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  • Writer's pictureRobin Koerner

How to Get Compensated Every Time a Corporation Lets You Down

Updated: Feb 8, 2022

Just Not Good Enough

We have all had the experience, time after time, of being let down by some large corporation whose services or products we use. Companies fail to keep their promises to us; give us incorrect information and thus waste our time, or they make a simple mistake and then compound it by not resolving it quickly and completely. All such occurrences cost us, their customers, time and energy (and sometimes, money).

Many friends have been pointed out to me how remarkable it is that I always manage to receive fair or even generous compensation whenever I am negatively affected by corporate mistakes.

Here are a few examples of my successes. I have been compensated by:

· a large bank to the tune of about $8000 for withdrawing a pre-approval of a mortgage on a technicality after I’d already found a home with the pre-approval.

· a large computer company to the tune of >$2000 by for failing to service a laptop in a timely fashion according to contract.

· an airline to the tune of a few hundred dollars and about enough air-miles for a free international return flight for failing properly to notify me of a flight cancellation and then failing to respond to attempts to resolve the matter.

· another airline to the tune of replacement items and a few hundred dollars for failing to deliver baggage that they’d misplaced on the day I was told it would be delivered.

· a large computer company to the tune of >$400 dollars for sending me around myriad people in phone calls and emails, wasting many hours of my time, simply to purchase one of its services.

· a real estate title company to the tune of about $1000 for failing to be responsive during the 30 day escrow period of a property purchase.

· a bank to the tune of a couple of hundred dollars for failing to transfer money by the time they had promised to do so.

The more I’ve shared some of these successes, the more I’ve been told how unusual they are.

Being inconvenienced by the failings of large corporations is such a common experience that over time, such failings can make a significant difference to our stress levels and quality of life, especially when efforts to resolve them become long and drawn-out. Put another way, many of the things that cause stress in modern life originate in large corporate failure. That is why, whenever a company makes one’s life worse, having confidence that the ultimate outcome will involve compensation that is commensurate with the stress caused, makes a considerable positive difference to quality of life.

The ability to secure good compensation does not make life better only for the obvious reason that it ensures one never loses out materially when mistakes are made; but also and more importantly, because it makes life that seems fairer, friendlier and more certain than it is for those who just “suck it up” when detrimentally affected by corporate incompetence.

This article will explain how to achieve reliably the kind of successes listed above.

None of them were achieved through legal action, threatening such action, spending any money, or knowing the boss. They depend only on the communication and empathic skills that we should all be developing anyway for success in all areas of life. What follows works in the Anglophone world: for cultural reasons, what works in the USA and UK, for example, isn’t typically going to work in China or Eastern Europe, for example.

The How-To

Here are the three principles of communication with a large corporation that has let you down that you should use to secure fair or even generous compensation.

1) Be polite but firm (manner)

2) Take detailed notes (tool)

3) Persist & escalate (process)

1) Be Polite but Firm

In all of your interactions with all the representatives of a corporation that concern a complaint, both in conversation and (less often) in writing, be polite but firm. If you can also be friendly in the midst of your frustration, be that too.

The customer service representatives to whom you will be explaining the bad situation that their company has put you in almost never the people who were responsible for it. Almost all upsetting failures of corporations are a result of poor processes, systems or rules that no one you will be speaking to has any control over.

Moreover, those same processes, systems, rules, are probably making it harder for those representatives to solve your problem, even though they want to. (They’re actually paid for doing that, after all.) That they have to operate within them to help you makes their life (like yours) worse, not better. For that reason, being polite to them includes acknowledging that and thanking the representatives for their efforts despite the constraints they are working under. Be sure that they know you appreciate their help, and their situation. That puts you and each one of them on the same side in solving your problem, and on the same side in relation to removing the obstacles to getting to the solution.

If you are talking to your nth person at the company (and n is a large number) and are now measuring in hours the time it’s taking you to resolve things, you’re going to be very frustrated, so make sure that the person you’re speaking to knows that your frustration is not directed at him. Own it, and even apologize for it if appropriate, and let him know that it is just a natural result of everything you’ve had to deal with and perhaps even of the fact that every attempt you’ve made at resolving this matter so far has ended in failure. Don’t be afraid to sympathize with the representative for being so unlucky as to be the one dealing with you in your current state of frustration. You can even make a joke of it. When he says “sorry” on behalf of his firm in response to the facts that you’re going to share with him (see below), make sure that he is clear that you get that none of it is his fault and you’re glad of his help and grateful for his effort.

