To Get Your Money Back, Persistence is Key

A few weeks ago, I came across the Consumerist‘s 2010 March Madness-themed bracket for “Worst Company in America.”  It is currently in the Elite 8, with strong contenders including Bank of America, Comcast, and Ticketmaster (to see the full bracket, click here).  This competition is great, as it gives consumers a vehicle for expressing their dissatisfaction with service received from less-than-great companies.

But the fact is that none of the consumers will get their money back simply by voting against companies – the only one who can give you your money back is the company that has disappointed you, and they will only know that if you get in touch with them directly.  And persistently.

If you bought an item at a store that has not worked as expected, make sure to return it.  Even if the period covered by the store’s return policy has lapsed, it should still be worth a try.  If the product is defective, stores will generally accept it outside the return period usually in exchange for store credit.  While store credit might not be optimal, it is still better than having a broken or useless product sitting at home – or in the trash can.  A few months ago, for example, I bought a set of sheets, but by the time I washed them and saw that they shrank, it was already outside the store’s return policy period.  Nonetheless, I went back and explained my situation: when I buy queen size sheets, I expect them to be queen size after washing too.  With no further questions asked, they gave me store credit even though it had been over a month after the end of the return period.  Moral of this story: test out products soon after you buy them.  Second moral: even if the return policy period has lapsed, if a product is defective, try returning it.  A reasonable or helpful salesperson should allow you to do so.

If not, try the manufacturer.  Many manufacturers offer longer warranties than stores, and may have better customer service as well.  This is especially true for higher-end brands, where an email expressing dissatisfaction with one of its products may be sufficient to get the manufacturer to fix or replace the item (click here for a previous post on my experience with Longchamp).

With services, there is often little you can do at the time other than complain to a manager about bad service.  However, a complaint letter or phone call afterward might go a long way in getting you your refund.  That is especially true for airline mishaps.  In my experience, I have found that while flying involves a negative instance much more often than one would like, the better airline companies do try to make amends, offering compensation or refunds after a complaint letter or two.  Or three.  The most important thing is to be persistent.  If you write requesting a refund, but receive only apology from the airline, take advantage of the fact that they have acknowledged the poor service and reiterate your request in a reply letter.  And if they ask for documentation, make sure to send whatever you have – if they are making the request, it is likely because they are willing to consider you claim.

Recently, it took me three emails to receive a refund from Continental Airlines.  I was one of the people stranded in New York during the snow storm in early February, and while the storm and the closed airports were obviously not the airline’s fault, the way they handled it certainly was.  When I wrote Continental an email, a customer service representative replied asking for a copy of my boarding pass; but the gate agent had taken my boarding pass once she notified me that my flight was canceled.  I explained that to the customer service representative, but he/she would not budge: they need a boarding pass to process the request.  So I sent them the documents I had, including a boarding pass for the first leg of the flight (which had not been canceled) and the receipt for the flight.  While it took a few days to receive each response from Continental, within a week from this last email, the flight was credited back to my credit card.

In an ideal customer service scenario, companies would just know when they did bad and would quickly take back a defective product or automatically refund customers who had a bad experience with them.  But for now, the best we have are watchdogs like the Consumerist who help to keep them in line and ourselves.  If you feel you deserve your money back for a defective product or bad service, communicate that to the retailer, manufacturer, or service provider and be persistent about it.  Ultimately, “nothing in this world can beat persistence.”

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