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January 13, 2005

The ultimate customer service weapon - file an 'executive complaint'


Don Oldenburg wrote a most informative column this past Tuesday for the Washington Post's "Consummate Consumer" feature.

The headline was, "The Ultimate 'May I Speak to Your Supervisor?'"

The story was about a retired lady named Bernice McTigue who last September mixed up her commas and periods when paying her Verizon bill.

Long story short: instead of $68.58, she sent the company $6,858.


Turns out it wasn't easily fixed: at least 10 phone calls to Verizon over the next month yielded increasing frustration and anxiety.


Until someone at the company told her to file an "executive complaint."

The next time she called she first asked to speak to a supervisor, then said, "I'm filing an executive complaint."

It was as if the seas parted.

Instantly she was connected to a higher corporate altitude, where she spoke to someone who treated her "as if we were from the same planet."

A full and correct refund check for the $6,000-plus she was owed appeared in her mailbox within a week.

I find that saying "Dr. Stirt" usually moves things along nicely, but you might not have that option.

I suppose you could say, "This is Dr. Stirt," now that I think about: might be fun to try, what?

If you'd prefer a more universally applicable and practical approach to cutting through the bureaucracy, you might find Oldenburg's story instructive; it follows.

    The Ultimate 'May I Speak to Your Supervisor?'

    Bernice McTigue experienced one of those "senior moments" in September, mixing up her commas and periods when paying her Verizon bill.

    Instead of $68.58, she sent the phone company $6,858.

    Yeah, it's kind of funny - unless you're the one who made the mistake.

    A silly mistake that's easily fixed?

    You'd think.

    But that lost period was the start of an upsetting month for Bea and William McTigue.

    Bea made repeated calls to Verizon trying to straighten out her error.


    Verizon customer service representatives promised to call back and didn't, she says.

    They said fixing the problem was up to "financial" and someone there would call her back, but no one did, she says.

    All she wanted was a refund - proof that she wasn't out the $6,000-plus - and maybe a customer service rep to reassure her that everything would be okay.

    "One of those customer service ladies told me I should be more careful in the future," says McTigue, a Fort Washington retiree.


    "Gee whiz, I didn't know that."

    Verizon spokesman Harry Mitchell says its customer call centers handle more than 3.5 million customer calls each day.

    "A comparative few calls result in customer complaints," he says.

    "When a customer does have a concern or complaint, the vast majority of them are handled in a professional and timely manner by the Verizon service representatives taking the initial call."

    Not this time.

    Bea's son, Mickey McTigue, says his parents "called Verizon at least 10 times."

    Bea finally got some good advice: File an "executive complaint."

    Most consumers know nothing about executive complaints.

    They don't know that larger corporations like automakers, big utilities and other Fortune 500 companies usually have a formalized process for complaints that are addressed to corporate bigwigs or that threaten realistic legal action, concern an obvious error, bad policy or a legitimate claim to remedial action.


    Scott Broetzmann, president of Customer Care Measurement & Consulting, an Alexandria firm that studies customer service, says only about 5 percent of customers "escalate their complaints" beyond the first step.

    Less than 1 percent get to the executive complaint process.

    Depending on the complaint, some companies then provide priority handling by people in a position to resolve the problem quickly.

    Mitchell says unsatisfied customers who exhaust the normal complaint process at Verizon and insist on "a higher-level appeal" are usually referred not to the executive complaint team but to its "special customer relations group."

    It reviews the case and works with "the local manager team to resolve the issue."

    That's where McTigue started getting a resolution.

    Other firms and organizations handle executive complaints differently.

    AARP, for instance, has a dedicated staff that works with top executives to determine how to resolve them.

    Of 5 million e-mails, letters and phone calls AARP handles each year, about 15,000 are executive complaints.

    "Especially if it is a complaint regarding their membership or where AARP has taken on an issue," says Ava J. Baker, director of member services, "those complaints are high priority."

    When Bea McTigue did it, she first asked to speak to a "first-line or second-line supervisor," then said, "I'm filing an executive complaint."

    Bea now calls those "the magic words."

    The day she used them, her complaint was turned over to someone at a higher corporate altitude than customer service.

    "She talked to me as though we were both from the same planet and actually called when she promised," says Bea.

    She got her a refund check within a week.

January 13, 2005 at 10:01 AM | Permalink


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I had 2 cans in my garage inside of my car it was cool in there. The two cans blew up in my car. It has ruined my car windows.

Posted by: Guy Fox | Apr 19, 2008 12:11:07 PM

My name Is Lee Glaze , long beach Ca...... I have been on the phone from 9;AM until NOW 12;21PM.. I have been on HOLD FOR 19 min , trying to \get assistance from yet another SUPERVISOR...... I have repeatedly asked for a # to CUSTOMER RELATIONS ... " I'A|M SORRY , WE NO LONGER HAVE CUSTOMER RELATIONS..... Thi Stupid Company !!! VERIZOIN , has gone from bad TO REALLY LOUSY .... Most of the people I have SPOKEN with TODAY , Should have had a STARRING ROLL , in the recent DOCUMENTARY "THE DUMBING DOWN OF AMERICA" ....
Getting thru to someone in MANAGEMENT IS IMPOSSIBLE


Lee Glaze Long Beach Ca

Posted by: lee Glaze | Apr 28, 2006 3:51:01 PM

It never hurts to mention the Better Business Bureau or the Attorney General. I had an experience recently with a student travel agency (specifically, passports). Their customer service representative wouldn't even take our calls. I just wanted a justification statement before we turned to litigation. I fear the arrogance of the White House is trickling down into general society. Joe, you're hot!

Posted by: ScienceChic | Feb 13, 2005 8:48:45 AM

You are so off base, it is ridiculous.Sending mail to a large corporation guarantees only that someone, preferably an agent will acknowledge the letter is received. You received that acknowledgement. We delivered as promised. Now it is up to the recipient to answer your letter. People think if they send something certified to a large company, ie, credit card company, IRS, etc. that someone is going to stand at the door and date and hand sign thousands of letters received every day? I don't think so. But, it is easier to blame the Postal Service. Your quarrel isn't with the Postal Service; it is with the company you do business with. Maybe you should shop around and look for another place to do business with.

Posted by: Imma Friend | Feb 12, 2005 10:32:35 PM

On at least two occasions in recent years I have attempted to utilize your "potentially" effective remedy to corporate stone-walling but both times my effort was thwarted by the idiotic policy of the US Postal Service.

Each time I had carefully composed a totally respectful and comprehensive letter much to the point of the problem and, after ascertaining the corporate address of the top guy, I sent the letter off under certified cover with return receipt. On both occasions, after several weeks, I would finally get the USPS postcard back with a RUBBER STAMPED signature acknowledging that my letter arrived at the desired destination. That is the long and the short of it -- virtually NO response at all, and Amercian Express Co. was one of those two recipients. In neither case have I any notion that my certified letter ever got past the front door. Have you had reports of this little frustration. Can you explain how that is even legally rational? Thank you.

Posted by: Don Mastrud | Jan 15, 2005 11:43:26 AM

Has anyone told you how much they appreciate your extreme intelligence, sharp wit and incredible sense of humor lately? Consider yourself told and in the most respectful and polite manner.

Posted by: Robin | Jan 13, 2005 10:17:43 PM

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