When Reginald Leese booked a flight to visit his 100-year-old mother in England, he never imagined he’d have a customer complaint. Or that he might need to contact the CEO of British Airways directly.
But then the airline canceled his flight and promised him a ticket credit. And it didn’t follow through — for two years.
“He never received the voucher,” says Leese’s wife, Karen.
That’s when he decided enough was enough. It was time to take his complaint to the top.
CEOs go to great lengths to hide their contact information. In fact, almost all customer-facing executives — the director of customer service, the vice president of customer service, everyone with “customer service” in their titles — often try to hide their email addresses and phone numbers.
That’s a problem for passengers like Leese. They patiently send their cases to the company, hoping for favorable responses, but then get the silent treatment or dismissals.
Too often, it ends like this:
Customer: Is there a supervisor I could talk to?
Agent: No, I’m sorry.
Customer: How do I contact the CEO?
Agent: We’re not at liberty to give you that information.
Should they just accept the losses and go away? Isn’t there someone to whom they can appeal their problems?
How do you contact the CEO of a company?
It turns out the information is available. But you have to know where to find it.
CEOs release their contact information in government filings and membership directories. They sometimes even publish it on their company’s website. You can find that information by using some expert research methods.
When I started advocating for customers, one of my goals was to publish the names, numbers and email addresses of every company CEO. I decided to list anyone with the word “customer service” in their title.
And I’ve been doing it. As of now, we have the executive contacts for about 600 companies on this site.
CEOs and other executives check their email like you or I do. When they see an unhappy customer, they may respond personally. Jeff Bezos, the former CEO of Amazon, occasionally replied directly to customers. But more often, they’ll forward the complaint to someone with — you guessed it — the word “customer service” in the title.
I work with a group of skilled researchers who work hard to find all the key executives’ names, phone numbers and email addresses. Over the years, we’ve developed techniques for finding this information.
I’ll tell you how we do it.
By the way, if you’re good at finding things and want to help, please let me know. Here’s how to apply for one of our volunteer research positions.
Who should I contact with my customer complaint?
Often, consumers want to start by contacting the CEO. But that rarely works. Instead, you want to begin at the bottom — with the webform or a brief, polite email — and work your way to the top. That’s what Leese did.
But British Airways was obstinate. A representative claimed he had a voucher for a rental car and flight for $540. But the voucher never materialized.
The request had taken on a tragic urgency. Leese’s mother had passed away only a week after he was supposed to visit.
Leese decided to appeal to British Airways’ director in charge of customer service. He found the email address on this site and sent a cordial note asking for a refund.
Several weeks went by without an answer. Would he ever get his credit? Or would he have to escalate this problem to British Airways’ CEO?
Is there a reliable list of CEO email addresses?
You’re probably wondering: Where can I get a list of executive email addresses that would allow me to contact the CEO with a customer complaint? There are services that will sell you a list. But my research team and I have tried them all, and we’re not impressed. Why? The C-suite loves playing musical chairs. CEOs come and go. They also love, love, love to hide from their customers. So they will change their addresses with some regularity.
Unfortunately, there’s no completely reliable list of CEO email addresses and phone numbers. It would be impossible to maintain such a list. Managers and executives often change their addresses and numbers precisely because they don’t want to be on any lists. They don’t want to hear from anyone: salespeople or headhunters — or customers.
We have to constantly update our list of CEO email addresses. But even then, we often hear from readers who get bounces (both automated and manual bounces, which means the executives want you to think they’re bad addresses).
Bottom line: If someone tells you they have an up-to-date list of company CEOs, they’re blowing smoke.
How to contact the CEO or manager yourself
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are 6.1 million employer firms in the United States. How do you get the executive contact information for the companies that aren’t in our directory?
Our research team is so busy keeping our 600 companies updated that we don’t have the resources to help an individual reader find a CEO. But we can share our insider strategies for finding the right person.
How to find an executive’s email address for a customer complaint
The most efficient way of reaching an executive is by email. But email addresses are hard to find. Here’s how my research team does it.
Start with the domain name
Almost every business today has a website. Start your search with the website. Most (but not all) manager emails will have the last part of the domain in their address. The domain — company.com — comes after the “@.”
Once you have that information, you can move to the next step.
Find a naming convention
An address naming convention is the way emails are formatted. The most common one is:
But you could also have:
To find the naming convention, I usually run a quick search of only the domain. You can do that by going to your favorite search engine and typing:
Site:company.com “Company.com” is the actual domain name. It’s followed by the email address.
“Site:” tells the search engine to limit the results to just that site.
Test the email addresses
We use a throwaway email account from Gmail or Yahoo to test email addresses. (Don’t use your personal address, since a company could block it.) Our researchers will send a short email that says “hi” to several different address permutations. If we get a response or the email doesn’t bounce, we can be confident that it reached the right person. Once we have that information, we can move on to the next step.
Now we run the non-bouncing address through several internet search engines, including VerifyEmailAddress.org. Usually, a valid email address will trigger a couple of positive results. That’s when we know we probably — probably! — have the right information.
