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  • Update on Amazon’s customer service: They made things worse!

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    As I mentioned over the weekend, Amazon messed up the payment of my order for an Aerogarden and seed kit and charged the entire amount to my credit card without applying the gift certificate credit that I had. I sent them two emails, which they ignored, so I actually called a toll-free number and spoke with a human being. That was on Sunday, and I was told that I would hear back within 48 hours.

    Right around the 48-hour mark, on Tuesday afternoon, I received an email saying that the payment would be reapplied, and in fact, my gift certificate balance was $0 and the online invoice indicated that the balance had been applied to my order. I was just waiting for my credit card to be refunded.

    Yesterday, I entered $30 of gift certificate codes into my Amazon account. So you can imagine my surprise when I checked this morning and saw that the balance was now $90.69. It appears that Amazon reversed their correction, but only credited me for the amount of the Aerogarden and not the seed kit. And the online invoice once again shows only a full payment by credit card.

    So they’ve made things worse! Because now I’ve lost $7.14 – the cost of the seed kit – in gift certificate credit.

    I immediately emailed them, of course – but given the lack of response to my previous emails, I’m more than a little concerned. I suppose I’ll have to call them after a reasonable amount of time has passed, say 48 hours. (The contact form says most emails will receive a response in less than 12 hours. That hasn’t happened.)

    What would you do?

    Amazon.com’s customer service leaves something to be desired

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    You might have gathered that I’m a pretty big fan of Amazon.com. I regularly buy things from them, and the only prize I’ve ever redeemed my Swag Bucks for is Amazon gift codes.

    When I receive my gift codes from Amazon, I apply them to my account so that they’re ready and waiting for me as a credit when I make a purchase. And I had about $65 in credits to use toward my purchase of the Aerogarden and greens kit two Fridays ago. The order confirmation page and the order confirmation email both indicated that the credit had been applied and my credit card would only be charged the difference of less than $5.

    But when my purchases arrived, the invoice indicated that my credit card had been charged for the entire amount. I used Amazon’s contact form to send a message asking them to correct the payment method but heard nothing back – even though the “message sent” page says a response will typically be issued within 12 hours. Three days later, I sent the same message again. Two days later, I’d still heard nothing back.

    So I went to The Consumerist and found Amazon’s customer service phone numbers. Amazon seems to be outsourcing their calls to India, but the representative I spoke to seemed pretty competent. Despite her heavy accent, her English was good and she understood the problem immediately. She even admitted that there had been a “technical problem” that resulted in gift card credits not being applied.

    She assured me that this time, the Gift Certificates Department would re-apply the payment and get back to me within 24 to 48 hours. We’ll see.

    P.S. I haven’t done much with the Aerogarden yet because I need an extension cord. But I will definitely give you an update when I have one.

    Mediocre customer service is worse than none at all

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    Yesterday, I wrote a negative review of EliteCarSeats.com after they unilaterally canceled my order for two Britax Regents. When I mentioned my frustration to Marc, he said he’d recently read a suggestion that companies should either commit to fully satisfying their customers or just not answer their phone. And I think that’s exactly right – you can’t go halfway when it comes to customer service.

    But that’s exactly what EliteCarSeats tried to do. They could have just canceled my order and sent me an email explaining why. But instead they tried to go a step further by calling to let me know of the cancellation and in doing so just made things worse. By refusing to go another step further and grant my request for expedited shipping, they lost my business forever. I’m actually more unhappy with their customer service after having my request refused than I would have been if I’d simply gotten an email explaining why my order was canceled. And that’s why I say you can’t do customer service only halfway.

    I think as customers, we simply want to know what we’re getting. So if a store purports to have customer service, it had better be excellent. And if a store isn’t going to give good service, I want to know about that upfront. Woot! is a good example of a store like that. Their FAQ says upfront that you’ll most likely never get hold of a live person and that they don’t provide traditional customer service. So if you buy from them, you do so knowing the risks.

    I’m not the only one who thinks this way. Jeremy Schoemaker at Shoemoney says he’s never going back to what used to be his favorite teppanyaki restaurant because the chef served undercooked shrimp that made him sick. Jeremy concludes:

    It got me thinking a lot about how businesses work. Serving undercooked shrimp which are 85% done does a LOT more damage than what the modulus would make you think. It would have been much better if they would have done 0% and not served us at all.

    What do you think? Is mediocre service better or worse than none at all?

    Kudos to Kellogg’s & their customer service

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    Kellogg’s has provided excellent customer service the last three times I’ve contacted them, so I thought it was high time to highlight them. The first two times, I used their online contact form to complain about their products. The first time, I opened a new box of cereal to find that the inner plastic bag was not sealed. The second time, I found a hard, dark object in a box of Mini-Wheats, and told them that I was throwing out not just the box I’d found the object in but also the other unopened boxes of Mini-Wheats that I already had.

    Each time, I provided all of the information that I thought they might need to identify the batch the cereal had come from, and offered to send the cereal back to them. Within a week of each complaint, I received an email thanking me and stating that I would be receiving something in the mail. The “something” turned out to be coupons good for a free Kellogg’s product, and the second time, I received four coupons to compensate me for the loss of four boxes of cereal.

