Joe Levi:
a cross-discipline, multi-dimensional problem solver who thinks outside the box – but within reality™

Customer Service: Trained Monkeys vs. The Head-Honcho

Say you buy something (a CFL light bulb, an electric shaver, a microwave oven, Henway, Updog, etc.) and it fails under normal use (you didn’t do anything beyond what it was designed to do). What do you do?

It’s probably been more than 30 days and the store you bought it from won’t take it back (or you lost the receipt – or left it in your car and it turned black).

You call customer support, but there’s “nothing” they can do for you. Now what?

Time to write a letter (not an email or fax)

Do a little research (that’s the tricky part). Find out who the President or CEO of the company is, if you can’t find that, go for the Chairman of the Board of Directors. You probably will find their name/title on the “About this Company” page on their website, but you might have to dig. Many publicly traded companies but their Financials online, guess what’s in there? Yup, the names of the people that can actually do something for you.

How should you write your letter? Take this real-life story, for example:

I purchased a half-dozen Sylvania brand compact fluorescent vanity bulbs for my bathroom in September 2004. Recently one decided not to turn on anymore. I tried it in a different socket, no-go.

I called Sylvania: “sorry, nothing we can do.”

I wrote a letter to the president of the company:

Dear Sir:

I purchased some of your vanity CFLs in 9/04. Today one of them failed. Their packaging said they should last for 5 years. The bulb has the following numbers on it [every scrap of detail I could get off the bulb]. The local retail won’t replace the defective lamp because it’s been more than 30 days since I purchased them.

Since it has been less than the advertised 5 years, please send a replacement lamp to the address listed above. If you would like the defective lamp returned please include a pre-addressed, postage-paid mailing label and appropriate packaging.

Thank you for your assistance in this matter.

That’s it. A few minutes of your time, forty-some-odd cents in postage, and then you get to see if they do anything about it.

In this instance, sure enough, Osram Sylvania sent me a hand-addressed box with an apology letter it in and THREE CFLs to replace the one that failed. All I asked for was one, but they went the extra mile.

Now, you might ask, isn’t that taking advantage of the company? Not in my opinion. I notified the person responsible for the operation of the company about a defect in one of their products and detailed how he/she could make it right. They (or their staff) decided what would be the best way to do it. One replacement lamp would have worked, but they sent three. What company name am I going to look for next time I’m buying stuff? You guessed it: Osram Sylvania.

Another example

I had the same problem with some early model GE CFLs, the big, ugly ones. When one failed within the 5 year advertised life span I wrote their president a similar letter. The response: here’s a coupon for $5.00 off. That’s not bad, but my local reseller doesn’t sell GE bulbs in anything less than a 3-pack, which costs more than $5… and I have to make a trip and find the bulb… oh, and look, there’s all their competition’s products, too… such as: Sylvania… hmmm, why don’t I pick up some of those, too. Which led to the story above…

What did Sylvania do differently? “We’re terribly sorry, sir. Here’s a replacement, you don’t have to go to the store, you don’t have to buy more of our stuff just to get a replacement (and you won’t see any of our competitor’s product while you’re out there)."

From a business perspective, which tactic worked better? GE’s or Sylvania’s? I’ll let you form your own opinions on that one.

Another example

I got a Remington shaver/trimmer for father’s day a while back… It would “bite me” and leave nick marks (a row of neat little scabs all in a row). Needless to say, that hurt. The local reseller wouldn’t take it back without a receipt. I decided rather than junk the whole thing to package it up and send it to the president of Remington with the request: Please refund my money and take this shaver off my hands. Their response: sorry, here’s another one. Guess what, it “bites” too. At least they tried, but I won’t be buying Remington again.


To all the companies that I’ve named herein, thank you for your attention and assistance in "resolving" the various matters that I’ve detailed. Even those that didn’t resolve my issue in the manner I would have liked, just paying attention to the customer is a appreciated. Thank you.

To my readers, when you’ve been wronged, don’t just take it. Spend some time, let the head-honcho know, and tell him/her what it will take to make things right. Ultimately this will help the company (at least it gives the company the opportunity to take corrective measures, whether they do or not is up to them).

At the end of the letter state you request for resolution in a non-retaliatory manner: "To rectify this situation please send a replacement to the address above. If you would like the defective unit returned please include a pre-addressed, postage-paid mailing label. Thank you for your consideration in this matter."

You’d be amazed how sending a paper letter to the head-honchos office will get results more than talking with the trained monkeys.

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