On the other hand, tell it like it is. Don’t be angry, but be factual – primarily about all the relevant details of the situation, but also, as appropriate, their negative impact on you. (See the section on information, below.)

The overall impression you are giving is that you are understanding, friendly, but determined and nobody’s fool.

2) Take Detailed Notes

If “polite but firm” is how you do it, then detailed notes are what you do it with.

As soon as you’ve had your first call to the company about your issue and failed to get a resolution, start keeping detailed notes.

Ultimately, it will be your record of the corporation’s litany of failures that will be turned into material compensation. The notes should be comprehensive but they don’t have to be tidy, as they’re just for your own use.

Emails create their own record so, after you’ve carefully written down details of the original failing of the company that set you off trying to get a resolution, you typically only have to update your notes with the contents of phone calls. For each call, record when you called (or were called back); how long the call lasted for; how long you were on hold for and the names of everyone you spoke to in order along with their departments. Usually, representatives give you their names and departments when they introduce themselves a call. Whenever they do not, ask for them.

Keep your notes in a running Word document or just email yourself notes whenever you speak to someone. If you do the latter, keep your emails to yourself in a folder with any email correspondence with the company.

Be sure to copy and paste all communication through a corporate website into your notes, so that you record of correspondence is complete. Remember also to include the time and date when you sent the message.

Don’t worry: you won’t be reciting all of this information every time you engage with someone at the company, but you will be calmly deploying bits of it whenever it is going to make a difference, such as when you get handed over to a new department or your case gets escalated (see below).

Your grasp of the details of your situation will be greater than that of every single person you speak to, including the person who will eventually authorize your compensation. The details that you’re recording, when appropriately communicated, will convey your credibility and competence. These qualities set you apart from other complainers who are less reasonable and less careful with facts than you are.

(It should also go without saying that, being an honest human being, you will always tell the truth. You may be selective in doing so – as obviously you are building a case - but do not embellish or exaggerate. It’s neither honest nor necessary.)

3) Persist and Escalate

“Persist” is a very general instruction, which includes various steps, all of which are easy to perform and necessary, and so will be outlined here. This section provides your step-by-step “How To”.

Persistence depends on having first decided that the situation you’re in is unacceptable, unreasonable or unfair (or all three) and that to let it stand would be in some way wrong. If you don’t care that much, you will likely just give up before receiving some reasonable compensation for your negative experiences.

The process is not difficult but neither is it fun. It can take a while, involving multiple communications over weeks and sometimes hours on phones, especially if you include hold times. This is all very doable as long as your heart is in it, and don’t worry about the time spent: the more you have to work to get reasonable compensation from the company, the more the corporation is going to end up compensating you.

Obviously, asking for a refund for something that does not work or did not arrive or a service that was not provided as agreed is trivial: everyone does that and refunds are generally given without too much fuss.

We are concerned here with much more than the recovery of hard costs – specifically, material recognition of the fact that something that could and should have been easily resolved actually ended up being unnecessarily difficult to resolve because the company’s incompetence and/or failure to the right thing when it should have.

A corporation does not typically offer any compensation for distress caused whenever it makes a situation worse by incompetent handling. There are a number of reasons for that but chief among them is the fact that no single employee actually knows about the series of happenings that befell you – and on the rare occasion that someone at the firm does, he or she is probably not a person who can put the whole thing right.

For that reason, persistence and escalation begin, with simply asking for the compensation you’re seeking.

The natural time to ask for compensation is at the end of a communication with the company in which you’ve specified the problem and sought a solution. If that solution is not easily forthcoming and you have already put in significant time or effort to resolve it, then gently ask about the possibility of receiving some recognition of what the corporation has put you through. If you feel more comfortable doing so, remind the representative of all the steps in the process that you got you to this point, mentioning all the time and energy you’ve already spent on it.

Be sure to list the specific examples of the fundamental, systematic failures for which the company is responsible and would prevent anyone getting any problem solved in a timely manner. (This is something you will do repeatedly with new representatives as you escalate the matter up to the person who will ultimately authorize your compensation).

These are typically

1) being given incorrect contradictory information, 2) being handed off to people who can’t solve your problem 3) being made a commitment by the company that has not been kept.

Your request for “recognition of what the corporation has put you through” should not include any value judgments about the company or its people. You don’t want to put the representative on the defensive.

Phrasing like this usually works well,

“Is there any chance I could get some kind of recognition for all the time I have already spent and am still spending on resolving this – let alone all the stress it’s causing?”

