The Ultimate Consumerist Guide To Fighting Back (Revised Edition)

We’ve posted recently about how to fight back when a business screws you over, and we’ve posted a lot of executive contact info over the years. Now we’re packaging the two together into one big mega-post of usefulness: a one-stop-stop for figuring out what you need to do to start a customer complaint, or how to escalate a stalled one so that it can be resolved.

Section 1: “I’ve been wronged! What do I do next?”
Section 2: The Consumerist Corporate Executive Directory
Section 3: Success Stories


SECTION 1: “I’VE BEEN WRONGED! WHAT DO I DO NEXT?”
It’s broken. It’s been disconnected. It was charged eight times to your credit card. It never arrived. Whatever the problem is, here’s the Consumerist plan of attack.

Step 1: Get things ready

1. Write down what went wrong. You don’t need an essay, but even a sentence will help you clarify your thoughts and give you something to refer to as you move forward.2. Write down what you will accept as a solution. List more than one thing; that is, first list what the company needs to do to fix what went wrong, but also try to come up with some alternatives that would appease you. These may help you later if you need to bargain with the company.3. On this same piece of paper or document, put down all the company contact information. Get them from your own paperwork, Google, or our site if we have them (and if you find some info we don’t have, feel free to forward it to us to add to our directory).

We suggest you keep everything in one document, so that you’ll have a single location for all of your notes. If you’re keeping track of things on your computer, there are several ways you can timestampyour entries quickly to improve your documentation.

Step 2: Educate yourself

con_cstoolkit_barechest.jpg Once you’ve got the basic details written down, you’re ready to launch your attack. The best place to start is with the original Ultimate Consumerist Guide To Fighting Back (aka “that post with the shirtless guy”), which not only offers lots of links to useful tutorials, but organizes them into increasing levels of aggressiveness:

The Nice Route
How To Complain
How To Write A Complaint Letter (Remember that if you can find the appropriate bodies that oversee the company’s industry, CCing your complaint letter to them can help)
How To Record Customer Service Calls
How To Never Get In Trouble For Recording Customer Service Calls
How To Escalate To The Most Powerful Levels Of Customer ServiceThe Hardball Route
The Underlying Principle For Forcing An Uncaring And Adversarial Company Fix Your Problem
How To Launch An Executive Email Carpet Bomb
Unlawfully Billed? Threaten To Report Them For Mail Fraud
How To Fax A Company To Death That’s Ignoring You
How To Get Your Problem Solved By Posting It To A Company’s Stock Forums
How To Start An Online Campaign Against A Company To Shame Them Into Fixing Your Problem
How To Get Unscrewed By Threatening To Stand Outside The Store Passing Out Flyers About Your Experience
(several of these are based on material from Ron Burley’s excellent book, “Unscrewed: The Consumer’s Guide To Fighting Back,” which everyone should read.)The Legal Route
How To Take A Case To Small Claims Court
How To Win A Case In Small Claims Court Against A Big Company By Delivering Your Small Claims Court Papers To Their Mall Kiosk
How To Find A Lawyer

Step 3: Make the call

Escalating the issue without giving the company a chance to make it right through normal channels just makes you look like a tool, so start with the official customer service number first.

Round 1: A Customer Service Representative
Round 2: A CSR Manager
Round 3: A Customer Service Executive
Round 4: Full Executive Email Blast

Remember that youcontrol the call. First of all, you should set the tone by politely but firmly stating that you don’t want to hear sales pitches. If you’re afraid of being rude, then explain that you’re on a cell phone and have to pay for extra minutes, or that you’re at work and have to make this call as short as possible. Give them a reason they can understand, and ask them to please just help you resolve your problem as quickly as possible. If you’re polite and friendly, the odds are better they will be too.

Then clearly and quickly explain your problem, and keep on topic and unemotional. (This is where your notes can really help you if you have trouble either being too meek or too confrontational.)

Think of the call this way: you are testing the CSR, and if he or she fails you, this round has ended and you don’t need to waste any more time with him or her. In other words, if the CSR tries to upsell you even after your introduction, FAIL, move to the next round. If the CSR gets uppity with you, FAIL, next round. Don’t waste any time trying to calm or reason with the CSR or get him or her to see your point of view.

If you have to take your issue past rounds 1 & 2 and start hitting the executive level, then the section below will help you find the necessary contact info.


SECTION 2: THE CONSUMERIST CORPORATE EXECUTIVE DIRECTORY
So you’ve tried the CSR route, you’ve made your complaint clear, and the problem wasn’t resolved. It’s time to adjust your strategy. When you try to contact the executive level of a company, you’ll almost certainly be intercepted by an assistant of some sort. But that’s actually a good thing, because these are usually people with the power to actually fix problems that normal CSRs and their managers aren’t authorized to touch.

Check out one reader’s story in the “Be a Customer Service Ninja” post for details—he advises, “Remember that you are dealing with busy people, so don’t bother rambling on about your problem, but rather try to give a succinct summary, including any identifying details that may be helpful (order numbers, confirmation numbers, etc.).”

