So much is discussed online and elsewhere about scams, especially scams on seniors. There are safeguards and non-profit and governmental organizations that warn folks about the latest scams, and how to avoid them. What no one talks about however, is how to retrieve or save your dollars when you inadvertently make a mistake that costs you money, or when a legitimate or not-so-legitimate firm simply takes advantage of the fact that you missed the fine print. Or when the company is legitimate but the person representing the firm is not.
There are a few key points to remember:
- The squeaky wheel does, indeed, get the oil
- Social media is a powerful must-have tool for resolving complaints and getting refunds
- When they say they can’t , they really can
- There is NO such thing as a no-refund or no-return policy
- NEVER accept the negative response of the first person who answers the phone. If you don’t like what you’re hearing ask for the supervisor, and the supervisor’s supervisor. Find key executives on LinkedIn or the company’s website, or by Googling, and reach out to them. “We don’t, we can’t, we won’t, or it’s not our policy to” really mean, “I don’t have the authority and I can’t be bothered getting you to someone who does.” DON’T accept that. You don’t have to.
- Record (when legally allowed) all business calls. With regard to the legality of recording there are two kinds of U.S. states – one-party and two-party. In a one-party state only one of the people taking part on the call has to know it’s being recorded. In other words, you can record without telling them you are doing so. In a two-party state you cannot. The state we’re talking about is the state in which THEY reside, not you. So you have to first determine that. That’s easy – simply ask them at the beginning of the call. Don’t assume because the company is in Iowa, the person you’re speaking with is. As of right now, what I am finding is that there are only 12 two-party states: CA, CT, FL, IL, MD, MA, MI, MO, NV, NH, PA, and WA. This means that in most states you can record any conversation without telling the other party that you are doing so. Here’s my approach: “I’m sorry but I have a mild cognitive disorder and I like to record my business calls. It helps remind me, and if I’m later confused my son can listen and help me as well. You don’t mind, right?” If that person minds and it’s a solicitation, end the call. If you are trying to resolve an issue and he or she declines your recording, you cannot record but you certainly are letting that person and firm know that you are serious about following through on your complaint. Keep talking, or ask for a supervisor and then ask the supervisor if you can record, but before you ask that ask the supervisor where she or he is. Many virtual companies or multi-location firms will have supervisors who reside in states other than those of the rep who originally answered the phone. You may start talking to a rep in a two-party state and end up talking to a supervisor in a one-party state. Then you won’t have to ask permission.
In the last several years there have been numerous times when I was overcharged, signed up for something because I forgot to cancel before the end of the free trial, purchased something I regretted buying, or paid money for something that turned out to be unacceptable. In EVERY SINGLE CASE I got my money back, and in a timely manner. In some of these cases, they had a no-refund policy, or told me the error was mine. In most of the latter cases they were correct. But in every case I got my refund. I never took advantage of a company – never asked for money back on a good product that was used by me and found useful. Nor do I suggest that you do so. But when I wasn’t getting my money’s worth I complained, and got my money back.
You can too. I’m about to tell you how, but let me first give you a few examples.
The first example really was a scam, or rather a scammer. The product was solid, but the seller was dishonest. It was embarrassing because I’m a licensed life and health insurance agent and I got taken by a health insurance agent. But I don’t focus on individual medical policies, and had to turn to someone else who did. Self-employed, I recently left a part-time employer that was providing benefits. So I either was going to have to pay for COBRA or find adequate individual coverage. I was looking for something under $400 a month that would accept one pre-existing condition. No easy task.
I looked online, which prompted a number of unsolicited calls and emails from insurance brokers. I answered few of these. One, however, left a message that seemed legit. He was good, I have to give him that. I told him flat out I was NOT interested in an indemnity plan, but rather needed major medical coverage and, if possible, pharmacy, and if possible a few doctor visit copays. He told me he had a PPO that was going to be about $100 a month less than my COBRA. After getting his assurance and an email that confirmed it was a PPO and not an indemnity plan I gave him $399 by credit card over the phone. Then my INDEMNITY plan arrived in the mail. Over the course of many phone calls and conversations in which he insisted that he had explained what it was, and finally suggesting that I write a request for a 30-day cancellation (in other words, I wouldn’t get my original money back) I advised him that I would be going to the insurance carrier and the state department of insurance and he should be concerned about his license and his livelihood. Then he stopped taking my calls.
I got online. I discovered that his firm’s parent company was owned by his father, and it was local to me, here in Phoenix. And, he had a LinkedIn profile. I left the father a LinkedIn message, and called his office. I explained that while I really didn’t want to take the time to go down to his office in person and very loudly in his waiting room ask for the money back that was SCAMMED from me, I would do so if I didn’t get my money back in full within 72 hours. I then called the carrier, who confirmed that they only sold indemnity plans. I told the rep that I needed my money back within 72 hours because I had to pay for my COBRA before expiration, had to pay my mortgage and car payment and could not do all this with another $399 having been spent, and she said we can get you a refund but it will take up to 10 days. I said that is not acceptable and asked for a manager. I told her that I was reluctant to go to the state insurance department but my money was scammed from me and I had to have it back in 72 hours. In the meantime the broker, having heard from both the carrier and his father, was calling me several times a day, leaving messages about how he was sorry for the “misunderstanding..” I did not take his calls. The carrier’s manager called me back to tell me the money would be deposited back to my credit card account within 48 hours. It was.
