How to Complain

February, 2006

Greetings stress jockeys!

Today the Read&Delete breaks new ground with our latest instructional feature entitled:


Let's face it folks-- in the natural order of events in our daily lives we've all been cheesed off at one time or another by a plethora of phenomena ranging from the rarified air of pure incompetence all the way down to out and out larceny. Sometimes it seems like everybody remotely connected to humanity is working overtime just to tick you off.

Mail-borne irritation:
Medical bills
 One of life's ongoing traumas comes from dealing with medical professionals. After much experience being under the care of various physicians, I have discovered that most doctors either do not have or do not use any arithmetic skills in the performance of their duties. This is painfully evident from their billing operation, judging from the series of irrational numbers that the 'front office' boldly submits to the insurance company. Maybe your insurance company looks it over and maybe not, but they will deny it anyway, citing either confusion or apathy. Then you get the bill, and you start to wonder why they really needed to send your urine sample to an anesthesiologist, or why your wife's latest checkup includes charges for a prostate exam.   As a veteran of the billing wars, I can tell you that there is no solution or even armistice in the offing when it comes to battling the minions involved first in trying to separate you from your hard earned health-care dollars and then your sanity.

  Your government is hard at work. Nobody is really sure what they are doing, but they are hard at work. All that you can be certain of is that they want your money. They are busy collecting trillions of dollars from billions of people, hemorrhaging most of it off as administrative costs. As incomes go, the top 1% ( the super rich) pay 30% of the tax bill-- the bottom 50% (the poor folks) pay 3.9%. The other 49% of the population (middle class- us) foot the remaining 66%. There is a term used for the idea of paying by mail for a product or service and not receiving what you are paying for. That term is "mail fraud". Unfortunately (or fortunately- if you are a federal employee) the US government cannot sue itself for its own larceny. So every payday you see mo' money slipping down the dark drain of progress.

On-site Disservice
   Your washer\dryer\dishwasher\refrigerator\furnace\central air\water heater is not working properly. You call the store you bought it from for service - because you paid extra for a 'service contract'. Sometime between two days and eight months later the company sends over some grease laden Homo Erectus to repair it. Six hours later the guy has the thing taken apart and pieces are spread out all over the Western Hemisphere. Soon there are two other Neanderthals here to 'help' (at least they have opposable thumbs) and a supervisor shows up just to see what is going on (probably out of morbid curiosity). Every part of your house is now covered in layers of dirt, mud, oil, dust and\or lint.

 If you have never, ever, EVER complained in your entire life-- you obviously haven't dealt with a building contractor. If you have high blood pressure, hypertension, panic attacks, stress disorders, heart disease, alcoholism or epilepsy ---don't get involved with contractors.  All of the above disorders can be caused by having a room addition put onto your home.  One common thread runs through all of the contracting trades- be it concrete, electrical, carpentry, painting, roofing or whatever-- contractors have absolutely no sense of time. Everything that exists can cause a delay in the work. The weather can be too hotcoldwetdrydarklightwindycalm or else there's a wedding on that weekend. Somebody ordered/sent/invented the wrong part, or else it's on backorder.  In the meantime the area in and around your house looks like Bosnia, and you receive more than your share of dirty looks from your neighbors.
Car repair
Apathy-- larceny--- incompetence-- a trinity of synergy-- found in its purest form only at your local automotive repair shop. Laissez- faire, I don't care, c'est la guerre-- caveat emptor. Bring your car into the shop, go into the waiting room and lie down on the altar- you are about to become a human sacrifice. You are likely to be both emotionally and financially   disemboweled by a team of professionals, who will expertly grind you down until you become a walking misanthrope. By the time you get your car back for the third time, (which still isn't repaired, by the way) you will fear and mistrust all lifeforms.

The eleventh plague..... telemarkers.

