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How to complain like a polite human.
July 23, 2008 10:03 AM   Subscribe

How do I complain to a corporation without coming off as a prude?

Full explanation: I bought my brother-in-law a gift certificate to Timbuk2 for Christmas so he could get a new computer bag, when it arrived it contained a tag like this one. I personally would not have had an issue with this, but he is using the bag in a professional environment and was embarrassed enough by the language to cut the tag out of the bag. I'm embarrassed about the situation myself, since I initially gave him the gift and had no idea they would include a tag like this. I would like to express my displeasure to Timbuk2, but how can I do this and actually get results without being treated as a random nutcase?
posted by 1f2frfbf to Human Relations (40 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
What results are you looking for? An apology? A refund? A promise to change the tag?

I think your best approach is to write a calm letter explaining what happened, your objections and your proposed solution(s). Have someone else proof it, and away it goes. That's the best you can do really.
posted by canine epigram at 10:13 AM on July 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


Well, if you don't want to come off as a prude, hand off the prudishness to someone else. Maybe do a "think of the children" type position.
posted by CrazyJoel at 10:16 AM on July 23, 2008


Why do you care what the Timbuk2 corporation thinks about your particular sensitivities? Are you worried they'll turn you down if you try to ask them out to dinner sometime in the future, or laugh about you behind your back?

Just write a letter or email:

Dear sirs:

I think its important to take pride in your work and I'm glad you take pride in yours - you make a quality product, and because of that I saw fit to buy a gift certificate to your store for my brother-in-law as a Christmas gift. I was disappointed, however, to learn about the language you saw fit to use on the tags on your product. While I personally do not have an issue with this, my brother uses the bag in a professional environment and was embarrassed enough by the language to cut the tag out of the bag.

I hope you'll consider my displeasure seriously as I am admirer of your work and otherwise would consider purchasing and endorsing your product to others in the future, were it not for this issue of good taste.

Your erstwhile customer,

1f2frfbf
posted by allkindsoftime at 10:18 AM on July 23, 2008 [15 favorites]


It doesn't matter whether you are a prude or not. You found the language on the tag unpleasant to you personally and wanted to let someone at Timbuk2 know about it. Since your b-i-l already cut the tag off, it's unlikely that you can return or swap the merchanidise, but it's not a bad idea to just let someone know "Hey I got something from your store as a gift because I like your products and I felt the language on the tag was a little too [insert non-omg word here] for his business environment so I don't think I can buy future things from you, just thought you'd like to know."

As long as you don't sound all huffy and offended, I think it's fine. If your message is "this doesn't work for me" that's totally okay and not prudish. If your message is "you should be ashamed of yourself" or "this is totally unacceptable in any setting" then you'd probably want to dial it down. Just think of it as giving a company feedback on a business decision they made. They might want to know that people like you have problems with tags like theirs. They might still decide they're willing to lose your business, but that's their prerogative.

As a side note we have people complain about swearing on MeFi sometimes and we have to tell them "well this is the sort of place where that sort of thing is okay, so I'm sorry it makes you uncomfortable but we're not likely to change anything" but it's fine that they write us and better if they're not snooty about it and we're always polite back if they're polite to us and sometimes even if they're not.
posted by jessamyn at 10:20 AM on July 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


Timbuk2's products are aimed at people who are hip enough not to fret over a bad swear. Most likely, they will simply pass your letter around for a few giggles, then chuck it.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 10:21 AM on July 23, 2008 [4 favorites]


I think the above letter is pretty perfect.
posted by jesirose at 10:21 AM on July 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


I would target their commercial interests. Someone at Timbuk2 has obviously chosen to use the word "shit" in a cringe-making attempt to make their rather mundane and not-particularly-indie product seem cool. So your aim in the letter, I'd say, should be to make them wonder whether the costs of this approach might not outweigh the benefits. Just make it clear that the experience has made you extremely wary of buying their products a) as gifts and b) for use in professional contexts. None of this involves pretending you're personally offended by the word.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 10:22 AM on July 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


Mostly I just want them to know that using tags like this has will alienate some customers. I'm a huge fan of their bags and would hate to see them lose customers. I'm not really looking for anything from them, as the damage is already done, I just want to be sure my letter actually gets through. Specifically, I want language that will make me seem like a reasonable person, and not a random crusader.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 10:22 AM on July 23, 2008


I just want to be sure my letter actually gets through. Specifically, I want language that will make me seem like a reasonable person, and not a random crusader.

