General Information Informative - Complaining Like a Ninja

Review by 15170 on 2007-02-06
The following is extracted (with permission) from my credit union's web site. I think there are several good points made here:

There's a fly in your minestrone. It's floating among the celery and carrot islands like a canoe in the middle of a placid lake. You don't want to eat or pay for the soup. What should you do?

What can you do?

Whether you're ordering soup in a restaurant or buying music over the internet, you have every right to expect that the products and services you receive are the same as the ones that you were promised.

Filing a complaint is one way that you can stay satisfied with your purchases. Unfortunately, successful complaining won't always be as simple as asking a waiter for a new bowl of soup.

Don't be nervous about complaining; it is a perfectly natural reaction to unpleasant circumstances.

Instead, be confident and assertive. It will make your argument seem much stronger.

The art of complaining

Complaining is like martial arts—you should never use it unless you have to.

Some people complain about every minor discomfort, even if the industry, company or person is not at fault. This is a bad strategy because it breaks down your relationship with the other entity. They may feel less friendly if a more serious concern arises.

“It's always bad to cry wolf and abuse the system,” says Susan Bach, Media Coordinator for the Better Business Bureau of Wisconsin. “You want the organization to take you and your complaint seriously or they might have a reason to dismiss you.”

A ninja knows when to fight and when to seek another option. A successful consumer needs this same awareness. Understand:

Not all your problems are caused by someone else's carelessness or laziness;
Someone's mistake may not be worth complaining about if the person who made the mistake is willing to try and correct it.

Set your goals

What should you do when you feel it's necessary to complain?

First, identify exactly what's caused you to be unhappy. If you don't know what you're unhappy about, you won't recognize the successful resolution!

Second, determine your goal. Imagine you bought a weight-loss product that guaranteed ten pounds off in ten days. If you followed the instructions and didn't lose the weight after ten days, your goal would be a full refund because the product didn't do what it promised.

Identifying the causes and planning your goals will keep your complaint clear and accurate.

“A lot of people don't know exactly what they're looking for in terms of a resolution,” says Bach, “but if you don't ask for something, you won't get it back.”

Resolve it directly

Use Your Credit Card

One good strategy is to use a credit card to make purchases of products that are expensive, or that you can't see “in real life.”

For example, when you buy an mp3 player over the phone or online, you don't see it until it arrives at your house.

If it arrives broken or it stops working after two weeks, your credit card offers the best protection when you contest the charge.

Credit cards also offer much greater protection from fraud and identity theft than debit cards or checks. This is crucial to protect yourself from identity theft and phishing scams when buying online.


When you lodge a complaint at a business, first try to resolve the dispute directly with the people involved as soon as you can.

If you buy a DVD player and it doesn't work when you try it out at home, call the store immediately to speak to the salesperson you worked with. Then as soon as you can, take it back and ask for a return.

If the person installing your carpet hasn't done an acceptable job, talk to him about redoing the service while he's still in your home. Many times this strategy alone will be enough to resolve your complaint.

When the employees that are serving you aren't being helpful, talk to people in higher ranking positions within the company, such as managers or supervisors. These people may be more capable of helping you because they have more authority.

Don't get angry

“The customer isn't always right, and neither is the business,” reminds Bach. Sometimes the problem is due to misunderstandings. Most companies will be willing to try and correct a misunderstanding so that their clients will become return customers.

However, they'll be less willing to help if you contact them in an impolite, angry or rude manner. Stay calm and avoid screaming at service representatives—you'll have more credibility than someone who is rude.

Here's a sample complaint letter.

Sample Complaint Letter

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) offers a sample complaint letter that shows a polite way to contact a company about your complaint.

The FTC also suggests that you send letters through certified mail with “return receipt requested,” an option you can ask for at the post office. This will ensure you that your letter reached the company and give you a record of who signed for it.

Keep a record

When you file a complaint, keep a record of all events and evidence. The company may ask you to provide receipts or invoices which prove that you were a customer. Always give them a copy and keep the originals for yourself.

As you speak with different people about your complaint, keep a record of who you speak with and the details of what they say. Also keep their phone numbers, extensions, and e-mail addresses.

This keeps you organized, especially when you need to speak with several people before your complaint is addressed.

Letters and e-mail are a good way of contacting companies because it's easy to keep a copy of your messages in case you need to re-send them for some reason.

Don't give up

Think you've been a victim of fraud or identity theft?

Fraud or Identity Theft?

If you feel you have been the victim of a crime such as fraud or identity theft, contact the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) with your complaint.

“The FTC works for the consumer to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices in the marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop, and avoid them,” says Jackie Dizdul of the FTC's Office of Public Affairs.

The FTC works with law enforcement agencies to fight consumer crime. According to Dizdul, “Over 1500 law enforcement agencies have access to the [FTC] database.” Like the BBB, the FTC receives complaints on its webpage, through the mail, or over the phone.

If a company says they can't resolve your complaint and you still feel that you have been mistreated, don't give up.

One option is to contact the Better Business Bureau (BBB) with your complaint, including copies of receipts and documentation.

