We've talked about customer service a lot here at Lifehacker. Unfortunately, poor customer service is something we all have to deal with at some point — and often it takes a lot more than politeness and persistence to get your way. Get Rich Slowly's Holly Johnson offers her best tips for tackling these difficult situations.
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A few months ago, I decided that I needed new furniture. I didn't want new furniture. My three-year-old couch and loveseat were in great condition. On the other hand, I began to realise that I had once again been blurring the lines between being cheap and being frugal. Although my furniture looked nice, it was completely uncomfortable for my back.
As someone who has had two spinal fusions, I must be very picky about where I choose to sit. And since the furniture was no longer ideal for my short stature, I couldn't actually sit on it at all. Therefore, I had been sitting on the floor for more than three years. Cheap. It wasn't necessarily my fault; I bought the furniture before my chronic pain had even started. Still, it didn't make sense to continually sit on the floor when there were obviously other options.
Since we are now free of consumer debt, my husband generously offered to upgrade our current furniture. I was stoked. After shopping at a few local stores, I quickly fell in love with a reclining sectional sofa at Ashley Furniture. And this wasn't just a reclining sectional, it was the fancy power-operated model. This meant that I wouldn't have to endure the jarring motion of manually reclining it myself.
Of course, that probably doesn't sound like a big deal to someone who doesn't have back problems. Yet, those of you who have experienced recurring pain can probably attest to what a big deal it really is. Being in chronic pain can make almost everything a burden, and it is often something small that has the potential to set off some sort of episode. Anyway, I was thrilled to be offered the option of "push button" reclining and I eagerly bought the couch on the spot.
The Unfortunate Delivery
A few weeks passed while I excitedly awaited my new furniture. In the meantime, I sold my old uncomfortable set on Craigslist and prepared my home for the new arrival. The scheduled delivery day finally came, and I was ready to enjoy some serious relaxation. Unfortunately, when my furniture was delivered I was disappointed and angry to find that the couch I received was not the one I ordered. In fact, they sent me a couch that was identical in appearance but only manually reclined. But what about my back? The powered recliner was the main reason that I had ordered that particular couch to begin with. I insisted to speak to a customer service representative and refused to let them bring the furniture into my home.
My initial reaction was to send back the wrong couch that they had delivered. However, the customer service representative calmly assured me over the phone that I would indeed get the correct couch in a few weeks. Since I didn't have any furniture to sit on, and since this was obviously their fault, the store even nicely offered to let me keep the couch they had delivered as a loaner. I was slightly sceptical of the situation, so I refused to sign for receipt of delivery. The furniture store seemed to understand and promised that they would make everything right. Despite my concerns, I decided to proceed. After all, it could be another month until my new couch arrived, and I didn't want to spend it sitting on the floor.
So, What is Taking So Long?
Several weeks went by as I waited for my order to come in. Frustrated, I called the store to check on the delivery date and status. I was completely perplexed when they couldn't find my order in their system. Something was definitely wrong. A few hours later, I received a phone call that made me feel like I was in a crazy, alternate universe. "Mrs Johnson, if you want the powered recliner, you have to pay the difference. It's a lot more expensive," said the customer service rep on the phone. "What?!?!?!?" My heart began to pound. "But I ordered the couch that I sat on in the store. There wasn't even a manually reclining option to choose." I was utterly confused as I tried to reason with the woman on the phone. Unfortunately, she wasn't having it at all. "I'm sorry, but there is nothing I can do to help you."
My blood pressure began to rise as I began to come to grips with what had happened. I had been duped by the classic "bait and switch". I had sat on and ordered the couch of my dreams yet had received something quite different. And now they had nearly $1500 of my money in their coffers, and I felt helpless in getting them to do the right thing.
I quickly pulled myself together. Despite my anger and frustration, I knew that I was completely justified to demand the furniture that I paid for and ordered. And like a mother bear guarding her cubs, I wildly pounced in order to protect my hard-earned dollars. I pulled out all the stops as I pleaded my case for a refund or replacement.
The Moment of Truth
Harsh words were spoken. By the time our phone conversation ended, I'm pretty sure the representative was concerned where this situation was headed. The picture I had painted was not pretty. She surely must have envisioned me picketing the store, holding signs with the ugly details of their duplicity. I even threatened to contact the investigative reporter at our local news station, Raphael Sanchez. Regardless, my crazy tactics worked, and they eventually succumbed to the idea of giving me a full refund and coming to pick up their stuff. Considering the circumstances, I suppose that this is the best resolution that I could have asked for.
One would probably think that I am thrilled to have won this battle of right and wrong. You might think that I really "stuck it to the man" or something like that. However, I am anything but happy with the entire sequence of events. I'm sad and angry. I'm deeply concerned with what has become of customer service. I also wonder what would have happened if this same situation happened to someone who was unable to state their own case. What about someone who didn't have the energy or knowledge to fight for a rightful refund?
What is someone supposed to do when they find themselves in a situation like this? What recourse do we have if we find ourselves on the receiving end of bad customer service — or worse yet — being blatantly ripped off? Unfortunately, it is starting to seem like good customer service is a thing of the past. Furthermore, it appears that some big businesses have become increasingly brazen in their attempts to increase profits. However, there is no reason to adopt a victim mentality. Actually, there are a lot of steps that one can take in order to ensure justice for their particular situation.
- Start by asking to speak to a manager or supervisor. Speak to the highest-level person you can access and be open to resolving the situation with them. This is an important first step in customer service and might be enough to resolve an issue before it needs to be escalated any further.
- File a report with the ACCC. This can result in quick action in your favour. Businesses that care about their reputation do not want a negative complaint on their record.
- Contact your credit card company. If you paid with plastic, certain credit card companies can work with you to withhold payment until a resolution is reached or even resolve the issue for you. Choosing this option might be all it takes to settle a dispute. When a company's own money is on the line, they may be more willing to negotiate.
- Go online. Sites like SCAMwatch in Australia provide up-to-date information, and there are various forums that offer a great sounding board for you to complain about business and services. Don't be afraid to tell your story. You might just save someone else from having the same experience.
- Be a squeaky wheel. We've all heard the saying, "the squeaky wheel gets the grease". I have seen first-hand how a company will sometimes do what is right if you are loud enough, if only to get you to leave them alone. Don't be afraid to speak up in order to get what you paid for and rightfully deserve.
They say that a dissatisfied customer may tell as many as 20 people about their experience, while a happy customer may tell only a few. In my case, this particular company probably didn't realise that my words would have the potential to reach many, many more.
On the other hand, we all truly have a voice. Each one of us has the opportunity to vote for services, products and the way we allow ourselves to be treated. We vote with our dollars, and, thanks to the internet, our complaints may be much further reaching than could ever be anticipated. Don't be scared to take matters into your own hands if you feel that you are being wronged. Don't hesitate to speak up, loudly if needed. And don't be afraid to be that annoying, old squeaky wheel. Just make sure to keep squeaking until you are heard.
Knowing when to be a squeaky wheel [Get Rich Slowly]
Holly Johnson is a staff writer at Get Rich Slowly, a site dedicated to debt elimination, saving money and practical investing.