Any company that's willing to put that on a tag has already considered the ramifications of it. They know that it will offend a portion of the market and they not only don't care, they probably intend it.

They don't want their product to be carried around by the type of person who would be offended by this tag. It's a method of customer selection.
posted by unixrat at 10:26 AM on July 23, 2008 [5 favorites]


Oh, by the way, if you are deeply committed to getting this changed - your best method to fight it is three-fold:

1) Complain.
2) Stop purchasing their products
3) Do not talk about the company/products. Publicity will only fuel the fire and help them out. Witness the 2LiveCrew debacle of the 90's.
posted by unixrat at 10:30 AM on July 23, 2008


To downplay any sense of your being a prude, you could always say, "I don't personally have a problem with swearing, but even I know there's a time and a fucking place for it."
posted by scody at 10:38 AM on July 23, 2008 [18 favorites]


Wait a minute.. you got your brother a gift certificate? Didn't he then choose the bag himself? In which case, isn't it his problem? Or do *all* Timbuktu bags have this tag?
posted by media_itoku at 10:40 AM on July 23, 2008


@unixrat

But I'm their target demographic, and I think the tag is pretty tacky. They could have made a error with this one, because I went from picking out colours on a custom bag, to shunning.
posted by Phalene at 10:42 AM on July 23, 2008


But I'm their target demographic, and I think the tag is pretty tacky.

Ah, but you're not. The tag has made you stop purchasing, right? Their target demographic not only will continue purchasing items with the tag, they may increase their purchases simply to ruffle your/The Establishment's feathers.

Disclaimer: I don't know you. :)
posted by unixrat at 10:47 AM on July 23, 2008


I think everyone has the right to write a calm, reasonable letter if they're not pleased with a product/ service / etc. so if that will make you feel better, I say have at it.

That said... isn't the problem solved? The tag is removed. It wasn't across the front of the bag in huge 72 point font, it didn't endanger his job by being unprofessional. If it made him uncomfortable, it only did so for the time it took him to reach for a pair of scissors and snip it off.

My belief is this: if you're offended by a TV show, radio program, product tag-- turn the channel, turn the radio off, or cut off the tag. Problem solved. But if you're offended that they exist in the world? Well, that's just wasted energy.
posted by sharkfu at 10:47 AM on July 23, 2008 [6 favorites]


allkindsoftime has a great email/letter text. You never know who will end up getting that email, but if it makes you feel better pointing out a questionable design "feature," so be it. Maybe it will go to customer sales or PR department, and if Timbuk2 is small-ish, maybe the right people will get it, rather than if you complained to the Gap for having too many cute model pictures in the store that don't reflect society. Fat chance that having an effect.

With email and the Net these days, customers should exercise their right to offer complaints along with suggestions as how to fix or change. You never know what might change if you do it right or point how future products with that text might cause potential customers to shy away and pick another, less capable bag.
posted by fijiwriter at 10:48 AM on July 23, 2008


Writing a letter stressing the unprofessional nature of the tag won't come off as prudish. It won't change the tag though so you'd be better off saving the stamp unless you like championing lost causes.

1f2frfbf writes "Mostly I just want them to know that using tags like this has will alienate some customers."

They know this but think the tag will garner loyalty in more customers (because they are "edgy" or whatever) than it turns away. In the same vein they may not want people who'd have a problem with the tag carrying their bag because it would dilute their brand.
posted by Mitheral at 10:55 AM on July 23, 2008


Mostly I just want them to know that using tags like this has will alienate some customers. I'm a huge fan of their bags and would hate to see them lose customers. I'm not really looking for anything from them, as the damage is already done, I just want to be sure my letter actually gets through.

Like unixrat said, they almost certainly have already thought of this. You sending them a letter will most likely not change anything.

If you actually want to put pressure on them to remove the language, it would probably be a good idea to find out which stores carry their products and complain to them that you will stop shopping there unless they drop Timbuk2 or force them to change. They might not know about this, and may share your opinion that it is inappropriate. If you could convince somone with enough clout in a major store to take it up with Timbuk2 then you might have a decent chance of getting it changed.

It sounds like you're just writing the letter so that you will feel better about the awkward situation you were put in by their goofy choice of swearing on their tags, and there's nothing wrong with that. If that's the case I would suggest just being honest in your letter and not worrying about who ends up reading it and what judgments they make about you or your opinions.
posted by burnmp3s at 10:56 AM on July 23, 2008


Ah, but you're not. The tag has made you stop purchasing, right? Their target demographic not only will continue purchasing items with the tag, they may increase their purchases simply to ruffle your/The Establishment's feathers.

