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How to Complain 101

Old 11-25-03, 07:00 PM
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How to Complain 101

I thought this might be useful.

I was reading Jason's blog today and he was talking about Amazon's lack of a customer service phone number on their website. By the way, it's 1.800.201.7575

When I get good customer service, I recognize it. When I don't, I let someone know. Having worked in the field, I know how critically important feedback of any kind is. A situation came up this past week that really pissed me off and showed how unprofessional some customer service people can be and what you can do to make sure your voice is heard.

If you have been following along, you know that my laptop and Palm Pilot were stolen a couple of weeks ago. In order to have any chance of recovery, I needed to have the serial number of both units so I could file the requisite police report.

I registered my Palm online so that should something happen to it, I had a backup since I am notoriously bad at keeping paperwork. Figuring all I had to do was call customer service, I called Palm on the day it was stolen, November 13.

I had registered on October 10th, and received my "Thanks for registering!" email -- along with 10-12 'product update' emails and specials that I had expressly clicked 'no' on recieveing -- from Palm.

However, over the next eight days, I went through hell trying to retrieve the serial number. First it was 'Customer Care' who told me there was no record and that I needed to talk to Tech Support. Tech Support told me I needed to talk to Customer Care. Customer Care again said they didn't have it but the rep who answered my call, went the extra mile to help. He looked at every single registration for the state of Oregon. We were on the phone for a while.

Since I had purchased it online through the Palm Store, I called them. No dice, they don't track which serial numbers go to which customers.

Finally, Customer Care suggested I call 'Corporate' since they have a super-duper-extra-secret-classified-President's-eyes-only database that might have the record somewhere.

Unfortuately, that was a long distance call.

When I called the first time, I followed Customer Care's instructions and didn't press any buttons when the voicemail the picked up. When you do this, you get to a live person. The hard part is that it takes 2-3 minutes of dead air, all costing me money.

I finally would get someone, who would then say "hold please", and leave me on hold for a while. After 5 minutes, I would hang up and start over. Half the time, they would just transfer me to Customer Care again even after I said I specifically did not want to talk to them. This went on for a few days. Occasionally, I would end up getting cut off or transferred to a random department who didn't know what the hell I was talking about or where to send me.

Finally, last Friday morning I got a hold of the 'Corporate Customer Escalation' department. The rep there said that the 'Registration' department would be the only one to answer my question and she transferred me. I left a message for the guy's voicemail saying I needed an answer by 3 pm. It was noon.

At 2:45, no answer. So I called the 'Corporate Customer Escalation' department again, who kindly informed me since it was Friday afternoon, 'no one would be able to get to my problem' that day. Mind you this is the West Coast, there were over two hours left in the work day. Needless to say, I got really mad. So I took direct action. I complained in writing to someone who could make a difference.

Here's how I did it and you can too:

1. Go to the corporate website for the company you are mad at.
2. Find the 'Investor Relations' or 'Company Info' page.
3. Locate the 'Management Team' page.
4. Find the person one step below the CEO that oversees the division you have an issue with -- typically a Senior Vice-President -- and look for an email or phone number. A VP works better than a CEO since a CEO usually is the first person people try and they have a dead end voicemail box.
5. Call the Corporate phone number and using the 'find an employee by name' feature, enter the person's name.
6. Typically, an assistant will answer, calmly explain your situation and ask to speak to their boss. They generally will not transfer you so -- politely again -- ask how you can reach them directly. A fax or email works great, if not available, get an address with suite number or mail code.
7. Write a letter or email, detailing the entire process including names, dates, phone numbers, and issues. Be sure to mention if someone has been particularly helpful or rude. You would be suprised how much this affect performace reviews. Also, make sure you articulate exactly what you want.
8. If no answer, follow up with the assistant every 2-3 days.

This typically will get you what you are looking for, as long as you aren't asking for something unreasonable. At a minimum, you will get action since a directive from a senior management person cuts through a lot of red tape.

I did this and 24 hours after my email, Ken Wirt, the Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Handheld Business Unit, had responded with an apology and had someone get me the answer I needed.

Bottom Line? Complain to the right people and you typically can get what you want, as long as you are reasonable.
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