© 2006 Brooke Allen
Originally published in International Family Magazine
I once had a run-in with a shopkeeper in New York City so I wrote down his license number and began calling the consumer affairs hotline.
The line was busy.
I put the number on speed-dial.
The number was busy for months.
Since their office was only a few blocks away from mine, I decided to pop by. Four employees sat in a room with all the phones off the hook.
I decided to complain about them to their boss. Using a penname, I wrote the following letter:
August 14, 1989
Ed Koch, Mayor
City Hall, New York, 10007
Recently I have begun considering establishing a branch of my business within the New York City limits. I am writing to you to get your assurances that if re-elected, you will continue to provide the same positive environment for business growth that has persisted for the last few years.
A business like ours is sensitive to consumer perceptions. Frankly, our main concern about past expansions in your direction has been your reputation for tough consumer protection laws and a complaint enforcement system rigged in the consumer’s favor.
However, on the suggestion of a friend, four months ago I began calling your consumer complaint number (212-577-0111) three to five times a day. I got busy signals every time I called except for twice when the phone was picked up and then disconnected immediately.
During a business trip, I actually stopped by to observe the operation. I was told that there were 10 lines, but the room I was shown only had four people in it. One was on a telephone and the other three were reading magazines, filing nails, and chatting. I called the hot line number from a nearby desk and got a busy signal!
Excellent! This is the kind of environment in which I can thrive. I see the wisdom of your plan. Provide tough laws since this keeps the public off the law-makers’ backs. Establish a hot-line to appease the cranks and complainers. And then don’t answer the phone.
I tried calling your office to congratulate you and ask my question directly, but a secretary told me there was no one who could answer my call. (Of course! I should have thought of that myself!)
I anxiously await your assurances. We are ready to begin our business expansion immediately.
P. S. I enclose $2.00 to help pay the return postage and to help with your campaign. If all is okay, there’s more where that came from.
Somehow, just by sending this letter to the mayor, I began to feel much better.
When complaining, your goal is to make yourself feel better, not to make the other person feel worse. Humor helps.