Complaining for Fun and Profit

7 Dec


Let’s face it, we all love to complain. In his classic book “Games People Play“ psychiatrist Eric Berne  said that one of the most frequent  of  human pastimes is a game   he called, “Ain’t It Awful, in which people  trade complaints back and forth.  For most of us, complaining is a competitive sport, as we try to top each other in terms of  the adversity we’ve had to endure. My high school Latin teacher  told me that in ancient Rome, soldiers were granted a special dispensation to complain  about anything, even the emperor himself. One emperor had a bellyful of the moaning  and tried to take this entitlement away and you can pretty much guess what happened then.

When it comes to consumer complaints, I have always thought that writing a letter is the best approach. Back in the fourth grade, a girl in my  class, Pat, wrote a letter to the  makers of Hostess  Cupcakes, complaining about how the chocolate frosting (with the squiggly white spiral down the center)  frequently  stuck to the cellophane wrapper.  When this happened you would have to  synchronize   licking frosting off the wrapper with  taking bites of the cake.  Advances in packaging technology have managed to  resolved this problem, but back in the 1950’s  this constituted  a national predicament.

A few week  after  Pat sent her  letter, a large white Continental Bakeries truck pulled up to her house and delivered a whole complementary case of hostess cupcakes, propelling Pat into the  everlasting childhood hall of  heroes  and precipitating  a  rash of  childishly lettered  complaint letters to various bakeries, ice-cream vendors,  and candy manufacturers.

 I don’t know of anyone who managed to  duplicate Patricia’s success, but I have scored some  fairly valuable Steak and  Shake and Red Lobster  two-for-one  coupons in response to  my complaint  letters.  

I figure I  write a complaint letter less than once a year and I am averaging about .500 in getting a positive response. I have been surprised that some of my letters have been completely ignored.   One major auto manufacturer totally disregarded my complaint when the black roof paint faded on our new van after only one year. Now the mere  site of one of these vans rolling down the street, with its faded roof, is enough to trigger a five-minute diatribe. 

Many years ago I also wrote a complaint letter to a  country-style restaurant chain. After eating at one of their roadside restaurants we got back on the road and noticed  a large bleach stain on the front our youngest son’s  shirt.  He had leaned against the damp sink basin counter in the restaurant’s restroom when he washed his  hands.  Like the automobile manufacturer, this restaurant company   never bothered to respond at all.

My wife, Diane,  had better luck when her favorite coat was ruined by a leaking  bottle of cleanser, containing bleach. This was a well known chain grocery store that I will refer to only as “Croakers”.   This   supermarket  quickly  made good on the coat and  the chivalrous manager was appropriately sympathetic and apologetic. Acknowledging Diane’s value as a regular customer, they set a standard that few businesses meet.  

In February of  last  year , the Federal Trade Commission issued its annual list of the top consumer complaints for Indiana. Identity theft topped the list or the seventh year in a row.  Home shopping problems, fraudulent contests,  and internet-related scams dominated the nearly 675,000Indianacomplaints made in 2006.Indianaranks about 24th out of the 50 states in identity theft, which seems to be the dominant consumer complaint of our times. About a quarter of all identity thefts involves credit card fraud.

Anyone can make a consumer complaint to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) by accessing their website at  or  calling 1-877- 382-4357. The FTC, however, does not investigate  individual complaints, but does make it’s database of complaints  available to law enforcement organizations throughout the country.          

  Recently  I’ve been  thinking about writing a letter to complain about the two  new  headsets I’ve had to buy in the last couple of months.  You would think that the manufacturer  could have designed them so that the   internal wires wouldn’t keep shorting out.  These things are not cheap.  I’m not sure what I expect  them to do, but deep down, I guess I’m still hoping that one day  a truck might pull up in front of my house  to deliver a whole case of free headsets.

 Based on a column in The Southern Indiana News-Tribune


One Response to “Complaining for Fun and Profit”

  1. 3rd Culture Children December 7, 2011 at 7:50 pm #

    Hey Terry! Thank you for coming by my blog, and subscribing to it!

    You just became the blog’s 100th SUBSCRIBER!

    Great! And thank you… there will be no prizes, though, unfortunately… but it’s good to know that I’m gradually building a good network over here… 😮

    Looking forward to sharing images, experiences and comments! Cheers from Brazil, from

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