We all claim to hate nasty reviews and high-maintenance customers.
Yet, complaining seems to be the most effective way to get what you want out of a business. It’s especially true of large corporations.
Why do companies give free stuff to the meanest people? It seems like they’re just being rewarded for whining.
No one is rewarding you for being nice and just enjoying your products.
Sure, the squeaky wheel gets freebies, or however the saying goes. But does the wheel have to be such a jerk about it?
You could, perhaps, try being squeaky and nice.
Do you think that would work?
The Flattery Project
Jim Wang at Wallet Hacks put this question to the test: Could flattery get you anywhere?
Instead of contacting companies with complaints, Wang started complimenting every company he liked to see what it would get him.
He wrote to thank 42 companies for their products and included a soft request for freebies.
“I don’t know if you have any samples or coupons you could send my way but I’d be most appreciative to try more of your products,” Wang wrote.
He even included in the emails, “I know a lot of folks probably email to complain and it can be tough responding to those, so I thought I’d add a little sunshine.”
The response was mostly underwhelming:
- Eight companies did not respond
- 20 responded but declined to offer anything
- Eight sent coupons in the mail for discounted products
These five companies actually offered something totally free:
- Pepsi sent two coupons for a free six- or eight-pack
- PowerBar sent two coupons for free products
- Republic of Tea sent a thoughtful card and some samples
- Tom’s of Maine sent a sample beauty bar and men’s deodorant
- After a few follow-up requests, Nespresso sent a pair of cappuccino cups and saucers
What You Get for Complaining
On the flip side, Wang received grander gestures from companies when he had a complaint.
He once called Coca Cola’s customer complaint line about a funky can of Diet Coke and got a coupon for a free 12-pack.
Wang emailed a complaint to Southwest about failed in-flight Wi-Fi, asking for a refund of the (probably about $6) access fee. Instead, Southwest sent a voucher for $100 credit.
That’s almost a free one-way flight, just for enduring a poor Wi-Fi connection!
Just calling your utility companies to demand a better deal actually works. When it doesn’t, customers often get deals after threatening (bluffing) to cancel service.
You can save hundreds of dollars a year just pretending to be dissatisfied.
That seems a lot better than a couple of free coffee cups.
Why Do Complaints Get Rewarded?
A cynic would say companies don’t care about the happy customers: You’re already buying the product. Instead, they scramble to appease unhappy customers to avoid losing business.
But it’s probably not as dubious as that.
Consider Coca Cola’s “customer complaint line.” The number is apparently listed on every can. That’s common on a lot of products, usually accompanied with some promise of a “satisfaction guarantee” or “Not 100% satisfied?”
We’re invited to complain, not to compliment. And we’re only promised satisfaction — not free stuff.
It’s annoying to see rude customers appeased and happy customers seemingly taken for granted.
But the exchange of freebies for complaints is how companies rectify dissatisfaction and uphold their formal or informal guarantees.
If you’re calling with a compliment, they’ve already upheld their part of the bargain.
Your Turn: Have you ever received freebies from a company for saying “thank you”?
Dana Sitar (@danasitar) is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. She’s written for Huffington Post, Entrepreneur.com, Writer’s Digest and more, attempting humor wherever it’s allowed (and sometimes where it’s not).