We’ve all had a bad customer service experience at one time or another. Now, with the Internet, it’s easier than ever to find a forum to discuss these incidents, seek advice from experts and fellow consumers and, most importantly, to vent.
Every state either has an Office of Consumer Affairs or a section on its Attorney General’s page where you can file a complaint against a local business (and some states have both). There are also several agencies like the Federal Trade Commission, the Better Business Bureau and the Aviation Consumer Protection and Enforcement division that solicit consumer complaints. And in a couple months, there will likely be another one. The financial reform package, which has been approved by both the House and the Senate, includes a new Consumer Financial Protection Agency, whose main purpose is listening to and (hopefully) acting on consumer complaints.
General Tips for Griping
As a consumer, you always have the option to engage with the company directly, although there is a good chance that you will just end up with a PR response at best and silence at worst. Still, I do recommend that you start by exploring this route, especially when you have a serious issue to take up with the company such as fraud or a failure to deliver the service you purchased.
According to The New York Times, one very successful method is to a write a letter to the CEO or other higher-ups in the company with your complaints. You should write with a civil tone, but don’t be afraid to imply threats, like noting that “you’ve sent a copy of the letter to a government agency, like the Federal Trade Commission.” Alternatively, you can try talking it over with a representative on the phone. In this case, the Times has two tips: Ask the person what they would do in your shoes in order to get real substantive help, and ride out the clock, since the representative isn’t permitted to hang up on you and will feel more compelled to resolve your issue. (Check out GetHuman.com for a directory of numbers to connect you with a real representative.)
If none of that works, you should take to the Internet. Here is our roundup of the best sites to visit if you want to vent and see your complaint have some impact, or if you just want to read the crazy feedback from other consumers.
RipoffReport.com is the place to complain about and uncover scams across the country, and to do so without holding back. According to the site, law firms often use the information entered on Rip Off Report to help with lawsuits against particular businesses. So not only do you get the satisfaction of complaining and having people read your complaints, but you may also help to change the way companies operate down the road.
Favorite Complaint: “On tuesday dec. 1st, 2009 I placed an order with Reptile Depot for 9 baroni mantellas, 2 pygmy chameleons, a live plant, and a digital timer, for a total of $285.77… The order was to go out on the first and arrive the next day. I make my own schedule, so I stayed home all day on the second. No Package! After several frustrating sessions of being put on hold, being told I would be called, and being told promised that my order would be shipped out the next day (this happened at least four or five times), I demanded my money back. They said they wouldn't give me a refund because it's not their policy.
Weeks went by. I kept emailing and calling. No manager or owner was ever produced to speak to me. Eventually when I called they would just lie to me and tell me that "Peter" in charge of live orders, was at lunch. Every time I called no matter what time of day it was, he was at lunch? This was five months ago… Reptile Depot effectively swindled me for close to three hundred dollars. They are fraudulent criminals.”
ComplaintsBoard.com is a good forum for venting at companies, plus it features stories about recalls and companies in the news and even offers useful tips for consumers and businesses alike. Also, for better or worse, users on this site don’t just complain about businesses. One user actually posted a tirade against a “deadbeat father” who failed to pay child support. Talk about drama.
Favorite Complaint: “Bank of America is a very dishonest bank, there thing is to trick you or cheat you in anyway possible. And believe me when i tell you that they are liars. I don't want to spend all day writing a book on how they have cheated me but i am going to take the time to post this so when people come to look they will find yet another person saying that the things bank of America are doing are against the law. who is going to protect the people from these bullies? they are picking on and ripping off the elderly and so much more. its disgusting to use the word America in their name.”
PissedConsumer.com offers several incredibly useful features. Like ComplaintsBoard, they provide a good outlet to vent and a long list of consumer tips. The site also offers its own Customer Satisfaction Index, which tallies up all the complaints PissedConsumer receives by company and industry to illustrate which businesses are the most reviled. This index shows that Direct TV gets more complaints than any other company and is further evidence that Bank of America may be the most frustrating of all the banks. And members have the option to pay for a reputation management service so that they can reduce the likelihood that someone will want to complain about them one day.