In another situation I signed up for an online training class, for $239. The website posted a NO REFUND notice in at least a couple of places on the site. The class turned out to not be as advertised. I complained and was reminded of the No Refund policy. I found the CEO of the firm on LinkedIn, sent him a message, explaining that I hated to involve the many thousands of my LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Pinterest and Google+ friends and followers, but I felt an obligation to let them all know that all was not as advertised at this firm. He called me that very day. I got my money back that week.
On three separate occasions this year I have had problems with various companies because I signed up for a free trial and failed to cancel prior to the first fee being charged to my credit card, or I had an ongoing paid account which I had not been using for awhile, meant to cancel before the next billing and missed the deadline. In every case my money was refunded when, after they denied the refund on the phone I found the company’s Facebook page, Liked them, and posted the issue to their Facebook page. In each case, they replied on their Facebook page that they were sorry that happened and “here’s how to go about getting your refund.”
In one very difficult case I had to get multiple executives involved before I got my money back – and I did so. I joined the company’s LinkedIn group, messaged several key executives on LinkedIn, and sent an email to them all. I made sure to include their media relations director and their marketing director. The issue was resolved in my favor.
So, here are the steps you can take if you’ve been financially wronged:
- Join Facebook and build a following of at least a couple of hundred people. This is a nice thing to have anyway.
- Join LinkedIn, even if you’re retired or just job-hunting. There are many reasons for being a LinkedIn member beyond refunds, like career moves, job search, finding new clients and so forth. Build up your network to 500+
- Set up a Twitter profile, and start following folks, who will follow you back. You need at least a couple of hundred people here at least.
- Buy an inexpensive recording device for your phone – one that can be turned on or off at will. It can be digital or the old-fashioned tape variety. It doesn’t matter. You just want an affordable device that doesn’t take up a lot of space and is easy for you to use.
- Start with a call or email or live chat with a first-line customer service rep. That might be all it takes. If that doesn’t work, ask for the supervisor. If that doesn’t work, ask for the person who supervises that supervisor.
- If you still get no satisfaction, complain on yours and the company’s Facebook page, and go to LinkedIn and find key executives and message them there.
- Go to the company’s website and find key executives, including marketing and public relations. Don’t choose one, message them all, or call them all. Be a thorn in their side. Do it once a day until someone responds positively. Your response whether by phone or email is “Here’s my complaint. Here is how I tried to resolve it before contacting you. If you don’t resolve it I hate to take this to my thousands of social followers as well as yours, as well as your clients, but I will. I am determined to get this resolved in my favor in the next 72 hours. “
- Find out if the industry has a regulatory agency or requires its sales people to be licensed. If so, threaten to go to the regulatory agency, or, if needed, do so. Insurance and real estate practitioners must be licensed, for example.
- On the company’s website you’ll probably find a client list, testimonials or case studies. If you must – only as a last resort – start contacting these folks. “Hi, I see you’re a client of X company, who wronged me. I was wondering if you’ve had the same sort of difficulties with them?” That client is sure to let the company know that you sought them out.
- Do NOT give up. When the company realizes that you will not, you’re going to get your refund.
So, how do you find out who the key executives are? And how to reach them?
It’s very difficult to find a direct phone number, but it’s often easy to find an email. First, head to the company’s website and its about us page. If nothing else, you’ll probably find the names. You might find the emails, or a feedback form to use. You might also just Google. In the search field simply type “marketing director X company” and see what turns up. You can also email sales@ or media@ or press@ or info@ or pr@. Those usually work.
If you do not find the email address but find the name, you have about a 75 percent chance of reaching that person by email. First find the company email format. if you can’t find an info@ or advertising@ or customerservice@ or some address that tells you that the company email ends in companyx.com, for example, assume that it ends in the URL. If the company is SmithAppliances.com, chances are the email is @smithappliances.com. Now, let’s say you want to talk to Joe Smith at Smith Appliances, but you can find no email for him. Send the email to JSmith@SmithAppliances.com, John.Smith@SmithAppliances.com, JohnS@SmithAppliances.com, John@Smithappliances.com, Smith@SmithAppliances.com, and John_Smith@SmithAppliances.com. Then watch for the mailer daemon that says “email delivery failed” or some such. It will tell you which did not go through. That will tell you which did. You now have that person’s email address.
Another important point is that you give them a deadline. Tell them, “I need my money desperately for x reason. You must send it back to me within 72 hours.” DON’T let them tell you it takes 30 days, or you have to mail something. Tell them to decide today and overnight it if they must. In the case of the insurance firm that didn’t want to pay me I told the supervisor to take out her own credit card and credit me back and then wait for the company to pay her back. I didn’t expect her to, but she did get the message I was NOT going to wait.
Another slight segue – if you are trying to cancel service, do it by email. Don’t call. Email provides written backup, and it’s faster and it allows you to avoid the “I can offer you such and such instead, or I would like to know why you’re cancelling” annoying time-suck phone conversation. Email them that you want to cancel, and require email confirmation that it has been done. When they tell you that you must call to do so, reply, “I don’t accept that. I know you can do this. I am not going to get on the phone with a person whose job it is to talk me out of cancelling. I want this cancelled NOW and I won’t be calling you. What I WILL be doing is advising my bank that if you take any more money from my account to keep this active it is in violation of my written orders to you.” They’ll cancel it.
Again, keep in mind that the squeaky and social-media-focused wheel gets the oil. If they say they can’t refund your money, do NOT believe it. They can. And they will, if you’re persistent.