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Complaining Can Save You Money

This article was written by in Consumer. 11 comments.

Emily GersonAbout the author: This article was written by Emily Starbuck Gerson whose personal mission is to help people learn about credit and debt. She writes for the blog, Taking Charge (read her posts here).

I love cookies. They’re one of my favorite things to eat, and everyone who knows me knows this. I avoid fried food so I rarely eat fast food, but when I do, I tend to go to Whataburger because they have large, fresh, gooey chocolate chip cookies. The thing is, the last several times I’ve gone, regardless of location, they’ve been out. McDonald’s recently started offering similar large, gooey chocolate cookies of equal goodness, which are even cheaper, and they’re never out. Even though salads is the only actual food I’ll eat there, it’s become my new fast-food cookie stop.

But the other night I got a craving for a Whataburger grilled chicken sandwich. I considered going elsewhere, but I remembered the cookies, and my decision was made. Upon entering the drive-thru, I was told they were out of chocolate chip cookies (they had macadamia, but those don’t do much for me).

I was not thrilled. I was even less thrilled when I got home to find that my sandwich was fried chicken, not grilled chicken as I’d ordered. I was so hungry, I ate it anyway.

I sat at home eating the order I didn’t order, thinking about how annoyed I was that Whataburger never seems to have the cookies anymore, and that the woman who took my order looked exhausted and messed it up. I normally never complain to a restaurant unless anything is vastly unsatisfactory, but I decided it was time to open my mouth. I went to the Whataburger Web site and found an area where you could make a complaint or comment. I was able to pick from a list which store I visited, and I explained my discontent, though I assumed nothing would come of it.

The next day I received a call from the general manager of the Whataburger I had visited. She was extremely kind and apologetic. I told her I could forgive the wrong order since it happens everywhere from time to time, though I was annoyed that the cookies were my favorite part of Whataburger, but never seemed to be available anymore. She said she’s been trying to get her staff to always have cookies ready, but she would make a more concerted effort because all menu items should be available at all times. Being my push-over self, I apologized for complaining, but she said she was actually glad I did, and appreciates the feedback. She told me she’d be sending me coupons in the mail.

Sure enough, yesterday I checked the mail, and there it was. An envelope with a handwritten note from her, apologizing again and asking me to accept the coupons. She included two coupons for a free burger and a handwritten note on her business card for me to get two free cookies. Those made up for the price of my incorrect order and then some.

The moral of the story? If you receive unsatisfactory service somewhere and feel like your money has been wasted, do something about it. Be a bold consumer and lodge a complaint. I told my co-worker I was writing this, and she cited a similar example, when she received a box of food that was supposed to have six items in it, but only had five. She complained to the company and was sent a new, full box of six. Don’t take this the wrong way — I don’t want people to use this strategy to try to get free items when they aren’t deserved. That’s hurting businesses unfairly. But if you feel it is truly warranted, don’t be afraid to complain — you will likely be rewarded for your efforts.

If you enjoyed this article, please visit Emily Gerson’s blog for more tips and thoughts about credit, debt, and identity protection. We would appreciate your comments and reactions, so if you would like to contribute to the discussion, add your comment below.

Updated November 12, 2008 and originally published April 21, 2008.

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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar 1 Anonymous

I have a friend that complains to get free stuff all the time – boy is he cheap and its embarrassing to be around him at times because of this. On the other hand what you did is perfectly acceptable. I’d be frustrated from a lack of my favorite items and the heartattack chicken insted of grilled would have sent me over the edge. I don’t usually complain – I just stop visiting the place. So I’m sure the manager was glad you complained because she has kept you as a customer. Whereas the Pei Wei that kept giving me fried rice instead of brown I just stopped going to for a year until they got a new manager and employees. They lost by business for a whole year (probably $250-$500 lost right there) because I wasn’t willing to complain.

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avatar 2 Anonymous

I’m glad you complained and I was really pleased at the response you got. When we pay for a service it seems only fair that we get what we expect, complaining gives the service provider the chance to make amends and or improve the service.

There is also another reason why it’s important to complain- it’s good for you.

The other day I was so upset when one of my favourite sweets(candies) was changed, for some reason I felt I had to let someone know. So I rang the customer care line and vented my views for about 20 minutes. The woman taking my call was really empathic and when I finished she gave me lots of information about the product change and passed on my comments to the marketing department.

A few days later I received a letter of apology and a cheque (check). I have no idea if my feedback will make any difference, however, what I do know is I am not sitting in those unhealthy emotions. SO go on complain it might be the bedt thing you’ve ever done.

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avatar 3 Anonymous

Businesses love feedback. They know for every one complaint ten people will not return and may tell other people of their bad experience.