Invariably the first representative of whom you ask this will not be able to help - but he has a supervisor or manager. If he is unsure, you can follow up with a suggestion that sounds eminently reasonable because it is obviously in the power of the company to do. For example, if you’re dealing with your health insurance company, it might be,

“… like maybe some small discount off next month’s premium?”

This usually results in immediate escalation, meaning that the representative transfers you to a supervisor or tells you that he’s making notes in a database and that you’ll hear back from a supervisor by a certain time. (You will likely be on hold while all that happens.)

Remember to keep records of all commitments made to you (e.g. “a supervisor will be calling you on Monday”), as each violation of a commitment on the path to a final resolution will a) help to ensure you are compensated for your troubles and b) increase the amount of compensation you will receive.

If you don’t get an immediate and clear escalation, don’t worry, you have a simple move that always works if you’ve done everything as described so far.

Mention some of the more egregious specifics of how the company has wasted your time, and how much time has already been wasted. Simply say for example,

“I’ve already spent two and a quarter hours on phones to [company name]. I’ve spoken to Joe, John, Jane and Jake, and this still isn’t resolved, and I simply don’t have the time to keep doing this.”

And then ask outright for an escalation, using everyday (rather than legalistic or threatening) language.

“I understand that you’re not able to resolve all of this personally and I really appreciate all the help you’ve given me, but can you please put me in touch with a person with the decision-making power not only to solve this problem, but also to provide some appropriate acknowledgement of everything I’ve had to go through just to get what should be a simple solution to a problem that I had nothing to do with causing.”

As this example illustrates, never use accusatory language. As long as it is clear that you’re making a direct request (demand), you can afford to be slightly understated in doing so.

You’ll be using phrases like this all the way up the chain until you get to the person who acknowledges your situation sympathetically and has the power to compensate you – which is how these efforts always end.

If things go quiet, meaning that you do not receive a reply to correspondence after a reasonable time or you do not receive a call or email you have been told to expect, call or email the company and tell them as much. You’ll then be in touch with a new representative and will repeat the above, with even more facts on your side.

Keep communicating in this way, going from person to person until you get to someone who has the authority to give you something. Any representative who cannot give you what you’re asking for, as long as it is reasonable, has to escalate you to someone more senior who can make the necessary decision about the matter that he cannot make. All large companies have customer service managers, directors or other highly placed employees who can resolve problems such as yours – but you have to get to them by asking for escalation from each representative who is unable to satisfy you.

At the beginning of your first encounter with each new human link in the chain toward this senior person who is eventually going to compensate you, start by saying how glad you are to finally be speaking to someone who can hopefully resolve this matter, and thanking the person profusely for her time. Perhaps even apologize that she even has to be bothered with it, as this whole thing is taking much longer than it needs to.

Speak in a tone that indicates that you’re an empathic and reasonable person who will be satisfied with a reasonable resolution. You’re not over-emotional, and you’re not out to get whatever you can get.

Mention that you have no problem that the original mistake occurred: things like that happen all the time, but that your situation has been made much worse, and unacceptably so, by what has transpired since.

Then, lay out as simply as possible how you got to be speaking to this person. That means telling, as simply and factually as possible, the story of how the whole thing began and then providing some numbers that capture the absurdity of the company’s failure to resolve the matter. (These types of failures always have something of the absurd about them).

Here’s an example of something I said recently in this situation, which quickly resulted in hundreds of dollars of compensation,

“I’ve now had communications with 19 of your people, which have taken nine hours of my time over six weeks.”

When you are speaking to someone high enough up the corporate customer service chain, she will likely have read the company’s internal notes about your case, made by people lower down to whom you’ve already spoken, and she will ask you about your situation, perhaps summarizing her understanding of it.

If her summary is spot-on, then tell her so. More likely, her summary will be approximate, not explicitly mentioning some of the most egregious details, so tell her that she has it largely right but add the most shocking details as being rather more to the point.

You’ve been keeping notes on all the time you’ve spent and the people you’ve spoken to, so the numbers you’ll be sharing here will be have been increasing with each person you spoke to. Be sure to let the representative know of all of the time you’ve spent pursuing the matter. (Include in your total the time on hold and composing written messages (if you’ve had to do so).)

Your factual case will be strong enough that it will be in the corporation’s interest to right the wrong so that they are not left with righteously angry customer with the facts on his side. It is financially preferable for a corporation to compensate properly than to have someone who has shown himself to be highly competent, highly reasonable and willing to pursue matters, do so outside the company.

