In Bureaucracy, Self-Help, Social commentary on May 27, 2010 at 10:35 pm

So you’ve spent the last half-hour or more on the phone, listening to one recorded message after another (and probably a symphony of bad music). And you’re no closer to solving the problem that caused you to phone the company/agency in the first place.

What to do?

(1) Go on the Net and look up the company’s/agency’s website. Look for links to their Board of Directors. Often enough you’ll get not only their names but their bios, phone numbers and even email addresses. A good place to start looking is at the bottom of the website page. Many companies/agencies put this information there–and usually in small print.

(2) Look for the names of officials who can help you. That means the ones at the top–or at least high enough so you can be sure that whoever responds to your call/letter/email has the necessary clout to address your problem.

(3) If you call, don’t ask to speak directly with Mr. Big–that’s not going to happen. Ask to speak with Mr. Big’s secretary, who is far more accessible.

(4) Keep your tone civil, and try to make your call as brief as possible. Don’t go into a lot of background about all the problems you’ve been having getting through to someone. Just tell her (yes, it’s usually a woman) the gist and ask her to refer you to someone who can help resolve your problem.

(5) If she says she needs more time to study the problem before referring you to someone else, be patient. Answer any questions she asks–such as your name, address, phone number and/or email.

(6) Tell her–specifically-what you want the company to do to resolve your problem. If you want a refund or repairs for your product, say so. Too many consumers don’t specify what they want the company to do–they’re so caught up in their rage and frustration that this completely escapes them.

(7) But be reasonable. If you want a refund, then don’t ask for more money than you paid for the product. If you want to return a product for an exchange, don’t expect the company to give you a new one with even more bells and whistles–unless you’re willing to pay the difference in price. If you want an agency to investigate your complaint, don’t expect them to drop everything else and do so instantly. Give them time to assess your information and that supplied by others.

(8) Remember that it’s usually possible to get one agency to sit on another–if you can make a convincing case that it’s in that secondary agency’s best interests to do so. For example, if you’ve been roughed up by local police for no good reason, you can file a complaint with that department–and you can ask the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office (federal prosecutor) to investigate. That doesn’t guarantee they will. But if you can show that the cops have violated several Federal civil rights laws, the odds are that someone will take a serious look at your complaint.

(9) If a company/agency official has acted so outrageously that the company/agency might now be held liable for his actions, don’t be afraid to say so. But don’t threaten to sue–just point out that the employee has acted in such a way as to befoul the company’s/agency’s reputation for integrity/efficiency and that the organization is not well-served by such behavior. Whoever reads your letter/email will instantly realize the legal implications of what you’re saying–and, in most cases, will take quick action to head off a lawsuit by trying to satisfy your request. The foremost priority of every bureaucracy is to ensure its own survival.

(10) Give the CEO’s secretary at least one to two days to get back to you. Remember: Resolving your problem isn’t the only task she needs to complete.

If you’re writing the CEO, make sure you use his full name and title–and that you spell both correctly. People don’t get to be CEOs without a huge sense of ego. Nothing will turn him off faster than your failing to get his name and title exactly right.

As in the case with his secretary, be brief–no more than a page and a half. Outline the problem you’re having and at least some (though not necessarily all) of the steps you’re taken to get it resolved. Then state what you want the company to do. Again, be fair and reasonable.

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