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  • How to write an effective complaint letter

    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

    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.

    The Jardine crib recall is being handled poorly

    Before I get into the recall, I have to give you a little background. When Alex was 18 months old and I was seven months pregnant with Tyler, I decided to cross my fingers that Alex would continue to sleep in his crib for at least another six months and bought a new crib for Tyler. (Actually, my generous in-laws bought the new crib, just as they had bought Alex’s.) Needless to say, less than two weeks after we set up Tyler’s crib, Alex climbed out of his. But Alex’s crib converted to a toddler bed, and that’s what he’s slept in since that fateful day.

    Fast forward almost two years. A few weeks ago, I reported that Jardine had recalled over 300,000 cribs . It wasn’t until last Friday, when I was reading Freebies 4 Mom, that it finally registered that Tyler’s crib was made by Jardine.* I immediately checked the model and date codes, and realized it was part of the recall. I then completed the online submission form to receive a voucher for a new crib.

    Of course, the remedy per the CPSC press release announcing the recall states: “Consumers should immediately stop using the recalled cribs and contact Jardine to receive a full credit toward the purchase of a new crib.” So we decided to get Alex a “real” bed and re-convert his bed back into a crib. It took all Sunday, but we did it. And Alex is thrilled. (Tyler, not so much. I think he was hoping to get Alex’s bed as-is.)

    Meanwhile, yesterday, I received a UPS envelope from Jardine, directing me to send them the mattress support hardware and identification label back to them in the enclosed envelope in order to receive my voucher. I couldn’t believe it. Nothing at their recall page alerted me to the need to save anything from the crib. We had dismantled the crib on Sunday, and left the final large pieces on the curb for oversize pickup yesterday morning. And while we might have saved some of the screws, we didn’t remove anything else from the crib during the dismantling process. (A copy of the letter enclosed in the UPS envelope is available on the web site, but the link leading to it simply says “review more detailed instructions.” Nothing about it alerted us to the need to keep any hardware.)

    If I actually needed the voucher now, I would be irate. Fortunately, I don’t, so I am just writing about this here to warn other Jardine owners not to act hastily if your crib is part of the recall. I can understand the company’s need to protect against fraudulent claims, but they need to inform customers who are completing the online submission form that they will need to send in parts of the crib to receive the voucher. I can’t be the only proactive parent who didn’t want to wait for a voucher.

    As a side note, the Baby Bargains Book Blog is reporting that Babies R Us will honor the voucher for online purchases, but you need to front the cost and then get reimbursed. (Read their post for more details.)

    *I never liked the Jardine crib much anyway. You could tell it was $100-200 cheaper than Alex’s crib (I can’t remember what brand it is, but I know they don’t sell the same model anymore). The rail on the Jardine never went up and down smoothly, so there was no hope of laying a sleeping baby down and then quietly sliding the rail up. The wood also came off the slats with the slightest scraping, so there were a few spots where I had accidentally scratched off some wood and paint with my engagement ring. It’s not hard to understand why the recall was for possible breakage of the slats and spindles. If I could do it over again, I definitely would have chosen a more expensive, better-made crib.

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    Fake coupons cost everyone

    For the last couple months, as I’ve really gotten into The Drugstore Game, I’ve been lurking on some coupon sites like A Full Cup and Hot Coupon World. They are wonderful resources, and I love finding out about deals and reading about others’ great shopping experiences. But with the good comes the bad, and for each great shopping tale, it seems there’s another tale of frustration or worse.

    If you shop with coupons, you know what I’m talking about: cashiers and managers who don’t know what the corporate coupon policy is* and even worse, employees who treat coupon users rudely. I’ve read some stunning stories about cashiers accusing customers with coupons of theft or making negative comments about coupons to other customers.

    Companies need to make a greater effort to train their employees about coupon use. I can understand why they don’t, because I don’t often see another customer with coupons (let alone a folder full of coupons) no matter where I shop – Target, CVS, Ralphs, etc. In fact, the nicest cashier at my favorite Walgreens has told me I’m his most amazing customer, even though I know someone like Mercedes could do even better. It’s not that cashiers act like they’ve never seen coupons, so I know other customers must use them. But in the big picture of corporate profits, proportionally we’re not that big a group, so catering to coupon-wielding customers isn’t that high on the priority list.

    What does get upper management’s attention is coupon fraud. Over the last two or three weeks, I’ve been reading about Target’s evolving coupon policy stemming from the printable $5 off $25 toy purchase coupon that I posted over at CFO Reviews a few months ago. I noticed a month or so ago that the coupon was no longer available, so I took the sidebar link down but didn’t think much of it. Then I read that someone had altered the toy coupon to look like a general merchandise coupon, and that was where all the problems had started. Target’s powers that be have understandably ruled that the printable $5 off $25 coupons can no longer be accepted.

    Unfortunately, many Target employees don’t seem to understand the ruling and it looks like management isn’t doing a very good job explaining the limitations. I’ve read many stories of cashiers and even managers refusing to accept any printable coupons, even if they are right off the Target web site. In fact, when I was at Target last week, the cashier took my printable Archer Farms frozen pizza coupons to a supervisor to make sure she could take them. (Archer Farms is a Target store brand, and I was eventually permitted to use the coupons.)

    I just don’t get the mentality of people who would blatantly try to defraud and steal from anyone, regardless of whether it’s a person or a company. It took some serious forethought to actually alter that toy purchase coupon. Coupon fraud is becoming such a serious problem that ABC News just did a story about it.

    It’s probably not going to happen, but I hope that the person who altered that toy coupon is found and prosecuted. And I hope that the awareness of coupon fraud translates not into suspicion of coupon users but knowledge and understanding of how coupons work. That would make shopping at stores a lot more pleasant for both the cashiers and the customers.

    *Encountering employees who just don’t “get” coupons can be extremely frustrating. About two months ago at Target, the cashier flatly refused to let me stack a Target coupon with a Pampers coupon, insisting that I had to use one or the other. I would have asked her to call over a manager, but there was a line behind me, and Marc was waiting with the kids, so I just told her to take all of the items off my order. I ended up using my coupons at a different Target!

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    Good customer service from Sharebuilder

    I posted a few months ago about buying my first individual stock purchase – a tiny fraction of Berkshire Hathaway that I bought through Sharebuilder. At the time, Sharebuilder was offering a $90 bonus to Costco’s Executive level members, which we are. The bonus was actually my main motivation for buying the stock, since essentially the stock was free. The only problem was, we never got the bonus.

    Calling Sharebuilder about the bonus has been on my to-do list for a couple of weeks now, but today I finally realized I could use their online contact form so I sent them a quick email explaining the problem. Within a few hours, I had the following response:

    Thank you for contacting us about Costco cash card you never received. We have credited your account with $90, that you are free to use in any way you wish.

    I was close to writing off the $90 just because I didn’t want to deal with the hassle of contacting them, but it turned out to be painless and worth the effort. I’ve withdrawn the $90 and will be using the money to fund my first Prosper loan. Stay tuned!