How to find an executive’s phone number
Phone numbers are a little harder to find than email addresses. Calling the CEO is also problematic since you’ll usually need a paper trail to resolve your case. I have details in this story on how to fix your consumer problem.
Finding the extension of a CEO or manager is relatively easy. But to really get through, you know what it’s going to take: a mobile phone.
Let’s see how to find that.
Call the main number and ask
There’s something to be said for the full-frontal approach. Call the switchboard. You’ll probably get routed to the CEO or manager’s assistant, which is fine. Ask the operator for the manager’s extension — often, they can disclose that information. At some companies, the extension is the same as the last four digits of the phone number. So they’re giving you the direct number.
Pro tip: If you call after hours, you may be able to use the automated phone directory to spell the last name of the executive. Often, the system will reveal the extension as well.
Check government filings
The Security and Exchange Commission’s EDGAR database lists all of a public company’s filings. They can be a treasure trove of information, including emails and phone numbers of executives. Look for a Form 10-K (earnings report) or Form 8-K (a notification) which may contain numbers or email addresses.
Search for directories
At some point, an executive will have to disclose a phone number or mobile phone number. The biggest “gotcha” is the country club directory. We’ve found mobile phones and personal email addresses in them. Go to your favorite search engine and type “filetype:pdf, ” limiting your search to PDF files. Country clubs think they can hide member information by encoding it as a PDF. They can’t.
Other sources for executive contact information
Emailhippo is a basic, free email verification service.
Hunter.io allows a limited number of free lookups by domain, which gives you an idea of email naming conventions. You can also search by name. It’s also available as a browser plugin.
LinkedIn Premium gives you access to more company data, allowing you to filter your searches by job title. So you can search “CEO” or “customer service manager” and also find related employees. LinkedIn has become a go-to for researchers trying to find any executive.
RocketReach.co is a paid service but allows you to run a few queries each month without a fee. If you pay for the full version, you can access email addresses and mobile phone numbers. We’ve found RocketReach information to be relatively reliable.
Verifyemailaddress.org lets you check an email address to see if it’s valid. It’s a free service that is an essential part of our research. There’s a good chance the email is valid if it comes up valid here.
Note: Beware of fly-by-night companies that try to sell scraping apps or sites. Most of the prospecting tools do little more than troll the web for executive email addresses and phone numbers. They’re not verified by people and often inaccurate — and they’re definitely not worth the money. You’re better off conducting a manual search using the methods described in this article.
How to contact the CEO through social media
Reaching an executive on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter can be one of the fastest ways to get through to the right person with your customer complaint. Our researchers usually find their social media coordinates first. And surprisingly, the executives monitor their accounts regularly, which means they might see your shout-out before they see your email or receive your phone message.
How to find an executive’s LinkedIn account
A simple search on LinkedIn should show the executive’s account. You can follow the person or reach out via an InMail. Note: You may need to pay for a premium account to access some of these features.
LinkedIn InMails are notoriously spammy. They contain unsolicited offers to improve your business, even if it doesn’t need improvement. But executives still read their LinkedIn messages because LinkedIn is more of a professional network.
How to find an executive’s Facebook account
Look for the blue “verified” tag when you’re searching Facebook. The social network likes to give those to public figures like CEOs. (They easily identify the executives, which is why some executives try to turn down the blue badges.) You can send a message to an executive via Facebook Messenger. But if you’re not “friends,” they may be able to ignore you.
How to find an executive’s Twitter account
Try an advanced search on Twitter to find the right person for your customer complaint. Again, look for that blue checkmark, which denotes someone Twitter believes is important. A search of Twitter will quickly show if you’ve found the right person. Look for shout-outs from other users regarding company policy or customer service.
If I contact the CEO, what about data privacy?
Over the years, we’ve faced threats of lawsuits from companies who claim our directory of executives violates their privacy. That’s nonsense.
In the United States, the First Amendment gives us the right to publish the names, numbers and email addresses of company executives.
Lawyers have also unsuccessfully argued that in Europe, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) protects the privacy of executives. But GDPR doesn’t apply to this site, since it is based in the United States.
Should you be concerned that contacting an executive through contacts that you’ve found online will violate that person’s privacy and subject you to prosecution? Absolutely not. My research team is unaware of a case of a customer being successfully sued for calling or emailing a CEO.
What’s more, consider how often companies contact you against your will with unsolicited offers and junk mail. No, don’t let anyone talk you out of escalating your case to an executive. If you’ve given the system a chance to work, and it hasn’t, it’s time to take your problem to the top.
British Airways finally responds to this customer complaint
So did British Airways finally answer Leese’s customer complaint? It did.
Two weeks after he reached out to a manager, he received a voice message from the airline. It acknowledged his claim and agreed to process a full refund.
“To our great surprise, the credit appeared on his latest statement,” says Leese’s wife.
And just in time. Leese is flying back to the U.K. next month for his mother’s memorial service, which was also delayed by two years because of the pandemic.
Leese and his wife are pleased with that resolution. Their next step would have been an appeal to the CEO — and to me. Here’s how you can reach my team of consumer advocates.
Fortunately, the airline fixed its mistake before it came to that.