In general, I think of myself as a happy person. Except when a waiter takes a little too long with an order. Or a repair shop goes a few bucks beyond an estimate. Or a doctor fails to return a call. OK, so I’ve got a few complaints. Maybe more than a few. And maybe all my complaining has started to wear on my friends and family through the years. So be it, I say. There’s money in being a malcontent, I recently learned — $1,200 in cash and services, to be exact.
That’s what two companies paid me in total as a result of complaints I registered in the past few months. The two circumstances couldn’t have been more different. In one instance, I posted a negative review on Yelp and another social media site after a car dealer did a sloppy job with a repair. Within hours, the dealer’s general manager was in touch to see if he could make things right and he ultimately refunded the cost of the work, took a new look at the car and even threw in a wash, wax and interior shampoo — in all, a $500 payday (er, complain-day).
In the other — even more bizarre — instance, I was contacted by the funeral home that handled the service for my late mother. In advance of my receiving a survey form it was sending out, it wanted to know if there was anything that would stop me from giving it a top rating. So, I called and mentioned what was truly a minor issue — namely, how the attendees felt slightly rushed by staff while saying their goodbyes at the service’s conclusion. Sure enough, that netted me a $700 refund on a roughly $13,000 bill.
To some extent, the close timing of the two refunds could be chalked up as mere coincidence. But people who study consumers and the marketplace tell me there’s a whole lot of refunding going on these days — for a likely reason.
Because of social media and the broader, evolving concern that no customer is an island, companies are more willing than ever to mollify us grouches — or perhaps to outright buy our favor. (It’s not unusual for businesses to ask refunded complainers to delete a negative review.) Sure, plenty of companies tried to do right by their base in the time before Twitter and TripAdvisor, but now the stakes have become even higher.
In other words, the customer may be king, but the complainer is master of the universe.
All of which left me asking: Is there a right way to complain? When I was refunded, I couldn’t help but feel I got “lucky,” especially given the fact I wasn’t seeking compensation from the companies in the first place. But what if a consumer really feels they’re wronged? Based on my experience and what experts say, here’s the art of complaining for dollars — in five easy lessons.