How I got two CEOs to listen to my complaints
Here’s a shining example of how Wise Bread writers not only read each others stories, we also follow the advice. And in my case, it worked like a charm. I’m two for two, and I plan to keep on going whenever I have a problem. What I’m talking about, ladies and gents, is the good old-fashioned complaint letter.
Several months ago, Margaret Garcia-Couoh published a great article about writing a physical letter to contact a company. Before that (long before, one of the first article I ever published) I wrote an article outlining how to complain. And after experiencing two really cruddy examples of customer service, I decided to combine the two.
First, Firestone. Here’s a very, very abbreviated version of my experience.
I had a complete oil change/tire rotation coupon for Firestone for $14.99, so I made an online booking. First, my GPS couldn’t find the store because the address on the website was wrong. I missed my Monday appointment but called and said I’d be in tomorrow, booking the same time slot. When I brought the car in on Tuesday morning at 8am, there was no record of my appointment. So, I came back bright and early the next day, only to be told the store didn’t have a filter for my car (seriously). I offered to go pick one up myself, and was directed to a local Wal-Mart…who don’t stock VW Passat filters. So, I had to come back again the next morning, where my oil change was finally done…but the coupon wasn’t accepted. I had to pay $34. Oh, and I needed new tires too, which were going to cost me $800 if I bought them at that location.
I could go on, but you get the picture. Four days and a whole lot of wasted time and money for a simple oil change, and not even the discount that was promised at the end of it. I was annoyed. No, I was fuming. So, I did what I usually do in this situation and sat down to write an email. Then, I stopped. I recalled Margaret’s article and decided instead to write the letter in my word processor. I signed it, put it in an envelope and personally addressed it to the CEO of Firestone, Mr. Mark A. Emkes.
A few days passed, and nothing happened. After a week, I had forgotten about it. That was until I got three phone calls from three different Firestone employees; one assistant to the store manager, one store manager and one district manager. The CEO had clearly lit a fire under someone, because all three were extremely eager to rectify the situation. I had the cost of the oil change refunded, and the store also agreed to mount and balance any new tires that I bought for free (which I got from TireRack, great savings there). Result. One very happy camper here. Maybe this mailed letter idea was legit?
Well, a few weeks later I got the chance to test it again. My wife took a trip to California and rented a car. She called me after she had driven only a few feet from Deluxe Rentacar and said the car didn’t feel like it was running correctly. She then asked what the tire pressure was supposed to be. I didn’t know the exact specs for a PT Cruiser off the top of my head, but I said 32psi was a rough estimate. The tires were at 10psi! How they let her drive off in this amazed me, but she filled them at a nearby garage and drove off. When she brought the car back, she had left a brand new pair of children’s shoes, complete with box and receipt, in the back seat. They cost $45 and she was naturally upset, but her friend said they could go back to the rental place and pick them up without missing their flight. So she called Deluxe Rentacar, said she was on her way back and could they have the shoes ready and waiting. This is when an exceptionally rude woman said, and I quote “there are no shoes in that car. And anything that’s left in the cars is fair game.” Fair game? What? So, my wife called me and I, in turn, called again on her behalf. I got the same, rude “fair game” message, which seems to me like another way of saying finders keepers. I was not happy.
Once again, the complaint letter I mailed did the trick. I wrote to the CEO/owner/president of Deluxe Rentacar, a very nice man called Mr. John P Hennessay, who called me shortly after receiving the letter. He was very apologetic and also wanted to know the names of the people involved, so that he could rectify their behavior. He assured me it would never happen again, and also refunded the cost of the shoes to the credit card my wife used. If she does go back to L.A. soon, I know she’ll be happy to use Deluxe Rentacar again.
If you’ve had a bad experience yourself, I think it’s well worth the time and effort to mail your letter (be it printed out or handwritten) to someone high on the food chain. And if you’re not sure where to get that information, my favorite source on the internet is the Better Business Bureau . Type in the name of the business, the address and it will spit out a bunch of information for you. You’ll get names of the principles, the corporate mailing address and all sorts of other good information (you’ll also get an idea of the company’s track record at resolving complaints).
Also, no-one wants to receive a whining, bitching rant, so make your letter polite. But, make sure you point out everything that happened that caused you distress. It’s also good to add in some praise of the things the company has done right, if not now then in the past when you’ve used them before. Remember, CEOs and business owners are people too, they deserve to be treated with respect, especially if you’re looking for a favorable result.
Follow this advice, the advice in my previous article and the wise words of Margaret and I’m sure you will get the same great results that I did. Corporations want your custom, your repeat business and your patronage, and it’s a lot easier to keep a customer than to try and get a new one. It’s in their interests to keep you happy, you just have to make them want to keep you around. If they already think you’re a lost cause, your letter will almost certainly go in the that special in-box known as the garbage can. Best of luck.