Satisfaction: Your Basic Consumer Right

Statistically speaking, chances are slim-to-none that you consistently avail yourself of the most fundamental of all financial principles—to get what you pay for.

According to Donna McCrohan, author of Get What You Pay For or Don’t Pay at All, only 4 percent of dissatisfied customers let a business know when they are unhappy with a product or service and then follow up effectively until they are satisfied.


One can only conclude that the rest of us throw good money down the drain for clothing that doesn’t fit right and appliances that don’t live up to their promises. We prefer to cram the stuff into closets and cupboards rather than take the time and effort to request a refund or satisfactory replacement.

When the dry cleaner ruins a favorite shirt we gripe to a friend instead of the dry cleaner’s owner. Or when the coffee grinder doesn’t grind, we mumble under our breath and don’t even look for the customer service 800 number, which might well be printed right there on the infuriating little monster.

I can only conclude from all of this that 96 percent of us complain about shoddy workmanship or inferior service but never get around to requesting the work be redone or negotiating a fair and reasonable adjustment. We give up too soon—or more likely, don’t even get started.

Why are we like that? We don’t want to cause a scene. It’s easier to say nothing than raise a fuss. We’re too lazy to make the call, go back to the store or write the letter. We’re masters of denial. We’ll do anything to avoid a confrontation.

Whenever you do not get what you’ve paid for, see the remedy process as a ladder. Climbing it is the way to get to where you want to go. Surprisingly most situations can be resolved on the first rung of the ladder.

Rung One: Don’t delay. If the service was lousy, the food awful or the product disappointing, let someone know of your dissatisfaction. If you find it doesn’t fit or wasn’t what you expected, return it immediately. Each day you delay increases the possibility you’ll never follow up. Do you really have room to store something you can’t use? Take your problem to the highest ranking individual who is available right there in the store. That could be a supervisor or the store manager. Communicate your problem clearly and courteously along with a specific, reasonable outcome you expect.

Rung Two: Use the phone. Find the number of the corporate headquarters, the name of a regional supervisor or the customer service department. This information is likely at the company’s website. Be gently persistent until you are able to speak with this person. Explain your situation, what you’ve done so far and what you would like him or her to do to correct the situation. If this doesn’t work keep moving up.

Rung Three: Write a letter. Letters have three decided advantages: You avoid confrontations, you can compose your thoughts carefully and you will have a record of what you said and when you said it.

Make sure your letter is neatly typed, includes your name, address and phone number and a date by which you would like to receive a response. Be sure to keep a paper trail made up of copies of correspondence, receipts and detailed notes of conversations.

Most consumer disputes can be settled somewhere on those first three rungs. In the unlikely event you need to move higher you have options, including enlisting allies such as elected officials and the media or pursuing arbitration, mediation, litigation, small-claims court, or class-action suits.

To make sure you are always courteous and maintain a fragrant spirit, never forget that every sales and customer service person:

  • Has the right to be assumed intelligent
  • Has feelings
  • May have a difficult or irrational boss
  • May be aware of a stupid policy, yet be forced to observe it
  • Has a personal life complete with sick loved ones, career disappointments and bad days

As consumers it’s our right to have our reasonable expectations met when we make purchases or contract for services. That puts sellers on notice that our money isn’t theirs without our consent.

And if they take our money without returning full satisfaction? We simply will not let them keep it. Period.

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3 replies
  1. Serenitycomes says:

    Hi Mary. This is so true. I bought a washer at Lowes. It was the machine from hell. I had it fixed twice under warranty in just a year. When it broke the next time, 2 reputable repairmen refused to touch it because it would cost $500.00 and the manufacturer doesn’t guarantee their parts, might not fix it anyway, which would mean another $500.00. I was having to re-start the machine 4 times for each load to “fool” the machine into doing its job. I was so frustrated that I sent Lowes an email and politely suggested that they stop selling “crap.” I had resigned myself to buying another washer. Lowes called and called and called until they finally reached one of us and told me that they would come and pick up the washer and I could either pick out another one or get my money back. To complicate the matter, we had used a Lowes gift card for $500.00 to help purchase it and I wasn’t sure that they would be willing to give us that in cash back. They did! I went to the store and they handed me $666.00 (that was somehow symbolic to us by this point) in an envelope and I took it to another store and put it towards a Speedqueen washer which I absolutely love. (Lowes doesn’t sell SpeedQueen in our area.) Needless to say, I go to Lowes for as much as I can because I appreciate what they were willing to do to satisfy this frustrated customer.

  2. Rae says:

    Oh believe me, my money and time is worth more then just sitting around doing nothing… I most definitely send a dish back at a restaurant (if the meal is not appetizing), call the co (if the product is not as expected) and fill out comment cards (good or bad). As someone that works in the area of food and customer service, I want to know the good and the bad… That is the only way we know to fix what is broken. I would rather someone complain, get a free meal (or what-not) and fix it so it never happens again (and hopefully have a customer that will retry our services) then to have him or her walk out grumbling to 40 other people that won’t try our food, etc bcs of his/her experience.

  3. Sandra says:

    The State Corporation Commission in your state is an excellent place to go should your complaint be unanswered or not attended to your satisfaction. Recently I wrote a letter to a craft/fabric store to let them know their coupon, printed off their site, wasn’t printing the code…everything but. I told them several people were in line, same time as I, and none of their coupons printed correctly either. Two weeks later I received a $25 gift card in the mail and, yes, I did write a thank you note. It’s just as important to let folks know their doing good as when their doing not so good.


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