OK. Somebody's got your goat. How do you get it back? How can you get some satisfaction after being robbed/ignored/abused/lied to/shunted to voice mail purgatory? Who do you complain to anyway? Do you keep on calling until you wear out your button-pushing finger- and you punched so many touch-tones that your phone qualifies as a musical instrument? No, no, no,no,no! According to conflict resolution experts Cody Pendant, Hugh Sless and Warren Tevoid, specialists working at the Amanda B. Reconwith Center for the Off-Centered, there are many courses of action that you can take prior to not taking it anymore.  Here is their list of ten sure-fire conflict resolution steps that you can try: (I have included stories of my own personal experiences using these tactics.)

#1.Get the facts straight.
 If you stood waiting in line at the license bureau from Tuesday afternoon until Friday night, don't tell them that you were there on Saturday morning, they might think that you were exaggerating. Get the names of those you spoke to, be it Donnie Dimwit in tech support, Cindy Clueless in customer relations or Betty Jo Blather, who makes her living fielding complaints -- while reading from a third grade script. Remember these people's faces- so you can smile and wave to them while you sit in front of them counting your change six times at the drive-through line at restaurants and ATMs.

#2. Write a letter.
People will promise nearly anything when you call them up on the telephone. The problem is that the promises can 'evaporate' as soon as you hang up. This is especially popular in the area of medical billing and insurance claims. The entire medical insurance industry prides itself upon having customer service employees the attention span of a two year old. They sit in front of  their computer terminals supposedly entering in all of your pertinent information for the claim as they are talking to you on the phone. Are you sure?  Maybe they are playing solitaire, or surfing the web. Even if they really are entering your information, they are typing it in using some horrid shorthandthat nobody can recognize. They do this for 2 reasons:

A.  The company only gives them a line or two of space to enter in all your information.
 B.  They want to get back to their solitaire game.

So if you are calling in for an insurance claim about having neck spasms and blurred vision, the shorthand entry might be 'cant see pain in neck' . Did you notice that only thing they ask about twice is your social security number, and your billing address?  That should tell you what they are most interested in, and it isn't the pain in *your* neck. So write a letter to them, explaining everything and using the best legalese you can muster. If the you can't get the address of somebody direct, use the address where you are supposed to send your check. Use certified or registered mail- it's still cheaper than sitting on hold for 2 hours.
   Note: If you are complaining to some quack physician, don't start off theletter with, "Dear Pinhead"-- as this shows no respect for his position-- use "Dear DOCTOR Pinhead".

#3 Be as helpful as possible.
Offer to take some initiative of your own, just to make it easier for others. One time a situation came up where I was worried that there was a gas leak outside my home. I made several calls to the local gas company, for which I received several 'we are looking into it' responses. This did not bode well with me, so I decided to become 'helpful'. I called them back and told the operator that I might be able to save them the trouble of sending somebody out by checking it out myself to see if whatever was leaking out of my lawn was flammable. As I pulled the phone away from my ear to hang up, I could hear the operator screaming, "NOOOO!" (click.) Within ten minutes a gas company truck came roaring up to my house with tires smoking.  (Note: I had no intention of doing ANYTHING like I had outlined to the operator. But if a public utility gets the idea that you might be a clueless moron, who may at any time BLOW HIMSELF UP in such a way that THEY might be liable, they will bend over backwards to solve the problem.)

#4. Be positive.
 People are much more receptive to your point of view if you put a positive spin on the situation. After waiting an hour in the doctor's exam room (not the waiting room) while the medic is otherwise occupied with an emergency stuck wedding ring, be patient. Ask the nurse for some Elmer's glue-- so you can build a birdhouse out of the medic's handy jar of tongue depressors. (The cotton balls make a dandy 'snow on the roof' effect.) Measure your own blood pressure every five minutes while you are waiting. Announce it in the hallway. If you are wearing a 'paper napkin' exam robe, spill a little iodine or squirt a little ketchup down the front- then totter down the hallway muttering incoherently. They might think you are a gunshot victim- and push you up a little on the waiting list.  After all- it IS an 'immediate care' center.

