Is there a tactful way to ask for more?
November 24, 2015 8:10 AM   Subscribe

A service that I frequently use screwed up, and when I sent a note to customer service about it, they offered a pretty cheap coupon and not much explanation for what happened. I don't feel like justice has been served here, is there a way to push for more?

The company is usually great! I let them know in my email, which was polite. I just wanted to understand what happened, how it happened, and let them know this is the first time I've been really frustrated with their service. I didn't ask for anything except an explanation.

They sent back a pretty lazy response/apology without much explanation, and a pretty cheap coupon/credit. I don't want to offer much insight into the actual service as I believe it will derail my question*, which is: Is there a more tactful, professional, Miss Manners-style way to point out that:

a) The explanation they offered is not sufficient
b) How about a little more credit, you cheapos - you really inconvenienced me when you screwed up

I'm having a hard time phrasing because I very rarely complain to businesses, hate the idea of being an entitled customer-service nightmare, and also understand that they don't technically owe me anything here. But maybe there are some "ask culture" (over "guess culture") folks who are good at this sort of thing. I would like to be as polite and professional as possible, maintain my standing as a quality customer while maximizing my chances of a more satisfactory recompense - if possible.

I am not looking for advice as to whether I should continue to use the service or not or whether to bother following up; I'll be following up regardless. I am looking for something akin to business-writing advice here before I do so.

*For sake of example, imagine a fancy restaurant that flat-out lost your reservation from a month ago and your evening plans had to be reconfigured. They offer a measly discount on your next meal but let's be real, they should be giving you a gift card.
posted by windbox to Writing & Language (14 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Dear Skobos,

I am in receipt of your last email and as a long time customer, I'm disappointed in both the depth of the explanation and in the coupon you've offered. I really do want to understand how you could have lost my reservation. I am always careful to schedule well in advance and I dine with you weekly. I arrived with my grandmother for her 100th birthday celebration only to be told that my reservation was lost. This caused me great embarrassment in that we had to go to Dennys instead.

As for the coupon, while I appreciate the gesture, given the significance of the event, I believe that a gift card for $50 is more in line for my inconvenience.



(Be specific in what you want don't leave it to them to guess.)
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:18 AM on November 24, 2015 [28 favorites]

The first question you should ask is, "did the company potentially incur legal liability by their mistake?". From your "hint", I would say the answer is no, but perhaps reality is a bit different than your example. If the company did potentially incur liability, then your request for compensation is simply a polite way of settling a potential court case. In this case, you would hint at your actual costs (in dollar terms), because that is what an actual court case would be based on. If you do take this route, you should remember that courts, in general, deal with monetary harms - it's pretty unlikely a court would order a company to pay for anything else when you were not physically harmed.

The second question you should ask is, "did the company do something that is particularly embarrassing in [paper|TV|social] media?". Again, from your "hint", I would say the answer is no. In this case, you would hint at the ways you could embarrass them. For instance, you could mention talking with a reporter, posting to Yelp, etc. If you go down this route, you should make sure your method of embarrassing them is credible - if you have no social media presence, your threat to post to Twitter is somewhat empty.

The third question you should ask is, "do I offer potential repeat business to this company?" If so, you should note previous positive experiences you've had with them and use words like "good faith effort" or "positive impression" to try to get something more from them. If you are dealing with them in a corporate setting, you should be very specific about what your company might do - if, for instance, you take clients there every week, suggest stopping that entirely.

Fundamentally, expecting anything here is a matter of convincing the company it is in their interest to compensate you. If you offer nothing to them, they have no reason to compensate you more - and further, you'll waste your time asking.
posted by saeculorum at 8:23 AM on November 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

I'm really good at writing these letters. The key is to walk the very fine line between giving a dispassionate and thorough explanation of what went wrong and how emotionally distraught it made you. Now is the time for sounding like an eloquent dickbag.

Many years ago I wrote one of these letters to Delta after a bad flight. I happen to have it saved to my google docs, so if you'd like to see it, I stripped personal info out of it and you can read it here. I ended up getting a personal (not form) letter of apology from a Delta Executive and a $400 voucher toward another flight (in addition to getting to fly first class all the way home when I did actually manage to get a flight out). I was pretty satisfied with that.