At various times, to move things along, it helps to say something about why this matter is so important to you, personally. Notice, again, that you’re making this about your difficulty - rather than about the company’s moral or practical failings.

For example,

“I depend on [services, products] that I get from [company name]… [say why] … and so I need to know that this is not the kind of thing I’m going to have to deal with in the future …”

Although each representative you speak to is speaking for an impersonal company, it is her humanity and empathy that makes her want to help you, and if she is the person at the top of the customer service tree with the authority to compensate you, she will do so for the same reasons.

To stimulate this kind of response, use phrases that invite human connection and empathy. The way you consider someone is how you invite them to consider you.

For example,

“I’m sure you can understand/appreciate … how frustrating this is/why this all seems to absurd to me/I don’t know whether to laugh or cry/why it’s just like hitting my head against wall after wall.”

Most representatives you speak to have had bad experiences with companies too, and a communicative approach like this invites them to recall their own such experiences, and puts you on the same side emotionally.

In short, by making it all about your bad experiences, rather than the fact of the company’s failure, which is continuously implied anyway, you make it easier for the representative to help you, and for the senior representative who to can authorize compensation to have confidence in the reasonableness of whatever you’re asking for, or that whatever she offers you will be received with good will by someone who is genuinely looking to put the matter behind him.

At no point should you demand a particular form or amount of compensation. Keep the ball in the court of the company to indicate they appreciate the seriousness of the matter by inviting them to “offer an appropriate acknowledgement”.

Usually, the first offer will be satisfactory. If it’s more than the bottom line, you’ve gained; if it’s less, you’ve not lost out because you’re not going to accept it.

Remember that a satisfactory resolution for the person who is authorized to provide compensation to bring the matter to a close is whatever a satisfactory resolution is for you – because that’s what she’s getting paid to deliver.

If persistence at the beginning of the process means asking for the compensation in the first place, persistence at the end means refusing to accept an inadequate offer. This is usually not necessary if you’ve gotten this far and shared the details as described above, as there is no benefit to the corporation of putting you in touch with someone who is senior enough to deal with such escalations only for them to offer you less than is commensurate with whatever difficulties the company has caused you. They know that to do so just makes matters worse.

If the initial compensatory offer leaves you feeling worse rather than better, remember that this is not a transaction so do not get into a negotiation. Just say that you’re not comfortable accepting it because it doesn’t reflect what you’ve had to deal with – and then, lay it all out again, from the top, making sure you use all of your numbers and every single instance of “fundamental and systematic” failure from the list of three above.

Here’s a recent example of a refusal I recently gave,

“This whole saga has taken nine hours of my life over six weeks. All of those were during business hours. So no, I’m not willing to accept two hundred and fifty dollars in vouchers that I have to use on your products in 30 days. I don’t need to buy any of your products right now and this just feels like it’s getting ridiculous.”

I was immediately offered a larger amount that could be spent at any time.

Here’s another recent example of a refusal of mine,

“Frankly, if that amount reflects how seriously [company name] takes everything I’ve been through, then I’d rather not accept anything from you.”

I was immediately offered significantly more than double the original offer.

The first senior customer service person that you speak to who can offer compensation is employed to come to reach satisfactory outcomes with customers like you, and they can nearly always do so. If, however, you do refuse their initially suggested compensation, they may have to escalate further. Just let them. In that case, express both exasperation and gratitude, and reiterate that since you’ve spent all this time already on this matter, if this can be resolved sensibly with just one more call, you’ll do it, even if you don’t like it.

Remain polite at all times and repeatedly acknowledge that you appreciate the limitations that the person is working under. Whenever a representative is unable to provide the final resolution – and especially if she is more senior – be sure to let her know that you appreciate that she’s doing everything she can under the constraints she has to operate under.

Easier than You Think

Two more points should encourage you to stand up for principle when companies behave badly.

First: Large corporations know they mess up, and doing so is not their interest, so they pay people to resolve situations with customers who have good reason to be upset. It is in these companies’ interest to do so because customers can take their complaints to public bodies or authorities. When a customer does so and has right on his side, the company loses and the whole thing costs it a lot more than it would have cost were it do have done the right thing and satisfied the customer directly.

Second: the senior customer service or relationship representative whose has the authority to resolve issues like yours is not spending her own money. Therefore, she has every incentive, and no disincentive, to deliver a fair outcome (up to the limit of her authority). Accordingly, the process of demanding fair treatment from a company that has failed you is in no way a battle with any of the employees to whom you will be speaking in pursuit of fair compensation.

Ask (nicely), and you shall receive.

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