When In Doubt, Complain

There's an old saying that you get more bees with honey than with vinegar. It's true—to a degree. Sometimes if you want to get your way, it's worth giving whining a try.

This approach is often works when it comes to things like disputes with your phone carrier or cable company, places that tend to offer plans that aren't always in your best interest. Now, we aren't advocating being an asshole; the people on the other end of that phone call or email are people, after all. It's more that complaining is being assertive when you want something reasonable, or protecting yourself when you're in danger of getting screwed over. It's speaking up instead of rolling over. It's not a sure thing, but it can pay off. Let's look at a few examples of when complaining has worked:


The situation: You've paid for Amazon Prime but you can't stream Amazon Instant Video on your Android phone. So you take it up with Amazon, via its "Contact Us" page. You straight up ask for a discount because you aren't getting the full service that you've paid for. Then you wait.

The result: Amazon bends to your will and gives you—or at least this specific complainer—the 25 percent discount on your Prime account that you deserve. Amazon also adds that it's working on an Amazon Instant Video app for the future. But you care a little bit less now that you have $20 back in your pocket.


The situation: I'm a Time Warner Cable customer. I'm already annoyed that I'm stuck with TWC because it has a monopoly on my zipcode, but that's another story entirely. This is about the actual service. When we moved into my apartment, we were given a cable box that was old, perpetually slow, and prone to turn off every time we tried to watch something on demand. Sometimes it wouldn't even turn on. So we complained. We called and bitched about how we pay upwards of $120/a month and we can barely even watch our trashy reality TV shows when we want to.

The result: Three free movies on demand, and a brand new cable box. Time Warner also came and re-installed the shoddy one, gave us a new remote and made sure everything was running smoothly. We're not talking a free pony or even a percentage off they bill, but they're something.


The situation: Recently, I transferred my AT&T account from my mom's name to my name. I know. I should have done this years ago. The process was an ordeal, but it could have been worse. It went like this: we called AT&T, and they explained that basically I would have to choosean entirely new plan. I asked them if I would lose my grandfathered-in data. They said, yes, I would lose my data. Cue a minor over-the-phone freakout.

The result: After politely explaining that I would absolutely switch to Verizon if for some bogus reason I couldn't keep my plan, and after persistently but calmly asking enough times in enough different ways, I got an operator to tell me that I could, in fact, keep my old plan.

The key here was consistency in my bellyaching. Throughout the process of changing the plan over, I spoke to four different humans. Each time they got to the part about picking a new plan, I said firmly that a previous AT&T associate had said I didn't have to. And voila! I still have the plan I've had for years and years.


Now, those are just a few examples of when complaining has worked, but there are some tactics to keep in mind when you're trying to use it to your advantage:

  • Be firm: Decide what you want out of complaining, stick to it, and be clear about it.
  • Be consistent and repetitive: I shouldn't have to pay this charge. I'm not going to pay this charge. This charge is unfair. I shouldn't have to pay this charge. See how annoying that is? Say it enough and hopefully it will come true.
  • Empathize: Take the company rep/sales associate's side. Approach things as if you're both fighting against a common enemy: Verizon, DirecTV, or more importantly, THE MAN.
  • Ask the same questions in different ways: If you aren't getting what you want, just ask again, only change your phrasing. Do this enough and the poor soul fielding your problem will hopefully break down and find a way to bend to your will.
  • Be nice: complaining in the right way takes a certain amount of finesse. If you're ever just a straight up jerk, you're not going to get what you want. You're trying to get someone to do you a favor after all.

Follow this method and you're on your path to making things go your way. Complaining can apply to a number of scenarios. Have a coupon or a gift certificate that's expired? Try to use it anyway. Half the time, they'll let you. Your chicken salad come with tuna? Send it back. The restaurant might even comp your order.

This is generally, a very clear path to saving you money, getting you what you want, and granting your victory over your enemies. It's not always effective—in a lot of cases it's not—but if you're damn sure you're in the right, you owe it to yourself to try. And if worse comes to worst, it's a path to a little catharsis.

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