True money stories from smart people: Complain to gain

Woman sits on the sofa on the phone

Where there’s muck there’s brass they say. But did you know that it’s also true that where there are complaints there’s cash?

Always on the lookout for ways for my readers to make a few bob on the side, I’ve been impressed by how much some people manage to make just by, well, whingeing.

Given that whingeing is practically a national sport in the UK – I see its influence behind the vote to leave the EU – you would expect blaming Brits to be making some decent cash out of it by now.

And indeed they are. For example, comparison website GoCompare has found that 16 million UK consumers have used social media channels such as Facebook and Twitter to complain about products and services, and successful complainers have received an average of just under £32 each in refunds and gifts.

And that’s just through social media. Good old-fashioned emails and even quaintly antique posted letters can often garner more, particularly if you know how to write them.

Reader Tira Shubart told us on MoneyMagpie: “If I have a problem with a company I write to the chief executive saying how traumatised I’ve been to find their company – which I always believed to be the best in the world – could do something like this to me. I’m really, really nice but always say I need to be compensated. So far I’ve had £100 in vouchers, a £75 cash refund and British Airways sending me a chocolate Easter bunny. It’s worth doing!”

And it is the ‘in sorrow rather than in anger’ tone that seems to do the trick. Casting aspersions as to the chief executive’s parentage, comparing their product unfavourably to fast-moving excrement or using words that meant something fruity even in Chaucer’s day are all unlikely to get you what you want.

It’s also important to be clear about the problem if you really want a satisfactory result from your complaint. In other words, something rather different to these excerpts from tenants’ complaints to local councils:

“It’s the dog’s mess that I find hard to swallow.”

“I want some repairs done to my cooker as it has backfired and burnt my knob off.”

“Will you please send someone to mend the garden path? My wife tripped and fell on it yesterday and now she is pregnant.”

“The toilet is blocked and we cannot bath the children until it is cleared.”

“I am a single woman living in a downstairs flat and would you please do something about the noise made by the man on top of me every night.”

“I have had the clerk of works [a person who oversees building works] down on the floor six times but I still have no satisfaction.”

All anguished pleas for help and mending but, somehow, there’s something a little lacking there…

The other essential ingredient to a good complaint is persistence. People I know who have worked in complaints departments say that if you get a ‘no’ for the first letter, write again and then a third time, working on the principle that they will pay you just to go away, if nothing else.

It also helps if your complaint is actually reasonable. The marketing website Mycustomer.com has a delightful list of complaints sent in recent years that didn’t receive a positive reply however many times they tried. They include these ones:

A utilities company received a call from a customer complaining about the exceptionally high quality of customer service. It was suggested that less money was spent on staff training and the savings put into reducing customers’ bills.

A customer contacted their electricity provider complaining that a power failure resulting from high winds caused them to miss a ‘vital episode’ of Coronation Street.

An internal helpdesk received a call from a user complaining that she could only view her new monitor correctly if she lay her head on her desk. Once the monitor was rotated by the support team, the problem was solved.

A blouse was returned to a high-street retailer with a demand, not only for a refund, but compensation for the vet’s fees incurred due to the pattern causing the customer’s dog to bite itself.

However, the website also reports that a pet shop actually refunded a customer after they complained that the hamster recently purchased was “neither friendly nor cuddly”. Which goes to show that it’s always worth a try – where there are complaints, there is usually cash. 

Jasmine Birtles is a financial journalist and founder of MoneyMagpie.com. Email her at columnists@moneywise.co.uk.

Read her previous columns here.

Published: 15 June 2017
Last updated: 15 June 2017

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