personal loan

Complain to customer service -- and win!

Everyone has to call a customer-service department someday, whether it's to report a mix-up or register a complaint. It pays to know how to get what you want.

Banks, credit card lenders and mortgage companies use their customer-service departments to "upsell" ("While I have you on the phone, Mrs. Smith, have you considered credit insurance?") and to shield the rest of the company from grumpy customers.

But what if you're one of those grumpy customers?

Smile, and the world smiles ...
First, don't act grumpy. A polite, firm and never-say-die attitude usually will get you through an obstructive customer-service department. That and meticulous record keeping.

"I can't emphasize enough: Always keep a careful record of who you spoke to and what they said," says Seth Kaplan, a New Yorker who calls himself an independent consumer advocate. He wrestles with customer-service departments on behalf of people who are too busy or too intimidated to do it themselves.

"It's a little difficult, but you have to ask questions like, 'Can I have your name? What is your extension?'" Kaplan says. Just say it's for your records.

My mother violated Kaplan's first rule and regretted it. Her story is instructive because she confronted a difficult customer-service department when she tried to straighten out a property-tax issue with her mortgage company.

All about my mother
When my mom, Marjory Hiersch, who lives in Fort Worth, Texas, turned 65 she became eligible for a reduced property tax. Her birthday is in October and the reduced tax was retroactive to the beginning of the year, so she was due an $800 refund. All she had to do was ask her mortgage company to collect the refund and pass it on to her. She also needed to ask the mortgage company to recalculate her monthly payment because of the reduced property tax.

It sounded fairly straightforward, and Mom figured that the mortgage company dealt with this issue all the time. Instead, Midland Mortgage Co. of Oklahoma City forced her to endure weeks of frustration. Much of it was the fault of Midland Mortgage, but Mom shares part of the blame because her record keeping wasn't obsessive enough.

As Kaplan says: "If you want them to help you, you have to help them help you. Document everything to the point of being overzealous. If you mailed something, make copies of what you're mailing. Make a copy of the envelope. I do that -- everything. If it's something you think you won't need, you probably will."

Customer service reps get frustrated at customers who don't have the information they need. "When you have comprehensive documentation, they're like, 'OK, you win,'" Kaplan says.

When you don't have the documentation you need, you lose.

Document 'til you're blue in the face
Midland Mortgage pays Mom's property tax through an escrow account. When the county sent Mom a copy of the tax bill in December, she called the mortgage company's customer-service department to draw attention to the reduced bill. They asked her to mail a copy, which she did.

In February, she received a new coupon book that showed that her payments had increased slightly. Her payments should have decreased.

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"It did tell me that from October to late February, they had not addressed the problem that my tax bill had been reduced considerably," she says.

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