Sunday, May 9, 2010

Three Steps in Handling Disputes With Companies

It happens. You order something that doesn't arrive; you buy a ticket and the flight is delayed/canceled; you get overcharged; you're disappointed with the level of service you receive. What do you do? And how do you get your money back?

Here are the three steps to try. Start at the first step and stop when you succeed. I've had success at step one, sometimes at step two, and there were a few times where I only succeeded at step three. Decide how much your time is worth and stop when it's not worth pursuing any further.

1. Try dealing direct with the company.

Depending on the company, this ranges from extremely easy to a nightmare. Some companies are generous, while others make you fight for your money. In any case, the right thing is to try to sort it out with the company first.

Contact the company's customer service department by phone, and ask to speak to a supervisor if the representative can't help you. If that doesn't work, send an email.
If that doesn't work, try an Executive Email Carpet Bomb. An Email Bomb is simultaneously emailing many people from the company, including those at the executive level, such as the president and vice president. This Consumerist article has directions on preparing a Email Bomb and tips on writing an effective letter of complaint.

At all levels, make your complaint clear and specify how you would like to be compensated.

If that doesn't work, then:

2. Dispute the charge with your credit card.

If you made the charge on a credit card, you can usually dispute the charge with the credit card company. All it takes is a quick phone call to your credit card company. If you used an Amex, you can even easily do the dispute online.

The credit card company will temporarily remove the charge until they finish their investigation. You will usually see results within a month. Sometimes the company doesn't respond to to the credit card company. If that happens, you usually get a refund. If they do respond, then the credit card company decides who is right.

In my experience, Amex has consistently been the best with handling disputes. (See my story at the end of this post.).

As a side note, I have found that any dispute under $10, it seems that Amex just refunds to you without even contacting the company in dispute.

If that doesn't work, then:

3. Take them to small claims court.

This information is for New York City, check your local court for details in your city.

I know, it sounds like a big deal. Court cases sound big and scary. Small Claims Court really isn't. It's a fairly simple process and you don't need a lawyer.

The court fee is $15. If you want to file it online, rather than going to the court, it costs another $15, totaling $30. Small Claims Court is for claims up to $5,000. You will get a court date, and the company will receive a summons as well.

Last I checked, the court has a system for assigning court dates: All cases that are opened today will be given a certain day as the court date. If you are worried that the court date will be inconvenient, you can call the court and find out when your court case would be if you file today, and if it's not good for you, call the next day. The site I have used to file claims online, is

If you are taking a big company to court, chances are pretty good that they will want to settle out of court. (When I took Virgin Atlantic to court, that's what happened as well.) You can negotiate with them. Even if you go to court, you don't need a lawyer, and it's pretty straightforward. A judge will hear both sides of the story and decide.

Here's the link to New York Small Claims Court for more information.

You can only take someone to small claims court in NYC if they do business or have a mailing address in NYC. Search the New York Department of State to see if the company has an address in NYC.

Good luck!


Anonymous said...

thanks! great post! and of course straightforward and simple as usual!

BTW about small claims, you may add that in some cases the company will give you WHATEVER you are asking for, since they will be spending on a lawyer to represent them anyway... said...

Good point!

When I had a claim against Virgin Atlantic, they gave me the full amount I was demanding, plus $30 to cover the court fee I paid!

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