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Bad Customer Service? 3 Smarter Ways to Complain

True story: My mom recently visited a local cellular store (which will remain nameless) to report a problem with a BlackBerry that she'd just purchased a week prior. Her phone suddenly stopped charging and she believed it was due to a broken charger, so she asked the saleswoman in the store if she would let her hook up her BlackBerry to a new charger to test the problem.

Long story short, the sales woman did not believe my mother and flat-out refused to help her. She insisted the phone was, in fact, charging with the existing charger (even though the phone showed a near-empty battery symbol). My mom asked to speak to a manager, who helped her right away. Turns out my mom was right: The charger was broken, and a new one was issued promptly.

But along the way, a simple problem that should have taken 2 minutes to resolve took far more time -- and way more stress. No wonder consumers are fed up with bad customer service. Consumer Reports recently surveyed readers about their customer service experiences and found 64% said they'd walked out of a store because of poor service in the past year. And when it comes to dealing with customer service over the phone, more women are frustrated than men.

Here's some advice for getting your way after a customer service kerfuffle:

1. Ask the Manager for 'Advice'
Managers have more authority to help. If you feel slighted or poorly served -- whether in a store, restaurant or hotel, or over the phone with customer service -- ask to speak to a manager. Remain calm, explain the situation (briefly) and have some sense of how you'd like it to be resolved. Or try this question, which worked well for me recently (when a home furnishing store fell asleep on the job and forgot to ship my order and missed its delivery date): "What would you do if you were me?" That always seems to do the trick: Asking the manager for his/her advice, to level with you and understand your frustration in a way that doesn't involve you losing your cool. For me, it quickly earned me reimbursed shipping costs.

2. Tweet Your Frustrations
Twitter is a hit-or-miss weapon against poor customer service, but it's always worth a try. As Consumer Reports says, "Companies monitor sites to see what is being said about them." You never know: your 140-character complaint could incite a speedy remedy from Corporate -- especially if you have a ton of followers. Best to keep your complaint clean and to the point, and be sure to incorporate the merchant's Twitter handle. For example: "Awful service tonight @ChezJacquesNYC Not sure I'd go back!" might grab the attention of someone in PR -- or even the owner, Jacques, himself.

3. Dispute the Charge
This is where using a credit card helps. If you did not receive the service or product you were promised or if the quality of the service or product failed to meet expectations, and no one at the company is willing to help, The Fair Credit Billing Act might be your next best defense. You can complain to your credit card company -- either online or over the phone -- and they'll investigate. The law was established to protect consumers who have disputes with their bills, but there's no guarantee you'll get your money back. Keep in mind: The disputed transactions need to be more than $50 and made within 100 miles of the your home address.
Farnoosh Torabi is a personal finance journalist and commentator. She is the author of the new book Psych Yourself Rich, Get the Mindset and Discipline You Need to Build Your Financial Life. Follow her at and on Twitter/farnoosh
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