I recently got a bill from an attorney for making revisions to my will and other estate planning documents. What I noticed immediately was that the cost of having changes made was more than the cost of drafting the original documents. So, I complained.
I called to let him know that I was surprised by the amount and although the pricing structure had changed, the final fee was a little high. He ended up slashing $200 off my bill.
Admittedly, I was a little nervous when I called because I didn’t want to offend the attorney. But as this example shows, it can pay to complain. And, when done correctly, both sides can come to an agreement without any hard feelings.
Here’s how complaining can help you save money if you’re unhappy with a product or service — and the best ways to do it.
1. You Can Get Your Fees Removed
During a recent visit to her bank, CouponSherpa.com savings expert Kendal Perez complained about a $3 monthly maintenance fee on her health savings account. She mentioned that she had another HSA that didn’t charge a monthly fee and politely — but firmly — asked that the fee on her account with the bank be dropped.
“With a few keystrokes, the fee was eliminated,” she said. “I only wish I had complained earlier as it turns out their policy has always been free HSA accounts for existing checking account customers.”
Perez also avoided paying a shipping fee for returning an online purchase that she was unhappy with. She had ordered wine glasses from a retailer during a Black Friday sale but was disappointed with the design of the glasses. However, returning them meant paying $18 to ship them back or driving more than 60 miles to a retail store.
Taking a friend’s advice, Perez called customer service to express her disappointment with the glasses and to complain about the cost and inconvenience of returning them.
“The person I spoke to was very congenial and stated that since it was the holidays, she would waive the return shipping fee and send me a pre-paid shipping label to my email,” Perez said.
2. Snagging a Better Deal Is Easier
If you’re unhappy with the price a service provider — such as your phone or cable company — is charging you, complaining can help you get a better deal.
Jordan Wolff, founder of bill negotiation service Shrinkabill.com, said he recently complained to major cable company about the price it was charging one of his clients for wireless phone service. He said he got $20 knocked off the client’s monthly bill — a savings of $240 a year.
You often can score savings if you explain your disappointment with the price of a service and compare your current service’s price point to the price point of other providers, Wolff said.
“In essence, you are threatening to cancel due to price,” he said. “This tactic can be useful because companies know it is cheaper to retain current customers than it is to attain new ones.”
3. You’ll Likely Receive a Refund
If you’re not satisfied with a product you buy or a service you receive, complaining can help you get a refund.
Consumer expert Andrea Woroch said that her sister recently bought containers online for baby shower favors, but they arrived without their tops. She called customer service to complain, and the agent promised to place a new order for her at no charge.
In the meantime, Woroch’s sister ordered a few large bags of jelly beans to add to those containers. But after following up with the online store on the order delivery date, a customer service representative told her the replacement order for her containers was never fulfilled.
Woroch said her sister complained about the service and not only got refunded for the glass jars — but also for the jelly beans, a total of about $100.
4. You Can Get Free Products and Services
A few years ago, Jim Wang said he paid for WiFi service on a flight on a major airline. But, he couldn’t use it because it didn’t work most of the flight and was too slow when it did work, said Wang, who created the money-saving blog WalletHacks.com.
So, he emailed the airline’s customer service to complain and get a refund. What he got was a $150 voucher, which was worth a lot more than the few bucks he paid for WiFi.
Tracie Fobes, owner of the money-saving blog Penny Pinchin’ Mom, once bought a bag of tortilla chips that were so hard she couldn’t eat them. So, she contacted the manufacturer to get her money back.
“They apologized and asked for our address,” she said. “A few days later, a huge box showed up in the mail. Inside were two full-size bags of chips and two jars of salsa along with a note where they apologized to us.”
How to Complain Effectively
The way to get complaining to pay off is knowing how to voice your complaint. In fact, companies actually appreciate getting feedback from customers because those complaints can help them know what they need to do to improve their business, said Bryan Clayton, CEO of GreenPal, an online service that connects customers with lawn care services.
“As long as somebody is polite and not aggressive and respectful, we will give them a free lawn mowing if they have an issue with our platform’s service,” Clayton said. “In fact, we are happy to because all of our success today stems from the complaints and customer feedback we have gotten.”
What you don’t want to do is be overly confrontational or aggressive with your demands.
“You might feel you’ve been wronged, it could cost a lot of money to you personally, and then you might feel disrespected and ignored when trying to find a solution,” said Benjamin K. Glaser, features editor with DealNews.com. “Often, a tantrum seems totally justified, but it might only make the situation worse.”
Rather than get mad, use these strategies to get your complaint heard:
Call Customer Service
If you want the most effective results, complain over the phone, Wolff said. It might take a little longer than other approaches, but your efforts are more likely to pay off because you can show that you’re a real person and can get the customer service representative to like you.
“You can get them to sympathize with your case by properly conveying your emotion over your situation,” Wolff said. It’s easier to do this over the phone than in writing.
He recommends calling in the morning when call volumes are lower, and representatives are less likely to be stressed and more likely to have time to discuss your complaint. Be sure to get the representative’s name and contact information. Then, call back to confirm that the discount, refund or another arrangement you agreed to has actually been entered into the company’s system, Wolff said.
Email Your Complaint
If you’re not comfortable confronting someone over the phone, email your complaint to a company’s customer service department. Email allows you to compose your thoughts and not waste time being on hold, Glaser said.
Be sure to send feedback promptly, so you’re not dealing with issues months after the fact, when you might have misplaced merchandise or important information.
Fill Out a Survey
Many companies send surveys via email to follow up on a service rendered or product purchased, Woroch said. You can use the opportunity to complain about any issues you’ve had with their products or services.
“I’ve complained about flight service through [a major airline’s] surveys and have received hundreds of dollars in vouchers good toward free flights as a result,” she said.
Use Social Media
You can air your complaint by using Twitter or other social media direct message options, Woroch said.
“This helps you get answers and results in real time as many companies and brands these days have a dedicated customer service team that monitors social media messages,” she said.
Some companies that have embraced customer service on social media include American Airlines, JetBlue, UPS, Verizon, Lowe’s and T-Mobile, among others, Glaser said.
Inform a Reporter or Media Outlet
Reaching out to a newspaper, broadcast news outlet or online publication should be a last resort, but it can work if you’re having trouble getting results, Woroch said. She did this once with good results.
Woroch’s husband was on a flight from Atlanta to Panama City, Fla., but it didn’t reach its destination because the pilot thought the airport was closed and flew back to Atlanta. “Meanwhile, we were all at the open airport waiting for the flight’s arrival,” she said.
The airline wasn’t prepared to assist the passengers upon their return to Atlanta and didn’t offer to put them up in a hotel, she said. And it couldn’t get the passengers on another flight to Panama City for days. Long story short, Woroch shared the story with a local newspaper that ran an article about the incident.
“We sent the story to [the airline], and my husband was awarded with some extra points and voucher,” she said.
Regardless of which strategy you use, be clear about what your complaint is and what sort of remedy you’re seeking. If you’re polite — yet firm — when expressing your dissatisfaction, you should see your efforts pay off.