If you're still unhappy with how the company has treated you, the BBB offers mediation and arbitration services.

The final method to solve your dispute is small claims court. The courts should be used as a last resort because filing a lawsuit may limit your other options. “Once you've filed with the courts, the Better Business Bureau can no longer help you,” says Bach.

While it's a relatively inexpensive process, waiting and planning for a court date can become time consuming. It makes sense to try and solve your complaints through resolution services like the BBB before heading to the courthouse.

Remember to say “thanks”

Complaint Checklist

Set your goals
Try to resolve the dispute directly with the people involved
Keep a record of all events and evidence
Stay calm
Don't give up
Remember to say “thanks”

Just as a ninja offers respect to talented opponents, a successful consumer has respect for companies that work hard and deliver good service.

While it is easy to contact an organization when you feel unhappy with how you have been treated, it is important to let them know when you're pleased as well.

Here are three ways to reach a company with your positive comments:

Compliment a company on the BBB's web site;
Contact information from the company's homepage;
Customer feedback information on your receipt.

A quick “thank you” helps a company know when they are doing something right
Comments:12 Replies - Latest reply on 2007-05-05
Posted by Anonymous on 2007-02-06:
Thanks for posting those guidelines. I find that keeping a record of all conversations (date & names) really helps. Above all always try to stay as calm as possible. Anger just leads to a bad response. Usually the customer service agent when answering the phone will give their first name. I respond by saying " Hi (their name), I am (my name). That tends to put them at ease and makes them feel they are not about to get an earful of rage and ranting. I took some training from a world famous company (they have a mouse as mascot) and learned there that turning on the charm works wonders. If you have to escalate the call keep the charm going.
Posted by Anonymous on 2007-02-06:
Excellent post!
Posted by Anonymous on 2007-02-06:
KenPopcorn - this ranks in the top ten of best informatives posted on my3cents. Very good! Thanks for sharing!

passingby - true. Keep your cool. I find that most customer service people like being a hero but despise being a villain. Always give the person helping you the chance to be your hero. I'm serious... I had a problem with cingular not to long ago. I simply asked the young lady, can you be my hero in this? Silly, yes, but it works and she became my hero.
Posted by bill on 2007-02-06:
I agree. Great post.
Posted by Anonymous on 2007-02-06:
Great post Ken!
Posted by Slimjim on 2007-02-06:
Good post Ken. It's amazing how some people will handle their dissatisfaction with even the simplest inconveniences. Life changing miseries like getting cold fries or moist fish at some fast food black-tie restaurant.
Posted by Anonymous on 2007-02-06:
You're starting to rival my informatives.
Posted by Skye on 2007-02-06:
Great review.
Posted by S. on 2007-02-06:
No, no, no, Ken! People will never follow these suggestions--they make too much sense. I concur with the others: great post, and thanks.
Posted by SilverWngs71 on 2007-02-06:
As a Customer Service Rep I totally enjoy speaking to ppl that keep a cool head and even though are outraged at the appliance, they do not take out the issue on me. ( My mom always told me treat people with respect and they will respect you for it)

Today, I had a consumer who had service out on his appliance and had an issue that had repeating repairs. While the system was updating we spoke about the issues he had with the appliance. Even though he was upset with the company and the appliance, said some choice words, he kept saying he was not upset with me and knew my hands were tied at what I could do. We ended the call on a good note and even though I could not assist with his request he advised he was pleased with the customer service repoire (sp).

Then there are consumers, who no matter how many times they are denied they scream, rant and use harsh language.
They do not accept anything less than a replacement or free parts even if the unit is outside of warranty they want something that cannot be provided.

Great Post Ken!

Posted by N. on 2007-05-05:
The information about the credit card din't work for me and I notated that at this site - I hired a lawyer.

Here's what I've learned:
Individuals, not the company, use credit card numbers. If this should happen, hire a laywer, because the company didn't use your credit card number.
Posted by N. on 2007-05-05:
I hired a lawyer.

Here's what I've learned:
Individuals, not the company, use credit card numbers. If this should happen, cancel your credit card, get a new one, contact the credit bureaus and put a "fraud allert" on your accounts, hire a laywer, because the company didn't use your credit card number.
Doing business with a company does not assure you of your goal; the company stands behind it's employees and that is where the problem can stay.
Addressing the corporate office for a company with the following formation: date/time of incident, what happened, employee name/number, telephone number and time to contact you, the name/telephone number/address of your attorney.
A bank transfer of funds directly to the company will help protect your credit card number.
Buying anything from a seller not in this country, means you have someone difficult to contact and/or understand. Before you make a purchase online, find out if this merchant has a United States telephone number and address. Ratings of a seller could be untrue.
Use our goverment agencies to help - the PUC is fast and will call you for a follow up to make sure there are no more problems.
Don't spend a long time on a call or continue to make calls; state on the first call why you are calling, what you want from the call, ask for a supervisor if needed, get employee names and numbers of who you speak to and allow them the time to document your reason for calling.
Think twice before giving out your credit card number!

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