Wily corporations change phone numbers all the time, so while we do our best to make sure this is accurate, it’s possible the number we have here won’t work. If you have a newer or better number for any of the companies listed below—or for companies that we don’t have listed yet—please contact us at thetipline@gmail.com.

All US Airline CEO’s Contact Infos
Giant List Of Cellphone Company Departments’ Direct Numbers
List Of Consumer Electronics Customer Service ContactsAdobe
Amazon
American Express
Amtrak
Apple – Email Steve Jobs
Apple – Executive Customer Service
AT&T (and here’s their Office of the President number)
AT&T Landline Retentions
Banana Republic
Bank of America Executive Relations
Bank of America – CEO’s mailing address
Bank of America – International Customer Service
Bell Canada
Best Buy
Bloomingdale’s
Buy.com
Capital One
Charter Communications
Chase (also see this entry)
Chase Card, Chase Bank
Circuit City
Citibank
ClassicCloseouts
Comcast (also see their Twitter account)
Costco
DirectTV
Discover Card
Dish Network
eBay/PayPal
Equifax
Experian
Fry’s
Geek Squad
Georgia Power
Hewlett Packard
IHOP
IKEA
Keybank
Microsoft
MyGearStore
National City Bank
Paypal (also see this)
Premier Exhibitions, Inc.
Qwest (also see this post)
Regions Bank
Register.com
Samsung
Speakeasy
Sears
Sears CEO
Sirus – CEO Contact Information
Sony Ericsson
Sprint
Time Warner Cable – Executive Customer Service
Time Warner Cable – Level 3Tech Support
Time Warner Cable, San Diego Division
T-mobile
TransUnion
United Airlines
United Healthcare
UNUM
Verizon
Verizon Tier 2 & 3 Service
Verizon Wireless
Wachovia
Washington Mutual
Westin Casuarina Las Vegas

If you don’t see the company you’re searching for above, try the following link:
“Search The Consumerist Directory Of Company Email Addresses And Phone Numbers”

con_cstoolkit_googlefinance.jpg And if it’s just not on our website, then here’s “How To Find An Executive’s Phone Number Or Email Address”

If all else fails, one reader suggests trying Jigsaw.com, which costs $25 per month for access to a member-submitted and updated pool of corporate names, numbers, and addresses.

con_cstoolkit_puc.jpg “Find Your State Public Utilities Comission” Check out this link if you have complaints with any of the following: electricity, gas, telephone, cellphone, cable/dsl, towing, railroads, or movers.

If you enjoy playing detective, try searching the SEC’s EDGAR database for company contact information: EDGAR

Bonus:
“How To Write Congress”
“Find Your Attorney General Or Better Business Bureau”


SECTION 3: SUCCESS STORIES
Not every campaign to make the world a fairer place succeeds, but every once in a while there’s a consumer with the tenacity, confidence, and good fortune to keep pushing until things are fixed. Here are some of those stories, both to inspire you and to show you real-world examples of how you can fight back.

“Mother Saves Family From WaMu Foreclosure With Consumerist’s Executive Contact Info”
“BBB Complaint Gets LA Fitness To Refund $5620 They Stole From You 3 Years Ago”
“Executive Email Carpet Bomb Against Vonage Results In $450 Credit”
“Overcharged, Man Secures U-Haul Refund”
“”It’s Policy” Were Fighting Words For Screwed Utility Customer”
“TigerDirect Apologizes For Unlawfully Detaining Customer For Refusing To Show Receipt”
“7 Overdrafts Refunded After Reader Writes Bank of America CEO”
“Calling DirecTV President Results In New, Non-Broken, HD DVR For Nearly Free”
“Executive Email Carpet Bomb Also Effective Against Cell Phone Spammers”
“Executive Email Carpet Bomb Scores Direct Hit On Time Warner”
“Executive Email Carpet Bomb, Consumerist Post, Prompt United To Solve Reader’s Complaint”
“Executive E-Mail Carpet Bomb Scores Direct Hit On IKEA”

Since every situation is different, there’s no way we can know for sure if this is what you should do—so use your own common sense and don’t try to sue us, because this isn’t legal advice.

If you see an error or out-of-date listing, let us know at thetipline@gmail.com.

[last updated: July 11, 2008]
(Photo: Getty)

Comments

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  1. Crazytree says:

    If I wasn’t so overworked I would write a FCBA sample letter.

    Maybe I’ll put it in my “to do” list this weekend.

  2. Trackback says:

    The Consumerist has posted a giant round-up of their advocacy articles called “The Ultimate Consumerist Guide To Fighting Back.” It breaks down into three sections: Section 1: “I’ve been wronged! What do I do next?”

  3. RichLeyshon says:

    I find, when a problem has been continuing for months (or years) it becomes quite difficult to find a complete history of who called who, wrote a letter, sent a mail, promised to fix it etc.

    I use this … http://www.home-sec.info

    which lets me record all events then filter them by contact or organisation to get a full list of every action that took place and the outcome.

