How do you get a company to bend to your will?

Jacob Casper wants to know how I do it.

“I’ve been reading your column for quite a while and am always amazed how you can successfully resolve the problems you are presented,” he wrote. “Can you always do that? Would you share with your readers how you do this and your procedures and techniques? That way, we would have better tools to work with.”

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Well, there’s a short answer and a long answer. Both can help you the next time you’re in trouble and need to call for help.

The short answer: No, I can’t fix everything. Just read this site if you have any doubts. Most of the cases remain unresolved for a number of reasons. I write about them because we can learn more from failure than success.

Here’s how the numbers break down: I receive about 300 new cases a week. Of those, about three are strong enough for me to pass along to a company. And of those, only one will be successfully resolved, because of my direct involvement.

That’s not to say the other 297 are meritless. My team of advocates and I are busy behind the scenes, feeding them executive contact information and advising them on how to approach a company. In other words, we work all the cases. Sometimes it’s done through email exchanges, sometimes in the open on our forums.

But when I’m involved, how do I do it?

“Is the threat of bad publicity ever made?” asks Casper. “If so, does that have any bearing?”

In my experience — and I’ve been advocating for the last two decades — threats get you nowhere. Companies like to see evidence that a customer has attempted a resolution through normal channels (a strong paper trail helps). An airtight case and complete neutrality by the reader-advocate is useful, too.

I try to let the paperwork do all the talking and then I get out of the way.

That’s not hard to do when it’s someone else’s case. But when I have a grievance, I find it’s too easy to become emotional, and for my emails to quickly turn irrational. Being a DIY advocate is hard.

My advice? Ask a friend to review your email before you send it so that you don’t hurt your own case by inadvertently offending a customer service representative. Stick to facts. Mind your manners.

Persuading a company to bend to your will is fairly straightforward when your cause is right and your paperwork is in order.

I’ll admit that having the clout of a nationally-syndicated consumer advocacy column behind you can help. But not as much as you would think.

Corporations often push back when they feel a case has no merit. Again, if you don’t believe me, see the Case Dismissed files on this site. Many of them are painful to read.

Some have suggested that the kind of advocacy I practice is a scam. We had a full discussion a few months ago, and it was pretty interesting. A small but significant percentage of readers think that the kind pro-consumer journalism I do is, for lack of a better term, a form of media blackmail.

I’ve offered to show some of these critics what happens behind the curtains, but they are unconvinced. They believe the free market alone should determine which consumers win and which ones lose.

I respectfully disagree.

If I have a hidden agenda, it’s this: I want to live in a world where everyone can successfully advocate their own case without having to become angry or irrational. That world doesn’t exist yet. Companies hide the names and numbers of their managers — even the executives with the words “customer service” in their titles.

They offer preferential treatment to their best customers and force the rest of us to wait in long lines and read us canned rejection letters. They operate outside the law, thanks to an army of well-paid lobbyists in Washington. They spin the truth by hiring a gaggle of bloggers to distort facts and promote their avaricious agenda.

That is why this site exists. That is why I wake up every morning and go to work for you. The world isn’t a fair place, but I’m working tirelessly to make it a little fairer, one case at a time.

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