    The most recent contact came in the form of the Fuel for School rebate, which took place in August through September. The promotion required the purchase of 10 Kellogg’s items, all on one receipt. You had to send in the receipt and the 10 UPC codes along with the rebate form, and you’d get a $10 check.

    I sent in my completed form and forgot about it, knowing that rebates usually take at least eight weeks to process. But about a month after I’d mailed in the rebate, I found a stray UPC code from a box of Rice Krispies treats on my desk. I pulled out my copy of the materials I’d sent in and sure enough, there were only nine UPC codes. I was so mad at myself, and for the next four weeks, I waffled between writing off the $10 rebate and emailing customer service to see if they would push the rebate through anyway.

    Kudos to Kellogg’s, because they pushed my rebate through without my contacting them. Much to my surprise, I got the rebate check a couple of days ago. It’s possible they didn’t catch the missing UPC code since nine pretty much looks like ten, but regardless, I really appreciate receiving my $10 even when I didn’t completely fulfill the requirements and they would have been within their rights to deny my rebate.

    As I wrote this post, I remembered a fourth recent contact with Kellogg’s, in which I sent in for a free book that’s part of their United Through Reading promotion. The book came quite quickly, and best of all, it came with a Target coupon for $1 off any book. I used the coupon the other day to get a free truck book for Alex from the dollar section.

    Thanks for everything, Kellogg’s!

    How to write an effective complaint letter

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    A couple of years ago, I wrote about complaining to let companies know their service was unsatisfactory. Since I recently picked up a great tip from Money Saving Mom, I thought this would be a good time to revisit the topic. Here are my tips for writing a good complaint letter:

    • Always be polite. There’s no reason not to be. Even if you are angry, it is not properly directed at the person you are writing to. And politeness is almost always more effective than rudeness.
    • Be brief. I’ve read so many long-winded complaints in the coupon forums I frequent, and I can’t count the number of times I’ve given up halfway through. Obviously, I’m not getting paid to read the complaints, but even someone whose job it is to read them might miss an important detail or craft a solution that’s not ideal because they ended up skimming the complaint.
    • Explain the problem clearly and with sufficient detail. This goes along with being brief, but it bears emphasizing. Be blunt, and be specific. I try to include enough detail to help the company determine what the source of the problem is.
    • If applicable, include product details. Generally, that means UPC code, expiration date, and any other data that’s been printed on the packaging. I think including this information makes my complaint more legitimate, and also helps the company track down any ongoing problems on their end.
    • State the remedy you are seeking. This is the tip I picked up from MSM, and I really like it. For example, if you’re complaining about a defective product, ask for a free product coupon to replace the defective one that you bought.
    • Send your letter via the company’s web site. Many, if not most, companies now have contact forms on their web site. It’s an extremely easy way to contact them, and it’s free. This is by far my preferred method; in fact, I probably wouldn’t bother contacting a company if they didn’t have a contact form or email address, unless there was a lot of money involved.
    • Compliments work, too. I’ve never tried this, but apparently a lot of companies will send out coupons to customers who take the time to send them a compliment. If you’ve got a few minutes of free time or there’s a company you’d really like to get some coupons from, why not send them a quick message? Especially if the product is a little pricey or a luxury item – you could mention that it’s hard to work into your budget and a coupon would really help out.

    What are your best tips for complaining?

    Fraudulent Coupons – Part 2: It’s not always the consumer’s fault

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    Last month, I discussed how fake coupons cost everyone. But of course, the problem remains. And it turns out that it’s not always the consumer’s fault. A couple of weeks ago, a marketing company decided to experiment by posting high-value coupons on Facebook. Not being a Facebook member, I never got around to joining and seeing them for myself, but I read about them multiple times on the various coupon sites that I check regularly.

    It didn’t take long for forum members to start questioning the validity of the coupons. But initial reports were that the marketing company had confirmed that the coupons were valid. These reports were quickly followed by claims that a hacker had posted invalid coupons. Not surprisingly, that led to conflicting reports that the marketing company was going to honor the valid coupons and reports that the company wasn’t going to honor any of the coupons. Eventually, the company announced that it would not honor any of the coupons and that stores should stop accepting them. Naturally, by the time the final announcement was made, many consumers had used the coupons.

    An argument could be made that the coupons were so inherently suspicious that consumers should have known better than to use them. But that argument is weakened by the fact that the marketing company initially validated the coupons.

    According to this Seattle Times article, the general consensus is that the marketing company should bear the blame – and the financial losses caused by the use of the coupons. The company published coupons that bore no security features, such as print limits.

    For the average coupon-user, the whole incident is cause for concern. Coupon forums are ablaze with talk about all printable coupons being rejected, and all coupons being closely scrutinized – new developments since the Facebook coupons came out. Even though I never used one of the Facebook coupons, I have been worried that my printable coupons will be rejected at the stores where I’ve never had any problems before.

    If there is a lesson for the average consumer here, it is to be knowledgable about coupons and be able to recognize when a coupon is suspicious. And hopefully, the independent marketing firm that started all of this has taken enough of a financial hit that no one will do anything this careless again.

    What do you think about the Facebook coupons and the subsequent fallout?

    Hat tip: IheartCVS.