Know How and When to be an Assertive Consumer
- Friday, April 28, 2006
I enjoy a good lawn—one that is lush and green and free of weeds that has a consistent depth of four to five inches.
I wouldn’t go so far as to admit that I’m obsessed with my lawn, but I do hire a lawn service company to keep it tip-top year round. Believe me, when it comes to my lawn I notice everything.
Several weeks ago a wave of nausea swept over me as I pulled into my driveway. What had been beautifully green just hours before was now sporting a horrible shade of gold at each sprinkler head, along the walkway and around the trees and shrubs. In some spots this exceeded 12 inches in width. My lawn was dying before my very eyes.
My first inclination was to fly into a consumer rage of epic proportions. However—and even I am surprised by this—I have remained relatively calm. In fact, I’ve spoken precious little about the situation.
My first course of action on behalf of my lawn was to call the owner of the service company. He came right out, assessed the situation and promised to fix it the following day. While he had no explanation for why anyone would spray weed killer on a lawn that has no weeds, he assured me that he could and would repair the lawn with new sod so I would never detect there had been a problem.
It took several weeks for anything to happen, but finally someone showed up. The crew member admitted they sprayed weed killer on a windy day and things got a little bit out of hand. Let me just say that the remedy is worse than the deed, if that is even possible. These guys cut out the big dead parts and patched with new sod.
Now, had they cut out all of the dead grass and replaced it with the same type of sod to match the rest of the lawn, that would have been one thing. However, as I write, my front lawn looks like some kind of crazy quilt with about eight shades of green and terribly uneven golden stitching banding each of the repair attempts. Even the patches are not all of the same species of grass.
Fortunately I took photographs of all the damage and documented it with dates and details. I wrote a letter describing the problem together with my expectations for what needs to be done to make things right. I included the date by which this needs to be accomplished and sent it by Certified Mail.
As consumers, we have a reasonable expectation to receive satisfaction when we purchase a product or pay for a service. Every state has consumer protection laws to guarantee this. Companies are not entitled to our money without our consent and permission. And when things go wrong, we need to know how to respond.
Document the situation. Just assume you will always need proof—the kind that would satisfy Judge Judy. Take pictures, write notes and date everything.
Respond in writing. Get the name and address of the person highest on the organizational chart. If it’s a huge company, go to the company’s website and look for “shareholder services” to get titles and addresses. Write a just-the-facts letter that remains professional in tone and succinct in nature. Keep it to the point.
Express your expectations. Once you have stated the situation, clearly state your expectations for a reasonable remedy. If you want a full refund, say so. Want a replacement product? Say that specifically. Name a reasonable date in the future by which you expect this to be accomplished.
Don’t threaten, simply inform. It’s always good to state your next course of action, should you need to take that. Don’t threaten with a lawsuit or some other action you cannot guarantee. However, a simple statement that you hope you will not have to contact your state’s Attorney General, the Better Business Bureau or your local television station’s ombudsman will send a message about where you intend to go with this if necessary.
Keep a paper trail. Make sure you keep every phone number and name with dates and times together with copies of all correspondence. The better your paper trail, the more likely you will not need to depend on it in the future.
Don’t give up. It’s been nearly four weeks since the deed was performed upon my lawn. The situation is worse than ever, but I will not give up. Suffice it to say I will have a new lawn before this is over or it will appear to be so flawless that one would assume it is a new lawn.
Mark my words.
"Debt-Proof Living" was founded in 1992 by Mary Hunt. What began as a newsletter to encourage and empower people to break free from the bondage of consumer debt has grown into a huge community of ordinary people who have achieved remarkable success in their quest to effectively manage their money and stay out of debt. Today, "Debt-Proof Living" is read by close to 100,000 cheapskates. Click here to subscribe.
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