Well, that's a circular argument — unless you think their target demographic is "people who like buying items with the word 'shit' on them," in which case it is true by definition. It's certainly put me off any future Timbuk2 purchases — not because I'm offended by the swear word, but by the laughably embarrassing attempt to make their product seem "anti-Establishment" (please! it's a laptop bag!).
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 10:57 AM on July 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'm a little confused by the juxtaposition here -- carrying a messenger bag instead of a briefcase as a laptop bag in a professional environment so conservative that a tag on the inside of a bag would cause embarrassment.
posted by desuetude at 10:59 AM on July 23, 2008 [8 favorites]


A word of advice for someone who's job it is to constantly complain to companies on behalf of his employer:

a) Always send a physical letter (not an email) and preferably send it certified/FedEx/etc.
b) Address this letter to the president/CEO of the company and send it to their offices.
c) Once the letter arrives, if you do not get immediate contact, do some google-fu to get the phone number of their corporate office and speak to someone in the president's office to confirm the letter was received.
d) You will be very surprised at how fast things get done when you make this small effort.

In your case, I'm not sure what you're trying to achieve other than letting them know that the tag offended you and might offend others. Like someone said above, they undoubtedly are aware of this and made a conscious decision to do it anyway.
posted by rooftop secrets at 11:02 AM on July 23, 2008 [4 favorites]


If your own morals compel you to complain, then by all means send a letter or an email. Maybe it won't change anything, but you can know you were true to your own conscience. Just something simple like: "While I understand that the the definition of acceptable language is constantly evolving, I just thought I would let you know that the language on your tag is over my comfort level to the point that I will not likley purchase your products as gifts in the future, as it causes potential embarassment to me."

Who knows? If they have enough complaints, they might address the issue, or offer an option for a "clean" tag. It has nothing to do with morals, as far as they are concerned, but the bottom line. If they can sell more without the language than with it, then they might do it. But I wouldn't expect anything.

A couple stories to file away: 1) I e-mailed Best Buy because they went to a new system for video game purchases. Once you pay for it, you have to wait in another line to have an employee remove the security case. I told them I have plenty of choices, so I would not buy my video games from them as long as this system is in place. I explained that while I understood theft was a major concern, making customers wait in two lines was unduly inconvenient. I got no reply at all, not even an automated one.

2) I e-mailed Papa John's Pizza with a complaint about a delivery order. Again, it was polite, but the issue was enough that I thought it was worth reporting. Within an hour (and this was about 8 or 9 at night) I got a phone call from the district manager offering apologies and offering to send me a coupon for a free pizza. After a couple weeks, my coupon never showed up. I sent another e-mail asking about it. A couple days later, the district manager showed up at my front door with profuse apologies two coupons.

All that to say, follow your conscience, but there's no way to predict the outcome.

posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 11:19 AM on July 23, 2008


If your message is "this doesn't work for me" that's totally okay and not prudish.

If your message is "we were planning to buy a thousand of these, but now we can't" that will get more attention. See the thread on police interrogation methods, RE: does the ends justify the means.
posted by StickyCarpet at 11:43 AM on July 23, 2008


I think an important point is that it's difficult to argue that the company's target audience is people who would not mind or even prefer the word shit on their bag, when the word is on the tag on the inside. Unless all their products have this and the customer has purchased from them before, how is the customer to KNOW that the product has the word shit on it? Obviously this feature is not advertised on the site's product listing or the brother wouldn't have bought it.

So saying the company wants only customers who like profanity on the inside of the bag is a bit weak when they don't advertise the tag. I wouldn't assume they will toss aside a nicely written complaint simply because they only want customers who like said tag.
posted by jesirose at 11:45 AM on July 23, 2008


Specifically, I want language that will make me seem like a reasonable person, and not a random crusader.

If you don't propose something specific that you want them to do, then you're a random crusader (whether you think of yourself that way or not). The specific thing that you want them to do would be to consider having two tags: one that uses the word shit and one that does not.
posted by 23skidoo at 11:49 AM on July 23, 2008


The problem is, if your complaint is "Swearing bothers me so you need to stop using it" that complaint actually is prudish, so it's hard to phrase it in such a way as to make you not sound like a prude.