Favorite Complaint: [About AirTran, the airline] “I spoke with a skycap about my daughter who is disabled and left him a tip. I left my daughter with him thinking he would take care of her. He wheeled her inside and forgot about her. She missed her plane and was quite upset as am I. The airline did not take care of her properly on her return flight either. She was not in a wheelchair like she was supposed to be, not escorted and was handling her own luggage. She said they yelled at her over the speaker on the plane before the lights went off as she wanted to make sure she could get her bag out of overhead so she didn't drop it on anyone. She could of been lost, killed or dropped that luggage on someone.”
(Runner-Up: A consumer complains about their terrible experience renting a Limo. “None of the three tv’s worked !!!”)
PlanetFeedback.com is one of the more civil places for consumers to turn to when they feel like complaining. The site refers to all complaints as “letters” and features company responses to many of the complaints. In that way, the site really seems to be trying to foster a dialogue between the consumer and the company, rather than just a ranting session. Of course, there is a bit of that too.
Favorite Complaint: “On Saturday, May 1st at approximately 8:15pm, my 18 year old daughter was involved in a troubling incident at one of your theaters, specifically the Dickinson Central Mall 10 in Port Arthur, TX. My daughter and her fiancée have a 7 month old infant at home and were enjoying a rare night out when my husband and I called her to give a status update on the baby. She quietly answered the phone and after discerning there was no problem told us that she was in the movie and unavailable to speak at the moment before quickly hanging up. A few minutes later she called back to tell us that they had been asked to leave because she answered her phone during the movie.
I immediately called to speak to the manager on duty... He told me that patrons are expected to turn their phones completely off upon entering the theater. I countered with the fact that my daughter has an infant at home and cannot be expected to do this. Mr. xxxxxx then told me that he would have made an exception before the movie if she would have asked him. Unsure how she was supposed to know to do this, I asked him where this was posted in the theater. He said it was posted in 3 different places. This didn’t sound plausible, so after some additional questioning, he admitted that there was nothing posted about managers making exceptions to this ‘Zero-Tolerance’ rule…”
Are you not on speaking terms with a particular business? Well, MeasuredUp.com essentially acts as an intermediary between you and the companies you hate. Big name business like Home Depot, Wal-Mart, Orbitz and Best Buy have signed up with MeasuredUp to respond to consumer complaints on the site. Consider it a way to get around talking to representatives on the phone. (It’s also worth noting that there are thousands of posts on this site that are actually positive, which doesn’t seem to be the case on the other sites we mentioned.)
Favorite Complaint: [About a Carvel in Connecticut] “They are rude in that store, and use Hershey's chocolate whenever they can. They put it on Fudgey the Whale cakes, in sundaes and sell it in containers if you want to buy carvel fudge. they do not tell you it is hershey's... they pass it off as carvel fudge. i saw the Hershey's container out and questioned them and they denied it. It tastes just like Hershey's but if I wanted Hershey's i would buy Hershey's!”
Unless this post was typed up by an aggravated child (which is certainly a possibility), something tells me they should probably just lay off the ice cream sundaes all together.
Besides the Web sites mentioned above, there are plenty of review sites that you can use as an outlet to complain about companies. Yelp.com is a good tool for critiquing retail and the food services industry and StreetAdvisor.com is good for doing the same with real estate. And Amazon is a good forum in general, since many companies are sensitive to their customer ratings on the site.
How Businesses Should Respond to Customer Complaints
While the Internet may be a boon for frustrated consumers, it can end up being a serious liability for businesses. But there is a way for business owners to turn this to their advantage. If you stay linked in to the various forums we mentioned here, you ultimately have direct access to your customer base and can work to change their opinions. Inc Magazine recommends that businesses be mindful not to take complaints personally and make an effort to respond to complaints earnestly and by treating the customer “as an individual.”
Similarly, The Wall Street Journal notes that customers often care less about their original customer service experience than the attempts the business takes to make up for it. Consumers are fragile creatures. More than anything else, we just want our complaints to be taken seriously and handled fairly and, sure, maybe offered a little compensation from time to time.
MainStreet.com also aims to give consumers a place to voice their opinions. Check out our past consumer outrage features on the cable and cell phone industries and don’t hesitate to reach out to us if you feel a business has done you a disservice.
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