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How to Complain About a Business During COVID Without Being a Total Jerk

If anything, just know that going full Karen only makes things worse

Your package came 69 weeks late. They forgot your BBQ sauce. Your new toaster refuses to toast. 

Essentially, a company did you dirty, and they need to be reprimanded. But as you begin typing a merciless email to an unsuspecting customer service representative, you remember that businesses have had it hard this year. You think of all the Karens you scoffed at on the internet for their despicable treatment of poor, underpaid workers. And your ferocious typing grinds to a halt.

You have a serious problem on your hands, and it needs to be addressed ASAP. But you also want to be reasonable and perhaps even kinda sympathetic during a time when we could all use a break. Fortunately, all it takes to have both is a little diplomacy.

How To Complain About a Business During COVID

Get Ahold of Yourself

I know, the lack of BBQ sauce was a dealbreaker. You really needed that tang. However, the mistake was already made, and the only way to move forward is with a level head. Before you send anything to a customer service representative or post on Yelp, consider cooling off with some breathing exercises. Cuddle up with your dog. If your rage continues to build, bite into a fucking lemon. Whatever it takes to get your head right.

If your anger is replaced by hesitation, remember that an honest company may well want your feedback, and that you deserve to get what you paid for. In fact, they might even benefit from resolving the issue and regaining your trust. Likewise, a dishonest company deserves to be shamed, and if it comes down to making a public complaint, think about how many potential customers you could warn, or even how many workers they might be treating poorly.

If you still feel ashamed about complaining, consider this: If you promised someone a service for $20, failed to follow through and then they politely asked for their $20 back, would you be pissed at them? Would you tell them to check their privilege? Or would you think that seems reasonable and return the money? If you chose the last one, then complaining to a company that did something wrong is all fair and good.

Be Clear and Concise

Once your original fury has passed, now is a good time to see if you can have your issue addressed through an email or online chat before going public. “The least ‘jerk-like’ move would be to contact the company directly first,” says Cristel Russell, marketing researcher and author of The Savvy Consumer blog. “If the complaint is reasonable, and the company is respectable, they should respond and address it. I would always start with direct contact. Any kind of publicly visible complaint, such as on Yelp, is more damaging — both to the sender and to the receiver — and arguably carries less weight than directly addressing the issue with the company. Just as in any other relationship, addressing the problem directly, frankly and objectively should be step one.”

Remember, the person on the other side of that chat will have an easier time solving the issue if you can adhere to relevant details and be clear about what you want — a refund? Proof of improvement on their end? A simple apology? The person dealing with your complaint is probably scrolling through grievances all day long, so the easier you can make it for them to understand the problem and how to solve it, the quicker they can get you sorted out.

Keep a Record

If you have a big company on your hands — Spectrum, I hate you — make sure to write down the names of anyone who responds to you and any case number assigned to your complaint. This will keep you from having to explain your problem over and over again, and can help you get what you were promised if different people start telling you different things.

Escalate If You Must

If the customer care center or outside contractor dealing with your complaint appears to be incompetent or too slow, it may be time to dig around for email addresses belonging to some of the higher-ups at the company. Again, you want to be succinct but confidently polite — you can check out a good example of a complaint email here. Your problem may not end up being addressed by those executives, but they can at least send it along to the right person and put a fire under their ass.

If All Else Fails, Go Ham

Under normal circumstances, complaining on places like Yelp and social media are generally unhelpful and only really serves to stir shit up. However, if you already contacted a company directly and they refuse to take action, blasting them online may be enough to shame them into helping you out. It might also just piss them off, in which case, you can either accept your losses and move on or file a complaint with the Better Business Bureau and hope they can at least get you your money back.

Good luck, and remember to always resist your inner Karen.