from the web, find out who you’re dealing with and just how poor they are at living up to their own statements.
3. Find their source of pain. This particular one was fairly easy; I belong to a large club whose job it is to look out for their members. Take your complaint to the TOP as fast as you can and let them know they’d been snowed and now you have too. I’m sure my club doesn’t want to lose advertising dollars, but it’s easier to replace than disgruntled members.
4. Report them to the BBB (Better Business Bureau). Understand this, the BBB is NOT a government agency, but a public watchdog that serves MILLIONS upon MILLIONS of people annually. When you make a complaint to the BBB it goes PUBLIC! What business wants a public black eye on a website visited my countless millions of people – none that I know of! The BBB will then contact the offending business directly on your behalf, and on the behalf of the millions of people who visit their website, and they will present your complaint and deliver you the company’s response – and it’s all FREE and it’s ALL public information on the BBB website. They don’t have the power to effect action or change, but all that weight behind them is pretty potent stuff!
5. Report them to your State’s Attorney General. This is FREE and it’s HUGE. The Attorney General has the power to restrict a company from doing business in their state, and is known as a Consumer Protection Agency, there may be others in your state as well. The State’s Attorney General will also contact the offending business directly on your behalf, and this time it’s with the weight of the entire State behind them. Failure to comply with the State’s Attorney General can help you win a litigation suit against an offending company if it goes that far. This is NOTHING any business wants to mess with. And furthermore, your State’s Attorney General can even help you with out-of-state companies as well – don’t think that just because a corporation isn’t located in your own state that you’re out of luck because you’re not.
6. Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper(s) as well as any consumer advocacy websites and/or magazines. Bad press is just that – BAD.
Please understand, these steps are ONLY to be taken as a means of last resort. These are VERY serious matters for a business to deal with and not to be entered into lightly. Also, these steps are NOT meant as a means of punishing a business because you didn’t like someone or had poor service at a restaurant or someone didn’t load your groceries or hold an umbrella over your head in the rain. These steps are to be taken only after all FAIR means of resolve have failed. Per my incident I would’ve been fine with a refund of the two extra phones and a label to return their product to them – this would’ve been FAIR since THEY put my finances in a bad predicament, it was NO FAULT of my own. It is only reasonable to expect they should say “Oh my, I’m so sorry, don’t you worry a bit, I’ll issue the refund IMMEDIATELY for those other two phones and eMail you a return label – this is NOT your problem, it was our error, is there anything else I can do to help you?” I would’ve been happy and still their customer, my club would not be considering pulling their ads, the BBB would not be posting this embarrassing story for the world to read, and my State’s Attorney General wouldn’t be investigating this issue. Rest assured, this cell phone company is paying a HEAVY price for bad policies and have since contacted me on more than one occasion to apologize and assure me they are having many high-level meetings to make sure this doesn’t happen again.
My story had a happy ending; my money was refunded, they got their phones back, and the Attorney General and the BBB are satisfied things have been done to rectify the situation. You too can take down a giant with just a few smooth stones placed right and - used to bring about positive change that is good for all – even the offending company.