Five Minute Finances #12: Contact Customer Service

Five Minute FinancesFive Minute Finances is a series of tips on how you can save significant money or reorganize your financial life in just five minutes. These tips appear Monday, Wednesday, and Friday on The Simple Dollar.

Ever received a product that was severely worse than your expectations? For example, ever bought a bag of chips that was horribly stale, or bought some salsa that tasted bad, or a bottle of laundry detergent that was dried out on the inside? Most companies are quite willing to help you to make things right, simply because it is good public relations.

What’s the benefit? If you get ahold of their customer service department for most smaller consumer goods, you’ll often receive coupons for replacement products – often in multiples. For example, I received a huge pile of coupons for free salsa in the past, and I got about fifteen coupons for $3 off any package of Luvs disposable diapers (since I could get small packages of them for $4.99, each one made for nearly free diapers).

What’s the drawback, then? If you start to call on a regular basis, you will be noted and your rewards will go down rapidly. Most of the major consumer good providers share a database of frequent callers, a “blacklist,” if you will, and thus this technique has serious diminishing returns.

Got it – don’t overdo it. So what do I do? If you buy a consumer good and are unsatisfied with the experience, take a minute to call the customer service number on the package. Simply tell them exactly why you’re dissatisfied, but be open to trying the product again or trying similar products. The usual result from this (almost every time, from my experience) is that they’ll send you a supply of vouchers or very strong coupons that can save you some serious money.

For example, I had an incident with Luvs diapers a while back (about one in every three diapers in the bag had an elastic band that fell apart almost immediately). I called the company, explained the problem in detail, and several days later I received some vouchers for more diapers, plus a nice pile of $3 off coupons for Luvs diapers.

Trent Hamm

Founder & Columnist

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 and still writes a daily column on personal finance. He’s the author of three books published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press, has contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and his financial advice has been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.