However, it sounds like your actual issue is that you were surprised by the tag, and would have liked to have had some advance warning. If you write to the company to complain, I would make your message "it would have been nice to have had a photo of the tag along with the product" rather than "I am terribly offended by a single word in a hidden location which was easily removed."
posted by lemuria at 11:55 AM on July 23, 2008 [2 favorites]


I think scody has a good line. "That shit's for kids; it makes your bags unsuitable for professionals." Suggest they leave it off bags that might be carried by ditto; if it's a skateboarder's backpack, fine if it says shit, but a briefcase? I swear, but I'd snip that shit off, too; I'm not 16.
posted by kmennie at 12:10 PM on July 23, 2008 [2 favorites]


FWIW, neither of my two bags had this tag, and I had no idea they used it before my BiL told me about it.

Apparently I'm an old fart who's that much closer to shaking my fist at urchins on my lawn and sending grumbly "back in my day..." letters to the editors of various papers. Nevertheless, I shall write a nice letter requesting the option for a "clean" tag suitable for doctors, pastors, maiden aunts and those of unsteady constitution. Thanks for the polite advice and examples everyone.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 12:17 PM on July 23, 2008 [2 favorites]


Or! You can go right to the source and complain. Here's the blog of the person responsible for the bad word on the tag. Remember to be polite.
posted by MaddyRex at 12:57 PM on July 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


Waht evre letter you write must include scody's line: "I don't personally have a problem with swearing, but even I know there's a time and a fucking place for it."
posted by Carbolic at 1:53 PM on July 23, 2008


I'm not offended by cursing, but it seems quite sophomoric to have it printed on a laptop bag. allkindsoftime hits the bullseye.

And just what is the deal with "edgy" labels on laptop bags courting controversy? Please, manufacturers, this might have sounded great when you were smoking a bowl out back on the loading dock, but don't ship a product with this nonsense.
posted by porn in the woods at 2:55 PM on July 23, 2008


I didn't read the other responses, but I don't think you are being prudish at all... I mean, this isn't a prudish website, but you can't write that here. Sound off!
posted by xammerboy at 3:17 PM on July 23, 2008


Just wondering - what kind of "professional environment" does your BIL work in that someone would meticulously check for tags on the inside of his bag(s) and then get offended by them?
posted by mrbill at 3:49 PM on July 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


It may be that they simply have several different tags and the one you will receive in your bag is random. That being said, why not put that in the descriptions of the site or the bags somewhere?

If it bothered you and your BIL, let them know.

Companies appreciate feedback if it is constructive; i.e. if you suggest they include the tag in the description, or even suggest that customers select a preference for a tag when they order a bag (which will make them feel like they are getting a custom item and might even increase the popularity of some tags/bags as a result).

Don't say you will never buy anything from them again or that you are telling people to boycott them! Just state your position and be done with it.
posted by misha at 3:58 PM on July 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


You're not being a prude. I swear like a longshoreman, but I don't wear stuff with swear words on it.
posted by theora55 at 5:06 PM on July 23, 2008


I swear like a longshoreman, but I don't wear stuff with swear words on it.

Me too and me neither, but this is the underside of the tag that is inside the bag. Where the care instructions would normally go. The chances that even the bag-user would see it are fairly low, let alone random people in an office.
posted by desuetude at 5:13 PM on July 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


allkindsoftime: "Dear sirs:"

In the same way that "using tags like this has will alienate some customers," using an exclusionary salutation will certainly alienate some recipients or readers. Unfortunately, I haven't got a neat solution; depending on the tone of the note, I have used "Hi," "Hello," "To whom it may concern:" (ugh), "Dear all," "To the committee of blah blah," "To the blah blah department," etc.
posted by librarina at 10:03 PM on July 23, 2008


The Timbuk2 folks spend a lot of time on the Get Satisfaction boards, and seem very responsive to customers and interested in dialogue. I would post there and see what they have to say.
posted by judith at 10:24 PM on July 23, 2008


using an exclusionary salutation will certainly alienate some recipients or readers.

Good point. I usually just go with "Good day -" and leave it at that in such cases.

Of course, you could go with "Dear shitheads,"
posted by allkindsoftime at 4:27 AM on July 24, 2008


I dont think it would be prudish for you to request that the companies gives two versions of the same tag...a clean one and well and the pg-13 one........However let me just tell you this......I didnt have any idea about this company until I read this post....and now that I saw the picture of the tag...I will be buying one....with the dirty version....I guess I am the right crowd because not only would I not mind having the tag....but if others feel offended cause of it...I wouldnt want to be around those people either.
posted by The1andonly at 6:52 AM on July 25, 2008


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