Home >> Ultimate Guides for Consumers >> 7 simple ways to fix any consumer problem

7 simple ways to fix any consumer problem

Photo of author

Michelle Couch-Friedman

Consumer reporter and ombudsman

It isn’t just wishful thinking to say that every consumer can get excellent customer service and fix their own problem. But it does take some effort and strategy.

During my many years as a consumer advocate, I’ve tackled some of the most shocking customer service failures imaginable. I’ve retrieved hundreds of thousands of dollars from companies for consumers who were on the verge of giving up.

But what caused these customer service failures?

Part of the problem is that the number of poorly trained, ineffective “problem-solvers” that companies have unleashed on their customers has exploded in recent years. Even worse, some businesses have given up on human support entirely, outsourcing customer service to Artificial Intelligence (AI). 

But the truth is that consumers have proven to be their own biggest enemy in many cases I’ve mediated. From threatening lawsuits after small slights to email-bombing the same complaint to every executive in the company and even fibbing about facts, I’ve seen it all. The result? Nothing positive for the consumer. 

I know this all sounds grim. But never fear!

There are a few simple ways to increase your chances of getting excellent customer service whenever you need it. I promise that if you follow these easy steps, you’ll be equipped to resolve almost any consumer problem on your own. (But don’t worry, Consumer Rescue will always be here when you need us.)

Here we go. 

1. Make sure you understand the company’s terms and conditions

Step number one is the foundation for this problem-solving methodology. Before contacting customer service with your complaint, it’s critical to ensure that the company’s terms and conditions align with the basis of your grievance. And make sure that your request is reasonable.

Many times, I’ve received requests for help from consumers who’ve failed to understand the terms and conditions of the company. In a recent case, I was contacted by a United Airlines customer who hoped the airline would give him $10,000 in cash for a flight delay. When United understandably balked, he was dismayed and hoped I could mediate his desired outcome. (FYI: I could not and would not.) In another case, a passenger wanted a refund for a business class seat on a flight to Europe — after she returned from the journey.

The bottom line: Every company has its own unique terms and conditions. Arm yourself with that information before you contact customer service with a problem. If the company has not deviated from its policies, what you’re asking for is a goodwill gesture(especially if you end up cruising without your clothes because you misunderstood the services provided by your hotel), and you’ll need to adjust your “complaint” to reflect that fact.

2. Always remain clear, concise and cordial

Many consumers want to unload on the customer service agent they reach. This is a mistake. 

Your goal is to make the employee in charge of problem-solving actually want to help you. Keep in mind that customer service agents receive hundreds of calls and messages from angry people as part of their work. You’ll want to make your call or email stand out in a good way. You can do that by communicating in a concise, clear, and cordial manner. Refrain from promising to never use the company again OR threatening a lawsuit.

One of the biggest stumbling blocks consumers often hit when formulating their complaints is their inability to keep their communication concise. It’s important to remember that burying the actual problem in extraneous information is a quick way to lose the attention (and interest) of customer service.

Case in point? Last spring Stan Fernald sent me a request for help with a $4,000 problem. He had made a bid to upgrade his cabin aboard his Royal Caribbean cruise. He won the bid, but it turned out that the cabin was a significant downgrade. You can read his full story here:

The cruise line made a mistake in billing him for the transaction, but his explanation of the problem was long and confusing. So the RCCL customer service, and later the executive office, rejected his refund request. 

But I could see that he was owed a refund based on the actual details of the case.

Unfortunately, no one at RCCL had been able to wade through his lengthy explanation, details and request. (Fernald got his refund after I sent our executive contacts at the cruise line an abridged explanation).

The bottom line: The customer service agents you’re reaching have hundreds of cases they’re processing. Keep your email short and sweet.

Pro tip: Ask a friend to review your consumer complaint is clear before you send it to make sure that it is easily understandable. Leave out any extraneous information that won’t help the representative get the picture.

3. Stay off the phone. Document your complaint in writing

If you initially tried to resolve your issue over the phone and that was not successful, it’s definitely time to prepare your written complaint. You’ll want to use email, text, chat features, and any other media that helps you create a paper trail documenting your request and the company’s response. 

  • Pro tip: Use as many modern-day tactics as you can to document your situation: Screenshots, chats, emails, social media public posts, — even recording phone calls for your protection (Check the laws in your state. You may need to alert the other person that you are recording). Document, document, document!

It’s no secret that customer service representatives often promise many things to get a consumer off the phone. Later, when the customer tries to hold the company to the offer, it becomes a “he said, she said” situation. Remember, if it isn’t in writing, then you’ll have no way to prove the promise happened.

“I was told” is one of the most useless phrases you have when trying to escalate your complaint up the executive chain. You want to be able to show proof of what a customer service agent told you. You do that by keeping all of your problem-solving efforts in writing.

Things to remember when writing your customer service complaint

  • Be cordial: Keep the tone of the message cordial (see Tip #2 above).
  • Keep it concise: Try to keep your customer service complaint contained in one concise paragraph – five to six sentences.
  • Do not send an email blast to ten company employees. When you do that, it’s easy for your letter to be ignored by all recipients. Each person can assume someone else will take care of the problem. 
  • End the request with your desired resolution. If you leave it up to the company to guess your hoped-for results, you will likely end up disappointed. Always tell the business what outcome would make you happy.  But also…
  • Don’t exaggerate the problem. Exaggerating or fibbing about aspects of your experience is another quick way to get your request for help to land in the virtual garbage can. Stick with the facts and steer clear of making outlandish accusations.
  • Make sure your request is reasonable. Ask a few friends to review your complaint and your desired resolution. It’s important not to overshoot your compensation mark here; otherwise, if you ask for too much, you could easily end up with nothing. Remember to keep your suggested resolution reasonable.