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avatar 4 Anonymous

Hey Emily,
I agree with what you say in this piece. All too often, as consumers and customers, we accept things that are unsatisfactory because we don’t want to be a bother. I wrote a similar entry over at RBCp2p, a site for students by students. Feel free to check it out:

I’ll be sure to check out your personal blog, as you seem to write about the same types of things we want to address at RBCp2p.


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avatar 5 Anonymous

Sometimes you just have to complain. Several weeks ago I bought a box of clementines from our local grocer and I had looked them over, best I could from outside their lattice covering, and thought it was a good bunch. When I got them home, they were dripping on the counter and everything, but the top layer, was rotted. Yuck!

I was frustrated because I’d picked clementines over another fruit to that week’s lunchbox fruit and now was out the money for the spoiled fruit and our lunchboxes were going to be sparse that week. I went online, made a comment to the store, and got called within a few days as well. The store manager apologized and gave me a $25 gift card – way more than what I paid for the fruit. I appreciated it and was glad that my complaint was heard. Oh, and I didn’t buy more clementines with the gift card.

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avatar 6 Anonymous

What a great story. See, if you’re good about complaining I think you get a lot further than the guy who yells at the top of his lungs.

When I worked in retail for a while, we would always treat the guy who was mellow and understood the situation over a guy who was insane and just wanted to vent his anger on others.

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avatar 7 Anonymous

Studying as a student in 3D animation I was out of pocket and accidentally knocked over my new external hard drive rendering it useless. It was a brand new drive and I was out of pocket getting it. I knew I might be able to recover much of my work from various lab computers I’d used that week, but then without the drive I had nowhere to store all the data, which was pretty essential to getting a job; especially the demo reel I’d made as a visual C.V.

So there I was: damaged goods due to accident. Not good.

Out of desperation I phoned the store. I happened to get the manager. I explained the problem. I told him I hadn’t knocked it over “that hard” and explained my situation in terms of needing something urgently. He said he the procedure would be to send the drive to the manufacturer where they would say within three weeks if it was a warrantee item. (e.g. assess physical damage).

I explained that this would be no good for me as I needed to get the data back in order to leave across the country by the weekend, when my flats rent term would be ended. He said he would get back to me to try and get their permission to speed the deal, but it was the best he could do.
Later on he called back and asked me when I bought the item. When I told him he got excited “You only had the drive three days” he said. It turned out that they had a back-to-base special on all items running and, hearing my story, at the store manager, he reasoned that I should return the item to the store and simply replace it… even though I had admitted the fault was caused by physical accident.

Maybe it was the prayers I’d had over the phone with my mother at the time. Maybe it was because I stayed relatively level-headed explaining my woes (I didn’t yell or swear lots). Suffice to say, I was very relieved. When I go back to that area in a few weeks I think I’ll pop in and give him a sample of my reel to show him what his action recovered and to say thank you.

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avatar 8 Anonymous

The first lesson here comes from Joe Pesci’s character from Lethal Weapon II. After they left a drive through and his character, Leo Getz, failed to get his desired sandwich, he quipped, “they f*&k you through the drive thru.” My wife is always amazed that I refuse to use the drive through. I always remind her of this comment.

My sister-in-law will call the 800 numbers on the package all the time to complain. She always gets free samples. I think she has too much time on her hands, but it seems to work.

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avatar 9 Anonymous

My wife is a master of the “artful complaint.” She can complain without being rude, mean, or a jerk and as a result, regularly gets free coupons for many items, deodorant, razors, foodstuffs, etc. Taking the time to write a letter has always worked best. It seems that emails are more often disregarded.

Businesses DO love to get feedback. I would highly recommend that people complain to the person who can actually FIX the problem though. Going straight to the president, VP, or district manager can engender hard feelings at the store level. Start at the bottom, and then work your way up if you just “can’t get no satisfaction.” (my apologies to The Stones!)

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avatar 10 Anonymous

That’s a pretty motivating story. When something goes wrong, I usually just end up getting peeved and stewing over it, and I find I don’t have time to actually write a complaint. However, maybe I’ll find time next time.

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avatar 11 Anonymous

I’m all for complaining if you’re decent about it.

Recently I bought some bread from the grocery store that was made by a local artisinal bread company who is known in the area for really high quality bread. When I got the bread home it was raw dough in the center. So I wrote a note to them via the website and complained, nicely, about my experience.

I received a nice reply back and was asked for my address so they could send a “care package”. I received several loaves of bread, dinner rolls, etc….even a t-shirt. I will definitely buy from them again because this was a class act.

I never expected anything from them. I just wanted to let them know about the experience. Maybe a larger business wouldn’t have been so generous but that is beside the point. If something is wrong you have to speak up. If you don’t how are they supposed to know something was wrong?

PS: the bread was incredible. The Parker House rolls were simply unbelievable.

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