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Going straight to top can help get action

THE FIXER HAS SAVED YOU

$1,173,137

Updated: May 9, 2012 9:57AM



This was originally published in the SouthtownStar on Sept. 4, 2011.

Fixer reader Anne Murphy was locked in battle to get working phone and Internet service at her home. But Anne wasn’t ready to write a “Dear Fixer” letter just yet; she wanted to see what she could do first.

She asked The Fixer for advice, and we helped her a bit by furnishing the name and address of the company’s chairman and CEO, which we easily found through Google.

Anne fired off a letter describing her problems and to our delight, she got a completely different response from his office than she had from the people in customer service. The company fixed her problem and offered a monetary settlement as well.

Anne’s experience confirms The Fixer’s theory that there are times to take the traditional customer service route and there are times when you need to vault over that department. If you’re not getting anywhere the first way, you need to get your problem in front of a well-placed person and appeal in a way that’s rational and moral.

Anne went straight to the top. Another strategy, with publicly-traded companies, is to Google the company’s name and the words “investor relations contact.” If you can find that person’s e-mail, you can send your issue to someone whose job depends on making the company look good.

Here are some more things to remember about complaining effectively:

♦ Keep an even tone. No one responds well to nastiness.

♦ Provide specific names, dates and other information that proves your case.

♦ Don’t say, “I’ll never buy your product again!” If you’re an ex-customer, they’ll have less reason to help.

♦ State specifically what you want, and be reasonable.

♦ For a sample complaint letter, check out consumeraction.gov.

More ways to complain

We’ve written about readers who’ve complained on corporate Facebook pages or griped to a company’s Twitter feed with great success. Consumer Reports Money Advisor last month compiled a list of other creative ways to complain and get some action:

♦ AirlineComplaints.org: For airline-related complaints or suggestions for improvements.

♦ ComplaintsBoard.com: To gripe about products, services, companies and professionals. Also check out My3cents.com, PissedConsumer.com, RipoffReport.com and Complaints.com.

♦ MeasuredUp.com: Post a complaint, question or compliment, and businesses (sometimes) respond via the site.

♦ Consumerist.com: If you’ve got a whopper of a story, ask Consumerist to publish it. Corporate folks read this entertaining blog, and the consumers involved sometimes get results.

♦ RateMDs.com: If you want to vent about or compliment your doctor.

♦ TripAdvisor.com: For reviews of hotels, restaurants, attractions, vacation rentals and more. Some of the companies involved respond.

If you use one of these routes, stick to the facts and don’t rant. And remember, your complaint will probably stay on the Web far into the future.

COSTLY LESSON: A consumer’s tale of woe

Vince, of Mokena, thought he got a pretty good deal on high-end audio speakers for his car. He paid $300 in cash for two pairs and eagerly took them home to install.

He got the first pair in the car and switched on the power … and was roundly disappointed with the quality.

“I was not happy. I decided to return them both the same day,” Vince wrote The Fixer.

But when Vince got to the store, he was told there was a “no refunds” policy. This was not exactly music to his ears.

“I was never made aware of this policy,” he wrote. “The store has two entrances and the front door is never used as far as I know. The rear entrance is always used. My friend went in with me to return the speakers and found a small, hand-written sign by the front door, hidden by merchandise.”

We agree that the store could have done a lot more to inform its customers. But consumers should know they have no automatic right to a refund (unless it’s a defective product). Each store sets its own rules regarding full refunds, store credit or neither.

The lesson for the rest of us? Check out the store’s policy before you shop and if there’s any chance of ambiguity, get something in writing.

What is a Costly Lesson? It’s an UNFIXABLE problem that cost someone a lot of money but holds a valuable lesson for the rest of us. If you’ve got something to warn the rest of us about, e-mail it to szimmermann@suntimes.com with Costly Lessons in the subject line. And don’t worry - for Costly Lessons, we leave out last names to prevent further embarrassment.

Contact The Fixer

Are you being given the runaround over a consumer problem?

Tell it to The Fixer at www.southtownstar.com, where you’ll find a simple form to fill out.

If you don’t have a computer, you can mail a brief description of your problem, along with your name, address and telephone number, to: The Fixer, SouthtownStar, 6901 W. 159th St., Tinley Park, IL 60477.

Please don’t send original documents.

Because of the large volume of submissions, The Fixer cannot make personal replies.

Letters are edited for length and clarity.



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