Monday, January 12, 2009

How To Deal With A Run-Around

Have you ever tried to contact a company that sold you something defective only to face the frustration and disappointment you feel when you realize you’re getting the

Nowadays, I’ve found companies utilize many methods to complicate rather than solve consumer complaints. Issues you want addressed involving various types of product defects or services get muddled. Possibly your complaint has to do with the quality control of a product or service. In a perfect world competent personable staff would quickly handle these concerns. The reality is the front line workers are usually low – paid and poorly trained. They lack the authority or ability to make a decision regarding your concerns.

In order to resolve a complaint decisions need to be made. You often find a lot of extraneous posturing and gamesmanship instead of reasonable approaches. You must remember the person you’re speaking to also reports to someone, and for any serious concerns they need clearance first.

You may find that staff appears more intent on sweeping problems off their desk instead of resolving them. And as customer complaints do have a tendency to get confrontational & uncomfortable, you’ll need a manager to make a decision in order to fix what’s wrong. The front-line service representatives at some point will dissolve into the fabric as your matter moves up the company ‘chain of command.’

For instance, Bell telephone created ‘Emily’, the all-automated customer service robotic voice service. My wife tried resolving our high long-distance phone bill, which resulted from an error on Bell’s part. She found, that after two months, Emily was totally useless. My wife explained the situation to me one morning, and seemed to want to rip the phone cord out of the wall. I decided to step in. I first wrote Bell a letter to outline what the problem was. In order to expedite this process, I called the Bell head office and asked for the head of the billing department.

Magically, on receipt of the letter, later that day, a Bell staffer called and the problem was resolved the following Monday.

How do you know that you are getting the run-around? The signs are clear if you know what to look for. Excuses being made for work not done, i.e. “Oh Sir, now with the holidays it’s our busiest time. Could you call back say in January?”
If you’re given one story on a Monday, which someone else refutes on Friday, then your issues are being ignored. The company many times tries to wear people down in order to make them go away.

Let’s face it, from the company’s standpoint, money can be saved and more profits earned by not replacing defective products under warranty, or fixing billing errors and mistakes that other company salesmen have made. In the long run, I personally don’t believe it’s a cost effective way to run a business, but many organizations are less concerned than they should be with goodwill!

If after numerous phone calls emails or letters you continue to feel that you are dancing around in circles, not moving any closer to an answer, the following guide may help you.

Here are the steps I use in the battle of the ‘run-around.’

1. Check your documentation, all warranties and other guarantees to see if anything is covered and what your options are. Check what exact rights you might have as a: new car owner, new homeowner, or purchaser of a service contract, etc. etc?

2. Whenever speaking to a company representative ask for their name or last initial. If you call back and ask for ‘John,’ he may be hard to locate if there are more than one.

3. Record the date, time and a brief description of what was discussed. This information may prove pivotal if the matter drags on. Why is it that you’re always told that everything you believe was just a big misunderstanding? You will need your notes of what statements were about that were previously made to you.

4. You must make your complaint in a timely fashion. As you become aware that your product or service is unacceptable, it’s time to issue a letter and a telephone call. In your letter or email be as specific as possible, so it’s harder for the company to wriggle out of their obligations, be it warranty or other responsibility.

5. As a rule, I find that things need to be put in writing. Lay out your concerns, and then explain what you expect to be done to resolve the issues. Be as reasonable as you can be. This way the issues are on the table and the company has a harder time denying any knowledge of your concerns. Most times you need to write out a letter after having a conversation with a company member. “Thank you Mr. Grubner for speaking with me this past Monday. It was my understanding that a multi-scrubber can only be replaced after three service calls have been made.”

6. Don’t be taken in by any of the old lines, like “We’ve never had any complaints before.” It’s very important to do some of your own troubleshooting with the problem(s) so that you come across as if you know what you’re talking about. It is a lot easier to talk about having a defective hose-clamp than explaining the kind of noise the your unit makes when you turn it on.

7. Always keep your cool, and aspire to be the reasonable party. Never show that you’re visibly upset, or risk the company saying they refuse to deal with a ‘hothead’.
Sometimes it might seem like the job of a front line worker is only meant to infuriate customers. Maybe this is a strategy designed to upset customer’s in order to get them to give up on the matter.

8. Always ask for the head of the department, or manager/supervisor. Try to keep your voice at a serious sounding pitch. Let them know you are not fooling around.
You need to come across as the ‘reasonable person,’ who just wants to resolve things.

9. It’s important to clearly state what the main problem is, and how you wish to have it corrected. Make sure the company realizes that you are not willing to spend an unlimited amount of time working on solving these issues. But on the other hand, if necessary, you’ll take things to the next level. This may mean the upper level of management or other consumer protection organizations such as the Better Business Bureau or the Ministry of Consumer Affairs. After making a submission always follow up by contacting the company to see if your letter was received and if there is anything being done.

Most importantly always stick to your guns. Once you’ve determined that your issue forms the basis for a complaint, or that something needs clarification, don’t allow yourself to be intimidated. At times the size of the organization may have you reconsidering whether to act. Sooner or later the company will start getting the message that you’re not going away until they deal with your concerns.

My next column will deal with things to think about prior to making your purchase. If you have any issues that you would like help with email me at

By Howard Buchin

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