The bottom line: It’s much more difficult for a company to ignore your written complaint. Keep a careful record of your efforts to resolve your problem. Make certain that your desired outcome is reasonable, and don’t stretch the truth in your complaint. 

4. If at first you don’t succeed: Escalate your customer service issue

During the pandemic, many customer service employees lost their jobs – especially in the travel industry. Companies cut back on customer service and implemented a number of “consumer-unfriendly” business practices.  

So today, consumers must be more determined than ever to stay the course as they’re trying to fix their problem with a company. That means if the first person you reach within the company ignores you or gives you a “No,” you’ll need to escalate your problem to someone else. 

Here’s how to find someone within the company who can actually help you. 

Consumer Rescue: Just Ask Meera! (Your research valet)

Consumer Rescue has a dedicated advocate who loves finding the executives you need to escalate your problem. Meera Sundram is the former research director of Elliott Advocacy, who worked by my side for many years, volunteering her time cultivating a giant database of customer service executives to help consumers navigate their problems with businesses.

Meera is here at Consumer Rescue with that database, ready to answer your personalized requests. Just Ask Meera is a unique feature available to our readers at Consumer Rescue. It’s especially handy for obscure company contacts not readily available elsewhere. You tell her what company you’re having a problem with, and she’ll give you the name and email of someone there who can help.

Search LinkedIn for executive customer service contacts

Another great way to find someone within a company who can help you resolve your customer service issue is through LinkedIn. Just use the Google search engine and enter terms like “Senior Customer Service” or “Executive Customer Service” for the company you’re having a problem with. Almost always, you’ll be directed to the LinkedIn profile of the person who holds that position in that business.

The bottom line: Don’t give up when you know you’re in the right. If the first customer service agent you reach can’t help, keep traveling up the corporate ladder until someone you find someone who can. Remember, many lower-level customer service level employees have limited power to grant your resolution. Stay the course, and you’ll find someone who has the authority to help. 

5. File a complaint with your state Attorney General or private attorney

If the company continues to rebuff your requests, you can file a complaint with the Attorney General (AG) in your state (Here’s how to find the Attorney General in your state). When an AG’s office receives a significant number of complaints about a specific company, it may launch an investigation. But minimally, its team will send a formal request to the company asking for an explanation. That inquiry may be all that’s needed to nudge the business to resolve the problem. 

If that doesn’t work, you may need to consult with an attorney. You can get a referral from your state’s Bar Association here

The bottom line: For many consumers, the legal route may be cost-prohibitive unless the dollar value of the claim is very high. But your state’s AG’s office might be able to “encourage” the company to do the right thing. That assistance is free.

6. File a credit card dispute

This is a tricky step. For a number of reasons, a credit card dispute can easily backfire on consumers. You should only file a credit card dispute as a last resort. The Fair Credit Billing Act allows credit card-using consumers to initiate a credit card dispute when there is a billing error or fraud. 

It’s important to understand the limitations of a credit card dispute. If you win a credit card dispute, this only ends your credit card company’s involvement in your case. The business that you were battling is still free to pursue the debt elsewhere and you might find yourself in collections. Or the company might ban you from using their services in the future.

Bottom Line: Make sure all facts are on your side.  Only file a credit card chargeback as a last resort. Familiarize yourself with the limitations of a credit card chargeback. It’s not the magic bullet that many consumers believe it to be. 

7. Ask Consumer Rescue to intervene in your customer service problem

If you’ve followed all of our guidance and you’ve still been unable to get a satisfactory resolution, Consumer Rescue is ready to help you.  

For nearly a decade, fellow consumer advocate Dwayne Coward and I have worked side by side working to resolve thousands of consumer cases. Together, we’ve retrieved hundreds of thousands of dollars from companies and put it back in the pockets of the people who contact us…right where it belongs.

Unless there is a catastrophic customer service failure, most reputable companies will not allow your problem to escalate this far. But if it happens, you can submit your request for help to Consumer Rescue. One of us will get back to you, lickety-split!

The Consumer Rescue team is dedicated to defending consumers — always friendly and always free of charge.

🤗 (Michelle Couch-Friedman, Ombudsman)

Photo of author

Michelle Couch-Friedman

Michelle Couch-Friedman is the founder and CEO of Consumer Rescue. She is a consumer advocate, ombudsman columnist, mediator, writer, and licensed psychotherapist. Michelle is a public speaker, and her expert guidance has been cited in MarketWatch, Consumer Reports, Travel & Leisure, The Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, Popular Science, CNN, CNBC, Boston Globe, CBS News, National Geographic, Travel Weekly, Reader's Digest and more. You might even catch Michelle on TV reporting on a situation. :) Michelle is also the travel ombudsman columnist for The Points Guy and is the former executive director of the nonprofit Elliott Advocacy. During her six years in that position, she resolved thousands of cases for troubled travelers and other consumers. You can read hundreds of 5-star reviews Michelle earned during her service to the nonprofit since 2016 here on Great Nonprofits. She is also a member of the Society of American Travel Writers. Today, she continues to spend as much time as possible fiercely defending consumers and traveling the world with her family. Contact her at Michelle Couch-Friedman or on Linkedin, Twitter or Facebook.