On preview, RB has a pretty good response, but I am shameless and petty and have no qualms about laying it on thick. Personally I prefer to just give a good dose of upset customer and let them decide how to compensate me; I'd worry that asking specifically for something would either 1) lowball them or 2) put them off me altogether.
posted by phunniemee at 8:25 AM on November 24, 2015 [32 favorites]

Ruthless Bunny's letter is a good one. It explains the problem without making it seem like the biggest tragedy in the world, and acknowledges the initial resolution without being insulting about it.

Don't threaten a lawsuit or going to social media. At my job in customer support, those threats aren't taken seriously, don't increase the chances of getting what you want, and a post about a restaurant losing a reservation is not likely to go viral anyway.

Also if you don't want to request anything specific, you can always say, "is there anything else you can do for me?"
posted by girlmightlive at 8:48 AM on November 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

If this is a major chain, address your letter or e-mail to the CEO or a VP. I used to answer these letters on the behalf of executives for a large cruise line. If their name was used, it bypassed normal customer service routes and was sent to my department, which had a lot more leeway with compensation. Make sure you include enough information that they are able to look up the incident or at least the previous correspondence. When I worked in this role, I was most amenable to repeat customers who had genuinely valid concerns. Overly emotional pleas, especially for minor issues, got an eye roll and a minimal compensation offer from me. A poor experience with customer service IS a valid concern. Let them know that you felt like you were given a form response and expected better. However, keep in mind that a coupon might be the best they can do.
posted by galvanized unicorn at 8:55 AM on November 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

Definitely address your letter to the president/CEO/whatever actual leader they have. (This is how I ended up getting a personal phone call from a senior VP, a very large gift card and a written apology from the Michael's craft chain. It also scored me a $2000 car repair for free from Honda of America.)
posted by BlahLaLa at 9:21 AM on November 24, 2015

The explanation they offered is not sufficient
There is a very real possibility that they have no idea how it happened or that it was something pretty embarrassing and they don't want to reveal it you. Do you really need a full accounting for everything if they have been reliable in the past and are willing to give you more compensation for the problem?
posted by soelo at 9:42 AM on November 24, 2015

I decided to go with RB's response which is exactly what I was looking for. Thanks all. I will keep everyone posted with how they respond, which should be interesting given that I kind of high-balled them.
posted by windbox at 9:44 AM on November 24, 2015 [4 favorites]

FWIW, I think that it's justifiable to escalate your grievance (as others have noted, personally addressing the CEO is a good tactic), but explicitly stating what you would like from them is pretty tacky and makes you look like a grubber.
posted by mkultra at 12:08 PM on November 24, 2015 [3 favorites]

I went to a "family-friendly" establishment recently and was appalled to find both "Baby Got Back" and "Anaconda" playing on large video screens and very loudly in the eating area.

I wrote a letter (an actual letter via snail mail) to the company letting them know this was inappropriate and got a form letter back that basically said "Your complaint has been forwarded to the appropriate parties."

That wasn't enough of an answer for me, so I sent a second letter with the original letter enclosed. I said that getting a form letter for a real concern didn't make me feel like my voice was heard. This time I got back a personalized letter that included an apology and an explanation of what had gone wrong (the videos in question were only supposed to be shown after 11 p.m., but were inadvertently played on a Saturday afternoon).

It's like there's a front line of customer service that is designed to make you go away and you have to consciously push past it to get real results.
posted by tacodave at 3:46 PM on November 24, 2015 [3 favorites]

You nailed it, tacodave - first line is underpaid drones just running scripts.
posted by yoHighness at 12:04 AM on November 25, 2015

Welp, that sucked. They responded with one line - "Unfortunately we do not not have $X credits." Didn't even address my other points as far as my asking for some kind of explanation. Oh well, can't win 'em all.
posted by windbox at 5:49 AM on November 25, 2015

At least you now know the value of your patronage to the restaurant.
posted by Packed Lunch at 2:32 AM on November 26, 2015

Just another update - they followed up again and offered me more credit, and apologized a little more extensively, which is odd because I stopped pushing after their last response. But I guess it did work out.
posted by windbox at 7:38 AM on November 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

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