Don't get mad, get even. Or at least get a refund.
Thanks to Covid-19 and lockdowns, Kiwis have found themselves fighting everything from Air New Zealand to gyms for refunds.
Unfortunately businesses don't always treat us fairly. Sometimes it's not deliberate. At other times they make decisions or sly little changes that turn out to be gotchas.
At the beginning of lockdown in April, one company changed my direct debit from a fixed $16 a month to an open-ended arrangement. Like most people at that time, I was focused on issues other than the fine print of new direct debits. The result of the change to that direct debit, however, was a teenager, who said "yes" to text offers to spend more, not realising the credit was no longer limited.
I blamed the provider for putting temptation in a teenager's way with changes that were so cleverly worded they passed unnoticed. The provider argued we'd used the services and therefore had to pay. I didn't give up until a refund came.
If you feel you've been charged for services you didn't receive, or failed in any way by financial services and other suppliers, fight. It often works. Here's my step-by-step guide:
1. Ask yourself if you're being reasonable. We need to ask ourselves if we're being fair, when it comes to complaining. If it's a grey area, however, don't give up.
2. Arm yourself with knowledge. Read the contract and any relevant industry rules or codes of conduct before you make a complaint. Sometimes it becomes obvious from those rules that you've been mistreated.
3. Familiarise yourself with the official complaints procedure. Many organisations will automatically fob you off in the first instance because they know most people go away at this point. If you follow the complaints procedure you might get somewhere.
4. Stay polite. You can be both assertive and polite. It's human nature that the member of staff or business owner you're dealing with will be more open to your complaint if you're calm, rational and polite. Use "I" phrases, not "you". "I feel I should not have been charged this", not "you shouldn't have charged me this". It helps defuse a situation.
5. Be careful not to sound like a nutter. If you sound like your entire life has been taken over by this complaint, you're likely to be discounted and sidelined by the organisation. Imagine yourself on the other end of the phone with a deranged, angry or bullying person.
6. Ask for your complaint to be escalated. The first person you deal with invariably doesn't have the authority to refund you. Sometimes you need to go two or three rungs up the ladder to get satisfaction.
A friend persisted against the odds when in July Air New Zealand wanted to credit the family $5500 with a one-year expiration date. It would have been very difficult to spend that on local flights before it expired. He eventually succeeded with persistence in getting a refund less $300 per person. Sometimes it can take multiple approaches and months to succeed. Don't give up.
Take it up on social media
Facebook or Twitter is often a shortcut further up the chain. What's more, companies don't like being made to look bad in public and will pay to make you go away.
Go to the independent disputes resolution organisation
I've written about these organisations previously. Fair claims usually succeed. Often asking for a "letter of deadlock" meaning you and the company cannot reach agreement, leads to payment. That's how I finally resolved my recent direct debit complaint.
Consider other avenues
You can sometimes take complaints elsewhere. That can include the Privacy Commission, Human Rights Tribunal, Disputes Tribunal, District Court, or many other authorities. Maybe the individual involved belongs to an industry organisation such as the Law Society with their own complaints procedures. It's hard being the little man or woman. But keep trying.