Consumer IQ

How To Turn An “Absolutely Not” Into A “Yes”

photo: Joelk75

If you’ve ever hit a figurative brick wall when you’re dealing with a company, you know how frustrating it can be.

After several lengthy phone conversations or e-mail exchanges, you’ll get a final, abrupt notice that they’re done dealing with you. “No further correspondence on this issue will be responded to,” they’ll say.

It’s the corporate kiss-off.

There are no formal surveys on rejection rates for customer-service issues among American companies, but chances are you’ve been on the other end of a “no” a time or two. I don’t have to tell you what it’s like – that mix of powerlessness and anger.

Years ago, when I started advocating for customers, you couldn’t get a definitive turn-down from corporate America. Companies always wanted to leave an open door, even if it meant not responding to an e-mail or call.

But today, when the efficiency of call center workers and customer service agents is measured by the second, more companies are skipping the perceived “no” and going with the more direct “hell no!”

That’s actually good, because at least customers know where they stand. When you slam into that proverbial brick wall, you can pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and do one of the following:

1. Appeal to a manager

Go over the heads of the rank-and-file representatives who keep saying “no.” I list many of their e-mail addresses on my site, On Your Side, but they are not difficult to find elsewhere online.

Although these managers go to great lengths to keep their e-mail addresses hidden, they’re not difficult to guess. Send the entire e-mail chain to the manager along with a short, cordial message that you would appreciate a review of your case. In my experience, roughly half the complaints are taken care of on appeal.

2. Send an overnight letter to the CEO

Oddly, a polite but firm letter to the president or chief executive officer can do wonders for your case if a manager rejects your appeal.

Right or wrong, the executive’s staff will do whatever it can to make you go away. At this level, they’re often empowered to grant almost any wish (within reason). If this works, you’ll get a call back from a secretary or someone in the “executive” office, offering a resolution.

Make sure you get the offer in writing, and note the name and number of the person who calls you.

3. Try investor relations

One alternate route to a resolution is via the investor relations department, but this only works with companies big enough to have one (usually large, publicly-traded corporations) and it helps if you’re a shareholder. A member of the investor relations staff will basically mediate your case on your behalf, because you own part of the company.

It can be highly effective, and in certain cases, worth the $30 or so it costs to buy one share. But I wouldn’t recommend it unless you’ve already tried steps 1 and 2.

4. Threaten to sue

If you threaten a company with legal action, it will send your letter along to its legal department, which has some additional leverage with the customer-service folks. It must determine whether: 1) you’re serious about the suit; 2) have a valid case; 3) litigating it will cost more than just giving you what you want; and 4) have the resources to pull it off. Sometimes the lawyers will advise the company to give in; sometimes not.

5. Refuse to pay

If the company isn’t playing ball and you’ve made a purchase in the last 60 days, you always have the option of a credit-card dispute.

Read through the Fair Credit Billing Act and then take it up with your credit card. Some companies fight credit card disputes, but many merchants – particularly those with questionable reputations – just let you keep the money.

Remember, when it comes to customer service “no” doesn’t always mean “no.”

Christopher Elliott is a consumer advocate who blogs about getting better customer service at On Your Side. Connect with him on Twitter and Facebook or send him your questions by email.