The New Watchdog
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which was created in 2010, says it solves 4 in 5 complaints that it receives from consumers. It now makes those complaints public in a database, so customers can easily search to see if other people have faced similar problems and how those problems were resolved.
Taking problems to government agencies is best for helping the agency identify trends and clusters of problems, says Popken. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, for example, recently announced that it was requiring Capital One to refund money to customers subject to what the bureau calls "deceptive marketing tactics" related to credit card services such as credit monitoring.
Other government agencies, such as the Federal Trade Commission, also take consumer complaints, along with private organizations such as the Better Business Bureau. If enough people lodge similar complaints, the agency or organization is more likely to take action against that company, says Popken.
Yates adds that because those complaints are often listed publicly, they offer a resource to other consumers doing research on whether or not to work with a company. "I'm a huge advocate of filing reviews, both good and bad, with review websites so other consumers can use your information to make a good decision on which companies to use," he says.
The general public can be a receptive audience, especially when you're complaining about a common cause: During the recent mass power outages in the Washington, D.C., metro area, hundreds of people took to Twitter to express their frustration. The Pepco Twitter team, posting under the @PepcoConnect handle, appeared to respond to almost every Tweet that included their handle, often with information about the Pepco number to call, and apologies for the lengthy outage.
"Especially with large companies that have a Twitter presence, you can now be fairly sure that someone will get back to you and take it seriously," says Yellin, particularly if you have a large Twitter following.
Popken recommends getting even more creative: Blog posts, creating websites or Facebook pages, and posting videos on YouTube can all help garner attention for your cause. He also suggests getting as many eyeballs on your creation as possible by emailing it to relevant websites, such as Consumerist.com, Reddit.com, or other customer service-focused sites. (And, of course, post it to your own Twitter and Facebook pages.)
Making your complaint public means that it turns up on a Google search, says Yates, and companies constantly monitor what people are saying about them online. "That's why larger companies and corporations now have employees who work around the clock monitoring Twitter and Facebook for mentions of the company's name," he says.
But, says Yates, going public also means that you give up some of your anonymity. That's why he recommends staying polite and truthful. Also, avoid sharing personal information such as your address or account numbers.
With those strategies in mind, you're ready to get the response you want from companies that wrong you—just don't forget to follow up when they reach out to you.