Ask LH: How Should I Make A Complaint Against A Large Company?

Dear Lifehacker, I just had a nasty run-in with customer service for a company I shop with, and I don’t think they’re listening to my complaints. How do I, the little guy, file a complaint appropriately when a large company has done something I find unfair to me? Signed, Not-So Important Caller

Photo by Patricia Feaster.

Dear Caller,

We know how you feel — everyone’s been where you are at least once: wading through customer service reps trying to find someone who’s willing to help with your problem instead of recite policy or procedure to you. Sometimes you’ll have great luck and find reps willing and able to help. Other times you’ll run into dead ends consisting of nothing but call scripts and unhelpful policies.

If you have the time and the drive to follow your complaint through, constantly asking “can I speak to your manager” doesn’t have to be your last resort. Here are a few suggestions.

Take Your Complaint to Twitter or Facebook

Many companies have social media presences on Twitter and Facebook they they use for marketing and customer service purposes. Check to see if the company you have issue with has a presence there, and see if they’re actively engaging their customers’ comments or if they’re simply using the medium as a way to broadcast information.

If you visit their Twitter account (assuming they have one) and you see company representatives replying to customers tweets or following as many customers as follow them, it’s likely they’re also handling customer service requests either openly or via direct message. The same applies for Facebook: if you see the company responding to comments or posts on their page, you may have more luck going that route than calling their call centre.

Keep in mind however that often Twitter and Facebook accounts are handled by marketing staff, who may wind up handing you off to customer service eventually, even if they’re sympathetic. Still, it can be worth a try, especially if you express your frustration at having gotten nowhere with regular channels. Photo by West McGowan.

Write Instead of Call

If you don’t need your issue resolved urgently, you can often get a better response by writing to a head office rather than calling their customer service number. Not too many customers actually write instead of call anymore. Again, your letter may wind up going to the customer service department, but it’s pretty likely it’ll be read by someone either higher up the chain or at least in a different department than the customer service folks you’ve had a problem with.

You also have the option to send a letter directly to company management. Head over to the company’s web site and see if you can find the director or vice president in charge of the area you’re having an issue with, and then send a letter to the address listed, or to the company’s headquarters with their name on it. Make no mistake, it’s unlikely that person will read and personally respond to your message — they’ll likely get it or it’ll be intercepted by their staff — but you can be sure it’ll be handed off to someone in customer service who’s been tasked with making you-and your problem-go away.

You may also have some luck emailing the company’s customer service address with your issue, especially if you note how little luck you’ve had with the company’s front-line support. Unfortunately, email requests often wind up being handled by the same group that handles front-line support, so your mileage may vary when emailing, unless you know you’re emailing a specific person.

Whatever You Do, Be Civil

Regardless of what approach you choose, keep in mind that being rude, aggressive, or impatient may backfire on you. Keep records of your evidence and your communications with company representatives, and be polite and civil in all of your communications.

You’ll get better results with everyone you interact with, especially if you’re escalating above people who have been previously unhelpful, if you take the high road, be clear about what you’d like from the conversation, and be assertive, as opposed to aggressive. Best of luck getting your issues resolved!


PS We know these aren’t the only ways to get your issues heard by companies who may be stonewalling you behind layers of customer service or bureaucracy. What are some of your favourite insider or commonly used tips for getting through to the right people? Share your experience in the comments.

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