Here’s what you should do to become a squeaky wheel.
Examine the details. Your first step to resolving a problem comes before there even is one—when making a purchase. Review the terms, looking beyond the price, warranty, or other basics. Companies often make the fine print long and difficult to read, a technique that is known as "shrouding." Studies show that consumers tend to be overly optimistic about the fine print, focusing on the positive aspects that confirm their decision to buy a product. Though it's sure to be tedious, you should comb through the company's refund policies, frequently asked questions, and terms and conditions.
But don’t give in if companies try to use some bit of the fine print to brush off your complaints. They sometimes include provisions that won’t hold up in court or that they have no intention of enforcing if they might lose customers as a result. Nor do they want to deal with complaints to government consumer agencies, courts, or the Better Business Bureau.
Understand your rights. The more informed you are, the harder it is for a company to slip one past you, either before or after buying. If you have an issue or question, use the Web to find legal resources. Try government sites, such as the Federal Trade Commission or your state attorney general or consumer protection department.
Try complaining nicely. Be specific about what you want—a refund, a replacement, or something else. A company is more likely to try to satisfy good customers, so let it know that you and your family are frequent shoppers and that you like its products or services. If you go in guns blazing, the company might figure it has already lost you as a customer.
Be persistent. Don't be discouraged if the first person you contact is unsympathetic or unwilling to help. Customer-service representatives might lack the authority to help or make changes to the fine print, Schmitz says. Studies have found that some reps harbor subconscious prejudices against certain people, such as women or members of minority groups.
Ask to speak with a supervisor or retention specialist, or write the chief executive officer (search the Web to find the person's name). Some companies have teams that respond to persistent complainers. And some have "good will" programs to placate squeaky wheels with expired warranties.
Get serious. If you're still being rebuffed, let the company know that you're upset and will tell others—in person and online—of your dissatisfaction. Businesses don't want you bad-mouthing them, whether it's to friends and relatives in person or strangers on the Internet. Studies show that dissatisfied consumers will complain to an average of 21 people along with posting their gripes online. Companies also know that if they placate you, you'll probably become more loyal than if you had no complaint to start with. Last, it's roughly five times harder for companies to attract new customers than keep current ones, making it a lot less expensive to send a replacement dishwasher, for instance, than to replace you.
Don't settle. Businesses might offer a morsel—perhaps a discount on another product—instead of fixing or replacing the item you're dissatisfied with. Don't assume a mediocre offer is the best they'll do.
Enforce your rights. Follow through with postings on Facebook, message boards, and elsewhere, as well as with complaints to government agencies and other third parties, such as the Better Business Bureau. If all else fails and you still think the law is on your side, send a certified demand letter threatening legal action. Be prepared to follow through with a lawsuit in small-claims court. If a lot of money is at stake, contact a consumer attorney. You can find one by going to the National Association of Consumer Advocates' website.
Report it anyway. The squeaky wheel system is designed to stop complainers from spreading the word. So don't let a positive outcome buy your silence or turn you into a gushy corporate groupie. Remember, others might be having the same problem you did. Post the issue on product-review pages or elsewhere online, including details about how you got the company to acquiesce.