#5. Develop healthy working relationships.
This is always a good idea. Communication can clear up a whole lot of misunderstandings, especially if you talk to the right person. If your building contractor doesn't show up, you might want to give his wife a call. Ask her if she knows where he is. (If you are a guy, have your wife make the call using a really sexy voice-- it works better.)  Your contractor will appear out of thin air within minutes, and the work will progress swiftly after that. But be careful-- as the speed increases, the quality of his work may diminish-- and the finished job might look like something out of the movie 'Waterworld'.

#6. Avoid making threats.
 Telling the little zit-faced adolescent salesperson, "I'm never going to shop here ever again" doesn't work because quite frankly, those words are too complicated for the average teenage sales clerk to understand. They are too busy trying out their new attitudes on each other to bother with something as mundane as commerce. Besides that, they are immune to any kind of intimidation from you or anyone else over the age of twenty. They are experts at shutting out threats-- especially from parents.

#7. Offer a change of venue.
Sometimes the excessive noise in the car dealer's service department makes it too difficult for the service manager to hear your frustration. I got a lot better response from one of them by offering to continue our discussion out on the sales floor. He heard and understood me very well after that. I guess he felt that the new car showroom should be kept free from any possible aura of negative energy that might affect potential customers -- and cause the salesmen out there to kill him.

#8. Be polite. Don't use profanity.
Regardless of whether the !#$%&! deserves it or not, profanity turns everybody off. Eloquence pays off every time, even when you're really ticked off. Some 20(ish) years back, a salad I ordered in a restaurant came with a large metal carton staple in it (at no extra charge.) Because my dinner date was especially fascinating, I discovered the staple with my upper gum, which is especially susceptible to staple punctures. The puncture lead to bleeding, which lead to leakage from the mouth, and since my dinner date was also especially squeamish, lead to violent retching on her part, as she watched me pull this daisy cutter out of my mouth and soak up the blood with my napkin. At this juncture, the waitress wanders by and (without noticing my stuck pig act or my date's puking) asks us sweetly, "Is there anything else I can get you?"  I picked up the staple and handed it to her saying,  "No, but you can have this back. I don't need it anymore." It took her only a moment to realize that I hadn't just been performing oral surgery on myself. -- and that my date didn't prefer 'backwash dressing' on her salad.  I ended up not having to pay for the dinner, getting a free gift certificate, and maybe even a promise to run all future side dishes through a metal detector before bringing them to the table. The manager wanted to send me to the emergency room, but I told him I just recently had a tetanus shot. So we compromised. I spent the next 20 minutes painfully rinsing my mouth out with alcohol--- at the bar.  I am sure that if  had let out the string of words that I was thinking- instead of being polite about it- a burly bouncer named Veto or Tony would have delivered me out of the restaurant in a garbage bag.

#9. Talk to the boss.
 If you can't get anywhere with the person that you are dealing with, talk to the boss. Bosses are people too, usually overworked, irritable people who spend lots of time correcting the mistakes of their lazy and incompetent employees, and fielding complaints from whiny customers like you. He will pin on a big smile and treat you with all the fake respect that he can muster, giving you whatever it takes to get you out of the store- before he goes back into the office and beats his head into his desk- wondering aloud why he ever got into this crummy business anyway. If the manager is not actually the owner, he was probably working on his resume' before you ever came in to complain. But at least you got out of there with what you needed.

#10. Don't go away mad, just go away.
Sometimes you just can't win. If the matter is trivial, let it go-- unless you are really into worthless stress and high blood pressure. But you have to admit-- it looks pretty silly to 'wig out' over not having enough beans in your chili, or that somebody cut in front of you at the checkout line in the supermarket. Just ask the waitress for more crackers or ask the checkout clerk for a paper bag to hyperventilate into. Life has enough selfish (insert explicative here) people without you getting into their act. For them, if they cheese you off, it's a victory. So lock your Velveeta up behind a friendly smile and go on about your business. It's still cheaper than drug therapy.
       Ditto the telemarketers. Just hang up. They are about as welcome as a fly buzzing around your living room, so fix the hole in the screen, swat the fly and get on with it.

So there you are, folks. More helpful information that you can use to enhance your quality of life.
So quit your whining and do something about it.

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