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 www.ftc.gov/ftc/complaint.htm 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