Inside Money: How to complain and get results

EECB

It’s time you were introduced to the EECB — a consumer’s weapon against cruddy corporate customer relations.

EECB stands for Executive E-mail Carpet Bomb, and it’s a great way to get your consumer complaint into the hands of someone who can really fix your problem.

An EECB is like the U.S. Supreme Court, and should be reserved for when you’ve exhausted all the usual channels, says Chris Morran, deputy editor of consumerist.com.

“You can petition the highest court in the land to hear your case, but your chances are slim to none,” he says. “If you go straight to the CEO of a company after one bad customer service call, you’re likely to be viewed as a problem customer even if you have a valid gripe.”

Morran says EECBs are best used when there is an obvious error and no one is willing to see through the red tape to fix it.

“The reason you go to the CEO, COO, CFO and the rest of the alphabet soup isn’t just because they have the authority to override things, it’s because you’re hoping to reach someone whose imagination is not boxed in by a script on a computer screen,” he says.

Start with a phone call

Before you attempt an EECB, first try the mechanism the company you’re dealing with offers for consumer complaints. Most likely, that’s the 800- number.

Before you make contact, create a file for your own reference in which you can record all your contact with
the company. Write down the date and time you call, the rep’s name and/or ID number and the response you receive. This will come in handy if you later need to show the steps you took to correct the problem.

Also have available any account numbers or other important information the rep may need.

If the initial rep can’t help, hang up and try again. You never know. The next rep who answers the phone may be more willing to take care of your issue.

If that doesn’t work, ask for a supervisor. Then ask for the “executive customer relations team,” if the company has one.

Put it in writing

If you don’t find success with a call, create a to-the-point letter to the company. No matter how angry or frustrated you are, remember your manners. “Don’t let your emotions or your knowledge of four-letter words get the better of you,” Morran says.

Present the facts of your case, describe the help you’ve tried to get from customer service, and suggest a solution to the problem. Make sure to include copies of receipts, bills or other relevant documentation. And don’t forget to spell check.

The EECB

If you still don’t have a resolution, it’s time for the EECB.

Start by researching the names of corporate executives, from the CEO on down. You can do a Google search and probably get some information. Sites such as linkedin.com also may help.

But the most comprehensive place to go is the company website. Many have a section called “corporate information” or “investor relations” or “investor information.” Here you may find the names of execs, board members and other highly placed company reps.

Make a list of all the people you’d like to contact. Consumerist.com suggests if you come across someone’s middle initial, keep note of it. It may come in handy later.

If the company is owned by a parent company, get the same kind of information on that firm’s execs, too.

Next, you need to determine how the company assigns e-mail addresses. This is not foolproof, but most companies are pretty consistent. The easiest way is to find the “media contact,” “press relations” or “newsroom” link on the website. You’ll probably find e-mail addresses for the public relations people there, or on a press release. But don’t bother writing directly to them. They generally won’t respond to non-media communications.

But you can use the e-mail address for formatting purposes. Let’s say the PR rep is Jane Smith, and her e-mail
is jsmith@company.com. It’s a good bet that CEO Mary Miller is mmiller@ company.com. Same goes for the other execs. If your messages bounce back, there are other possibilities.

“If all else fails, you can always try to brute force it,” Morran says. “Pretend you’ve got a schoolyard crush and just think of all the permutations of first and last names and initials. Eventually you’ll find one combination that works.”

Try common e-mail combinations such as mary.miller@company.com, millerm@company.com, mary_miller@ company.com, and if you have that middle initial, use it, such as with mary.z.miller@company.com and so on.

You might hit pay dirt. Let us know how you do.