    Rich

  4. Consumerist Moderator - ACAMBRAS says:

    We never did get Outraged Consumerist Man a belt, did we?

  5. Gonzie says:

    not that i was wronged on a particularly bad problem but i was wronged and incredibly p*ss*d off at the time when i pre ordered a record months and monthss before it was released and they decide on the day of release to email me they won’t be sending me a copy so i believe i sent a rather large rant (no puntuation of any kind lol) explaining how bad the position they have just left me in, the fact i now had to go to ebay, the fact i had chosen them over hmv online and a whole lot of other things.

    this got me a free copy of said out of stock record, the original i was supposed to have in the first place and ended up with one from ebay too *shrugs*

    i love burning off steam like that

  6. RichLeyshon says:

    My suggestion, use a good program to record details of any and every communication with the company (I use HomeSec{www.home-sec.info} but I’m sure there are others, what do you use?)

    If your dispute rolls on for a long time, you’ll find it really useful to be able to pinpoint exactly who did or said what and when and with all creation and editing dates being recorded you can even prove that an event took place at a certain date.

    Rich

  7. Jonsumerist says:

    Well done — this is by far the best online resource of its kind. The executive email carpet bomb tactic was new to me, but has already yielded very positive results in our most recent imbroglio. Thanks to just that one tip, we may have yet another “success story” to add to the pile.

    I’d like to see the “hardball” section expanded upon, as those are the tactics that are generally necessary to gain results (as any well-placed corporate executive will no doubt agree).

    In addressing corporate astroturfing on our forums, when all else fails, we’ve found great success with parodying a company’s executives.

    Start by finding pics of the company’s execs. Visit their corporate website (often different from their primary brand’s site). There will usually be a page or a section with executive bios, from which you can glean photos of their execs. If not, Google Images should provide you with something, probably from an industry publication or some such. Search for the exec’s names, plus the company name.

    Save all the executive bio pics, as the offending corporation may pull them off the web.

    Use the pics to create First Amendment-protected speech-bubble parodies of their executives. You can select certain execs, or combine them all into one large photograph, in which they all share a speech bubble. Clearly identify the pics as parodies — this offers “significant protection” (I am not a lawyer) against claims of defamation and copyright infringement. We went so far as to make a simple piece of software that allows people to anonymously create executive parody photos, and share them on the web (see [spankmymarketer.com] ).

    Once a parody photo is made, be sure to notify the offending executives. Send them an email with a link in it that leads to the photo parody. You can “track” the link using one of various common methods — this will let you know, at very least, if they’ve clicked it, and when.

    In the fight against corporations (and various other incarnations of The Man), laughter is a potent weapon. Newspapers, magazines, and especially late-night talk shows all know this. They are largely corporate-owned, and they frequently weaponize laughter to effect political change with parody.

  8. rhanzelka says:

    We (wife and myself) entered a two year contract (that we understood at
    the time to be a one year contract)with Direct TV in late 2007. Big mistake!
    I have had problems with the service from the beginning. It started with
    shoddy installation that prohibited me from locking my home and protecting
    my family and valuables from break in. We are plagued with downtime due to
    faulty equipment that won’t even last through the contract period. When we
    request service on their defective equipment, they tell us they are going to
    charge us to fix their equipment. I had cablevision for 30 years prior to
    getting screwed by Direct TV. This is the worst service coupled with the
    worst product I have ever been stuck with in my entire life. The worst thing
    that ever happened with cablevision was being down for 2-3 hours once every
    year or two because of a down line. When I call Direct TV for service, they
    tell me it will be a week to ten days before they can get to me. So I am
    without television for that long but am still charged for it. I am also
    expected to take four to eight hours out of my work day every time Direct TV
    comes to my home. The last time I was told service would be performed
    between eight o’clock in the morning and noon. The technician did not even
    arrive onsite until 12:10 p.m. Service was not performed until after the
    agreed upon time that it would be completed. That was just two week ago. Now
    the service is broken again and we are told it will be another week before
    they can come to fix it. How long will the FCC go on allowing Direct TV to
    cheat and take advantage of customers? I would love to have the opportunity
    to do a commercial for cable television. After being subjected to customer
    service as poor as Direct TV, I know what the worst is. And to top it all
    off, when my wife negotiated this contract with Direct TV she was told that
    it was a one year agreement. Two weeks ago when we had trouble the last
    time, we were informed that it was a two year and not a one year contract
    that we originally agreed to. I suppose we can throw a little deceptive
    trade
    in for good measure… huh? This is the worst experience I have ever had
    with any vendor in my 50 years and I will make sure I tell everybody that
    has ears to hear.

  9. Anonymous says:

    I LOVE YOUR SITE. Thank you so much for it. After searching for the name of DirectTV’s CEO, I found your site and his direct telephone number. I immediately called the number and spoke to one of his assistants, Dave, and got an issue that I had been dealing with for 8 weeks resolved in 8 minutes.

    I am an Independent Film Producer and would love to speak with someone about putting some of these incidents on a visual medium. Please contact me if interested and THANKS again for the information.

    Val Jones