While we spend a lot of time on this site talking about the importance of writing a good complaint letter, of finding the executive contact info, and cc’ing letters to appropriate regulatory bodies, sometimes the best way to win is to stop playing Mr. Nice Guy and start playing hardball. Demonstrate, in no uncertain terms, just how much more costly it would be for the business to ignore your complaint than to resolve it. That’s the lesson learned from, Unscrewed: The Consumer’s Guide To Getting What You Paid For.
His first story is about how he himself got screwed, and then unscrewed, on the first car that he bought…
After happily put-putting home in the new car, he noticed an ad by the dealership in the paper offering a $1500 discount for any car purchased over the weekend. For some reason, his salesman never mentioned this offer to him. When Burley tried to ask for the deal retroactively, the dealership said sorry, we can’t change a contract once it’s been signed.
“I replied, “What do you mean? You advertised the special. The sale representative should have told me about it! It’s just not fair.”
“That’s our policy. I’m sorry.”
“It’s a bad policy,” I said, for lack of any other words, and hung up the phone.
I was livid. I’d just been screwed out of $1200… Something had to be done.”
That day, Burley typed up a notice and printed out tens of copies. He went to the dealership manager’s office, who continued to try to stonewall him and refer to their “internal policy”. Burley opened the envelope and placed the flyers in front of the manager.
“What do you intend to do with those?” he asked..
“Mr. Smith,” I said coolly, even though my hands were sweaty and shaking, “at this point, it doesn’t really matter to me whether I get my money back or not. I am going to exercise my First Amendment right to stand on that public sidewalk in front of your dealership. I’ll hand one of these flyers to anybody walking onto your lot. I’ll be carrying a picket sign with the same message.”
The notice said: “AKAMAI MOTORS LIES TO ITS CUSTOMERS! They advertised a car at one price and then sold it to me for $1,200 more. For details, please call Ron Burley at [redacted].
I continued, “I’ll bet that, in just a handful of Saturdays, I can convince a couple of dozen people to shop elsewhere. It could end up that, by not paying me what’s due to me, you lose ten times that much in future business. It won’t put any cash in my pocket, but I’ll feel a lot better about things. What do you think?”
Mr Smith returned to let Burley know that bookkeeping was cutting his check at that very moment and he could pick it up on his way out.
Burley could’ve filed complaint letters and made calls up the management food chain, he could’ve cc’d letters to the Attorney General and the FTC, and maybe even eventually been forced to take the dealership to small claims court, where he would’ve won, as it is actually the law that merchants have to honor their advertised price. Instead, he chose a direct course of action that in broke the problem down to terms that any simple business could understand. Much more expeditious, and probably more satisfying.