We all want to be treated fairly and receive the products and services that we pay for. We want things to match our expectations and the manufacturer’s promises. When things fail to live up to those promises or expectations, it’s up to us to complain, to let the companies know that we won’t be messed with. However, there is a special type of person who has elevated complaining to the level of sport. This is person who complains just to get free stuff. The question is: Is this a wise, frugal move, or bad behavior?
I know quite a few people, both in real life and online, who complain to manufacturers and service providers when there is no legitimate complaint. Why? To get freebies and comps. These people think that they’re being financially smart. After all, why pay for something when you can get it for free? But if the complaint is faked, it’s closer to fraud than effective complaining.
Take for example the person and situation I read about on a money-saving forum (not Saving Advice). Best Buy had intended to issue coupons to a select subset of their Reward Zone program members, but something went awry and not only was the coupon posted online for all to use, the terms were incorrect. Once Best Buy stopped honoring the fraudulent and misprinted coupons, the predictable outrage ensued online about how Best Buy wasn’t being fair by not honoring the deals.
Whether it was fair or not, this person that I saw gleefully posted about writing to Best Buy’s corporate office to complain about the situation. Two things about this person’s complaints rankled me. First, he or she was not a member of the Reward Zone program, so would never have been eligible for the coupon in the first place. The deal was never intended for this person. Second, they complained only after the outrage had reached full force online and he/she saw that Best Buy was giving some people (who were legitimately entitled to use the deal that went awry) gift cards for their trouble.
After raising a big stink to the corporate offices, this person was given a gift card for troubles that he/she had never experienced, since they were never the target of the original deal and were never “cheated” out of using the coupon. Now, I realize that Best Buy didn’t have to give this person anything and that it’s up to them what they want to do for customer service. But this person complaining about being shut out of a deal to which they were never entitled seems wrong.
I see this happen in other areas, too. I go to Disney World a lot and Disney is famous for giving customers freebies and compensation to make up for bad experiences. They’re so famous for this that some people write to the corporate offices or talk to managers in the parks and report fake dissatisfaction with meals, interactions with employees, theft, and issues of every other kind you can imagine. People also complain to food manufacturers to get coupons, and they complain to retail stores to get gift cards or free merchandise. Again, it’s up to Disney and other retailers what they give out and to whom, but people creating complaints just to try for freebies is unethical.
Over the years, companies have doled out so many freebies to stave off negative publicity that some financial sites support this behavior by encouraging people to complain to get the freebies. This tip appears online and even in books. But it’s just wrong. Aside from the bad karma points that you’re sure to get (if you believe in karma or cosmic retribution), it may eventually backfire on you. Many companies keep lists of people who have complained. Chronic, aggressive complainers are likely to be blacklisted eventually to the point that when the day comes that you have a legitimate complaint, no one will listen to you.
It also makes you a terrible example for others. Is this the sort of behavior that you want to teach your kids? That you want your friends and family to see? Sure, you may, like one woman I saw, get free park passes for you and your family off of a faked complaint, but was it really worth it? Is saving money worth compromising your values? Just because the company gave it to you doesn’t make it right that you faked a complaint. Bragging about how you got those tickets to anyone who will listen doesn’t make you a hero, it makes you a jerk.
You’re also raising prices for legitimate customers. Those freebies cost the company money and they’re going to make it up somewhere. If they’re doling out lots of comps and freebies on fake complaints, you can bet that the rest of us are going to see it in the prices we pay. You may not care right now, but one day you’re going to have to pay those higher prices, too.
And, worst case, you can cost someone their job. If you mention an employee’s name in your fake complaint, or give enough information that an employee could be potentially identified as having caused your “distress” (which you likely did if your complaint was at all believable), you can get a person fired or suspended. Was it worth it for a free meal or coupon?
If you have a legitimate gripe with a company, by all means complain. They may not know they’ve done anything wrong and may welcome the chance to make it better. If they send you something as a result of that, great. But creating complaints and “incidents” just to get free stuff isn’t being frugal, it’s stealing.
(Photo courtesy of khawkins04)