"What's Your Problem? Cut Through Red Tape, Challenge the System, and Get Your Money Back" by Jon Yates. William Morrow, 2011
What do you do if your health insurer refuses to pay for a procedure ordered by your physician? If you discover water pouring into your basement in the middle of the night and your regular plumber is unavailable until morning, what can you do in the meantime? If you make hotel reservations online, check in and find that your accommodations are nothing like the images shown on their website, who is responsible for this deception?
These are just a few scenarios that are discussed in "What's Your Problem?" by John Yates, creator of the popular "What's Your Problem" column in the Chicago Tribune. Over the years, he has assisted legions of angry, frustrated and desperate individuals who are not getting the help they need from customer service representatives and can't get through to the company's decision makers.
Most people begin the process in a polite and reasonable way, but if that isn't working, you may have to become not so nice as you continue to pursue the matter. You'll need to obtain the names and phone numbers of top executives. But before you make any calls, have all of your questions written down in front of you, and always take notes on the conversation. Send copies of the complaint, along with any documents that support your position, to other executives in the company so they are aware of the situation.
According to Mr. Yates, you must insist that all promises made be put in writing and confirmed by email or a letter. Beware of signing a long-term contract with sizable cancellation fees, and don't be tempted by credit card offers that sound wonderful but are not that wonderful after the offer expires.
Mr. Yates gives detailed information on what you need to know, and do, before you purchase a new or used car; get the "out the door" price (in writing, of course) to ensure that no extra charges will be added before you sign the papers. If your luggage is lost and nobody has any idea what happened to it, he offers ideas that can remedy this situation. You'll learn how to correct errors on your credit report and the steps to take if you are victim of identity theft.
His strategies usually get results, but they require a substantial investment of time and effort on your part -- you must always read the fine print on your insurance policies, utility bills, bank statements and similar documents to get the facts straight before you begin to justify your case.
Companies are in business to make money and retain loyal customers and try to avoid negative publicity at all costs. If your problem is not resolved within a reasonable period of time, tell them you won't hesitate to take your business elsewhere. In addition, you can post your complaint on the Internet and use social media effectively so thousands of people can read about it.
"What's Your Problem" concludes with 10 simple consumer commandments and a chapter on "Extremely Necessary Resources," where you'll find examples of complaint letters that get results and a list of helpful websites and consumer advocacy groups.
No one wants to feel taken advantage of, so don't take no for an answer if you know you're right. When you finish reading this indispensable book, you'll have the tools -- and confidence -- to become your own problem solver.
Natalie Lustig works for The Carnegie Business Library, Downtown.