Even if you read the fine print. . .

The moral of this story is to ask for what you want, especially with big companies, especially when they make mistakes. Anyone who’s ever read David Segal’s great The Haggler column in the New York Times knows this doesn’t always work, but I like to think that most of the time it does. I’ll do a column on negotiations at some point (salary, cars, etc.), but here’s a very small example that happened to me today, with some general tips thrown in.

I generally don’t like voucher sites, but a friend alerted me that PlumDistrict (I’d never hear of it either, but it worked) had a deal where you could buy a $50 voucher for a Hartstrings, a children’s clothing brand that I like for $21. I generally don’t buy the brand because I find it to be good quality but out of my price range, but I checked out what they had on sale and found five items of clothing that I wanted for my kids that I could buy with the voucher. So I read the fine print on the voucher (excludes clearance items, must use the whole value in one purchase, etc.), make sure the stuff I want fits the parameters, and buy the voucher.

I add everything to my cart and go to check out and you guessed it, it tells me the voucher isn’t applicable for my items. I was pretty annoyed because one of the reasons I purchased it was that they had some items for sale that I really wanted, so I called the company (TIP: if you’ve got a problem, call instead of emailing – the representative answering the phone may not have the authority to help you but that’s okay – keep calm, friendly, and when they says unfortunately they can’t do whatever it is you’re asking for say “I definitely understand that. Who would have the ability to make this happen?” until you get to the right person). I got someone, explained that when I purchased the voucher it said excluding clearance items only, not sale items, and asked how they could help me solve this problem (TIP: this can be excellent phrasing for life in general – if you are at an impasse with someone or just want something fixed, asking “how can we fix this” implies that you are both working to solve an independent issue and makes people more likely to help, vs. “you take my problem and make it better for me”).

The rep couldn’t help me, bumped me up to a supervisor, she didn’t know what to do so promised someone would look into it and email me (TIP: get first and last names of everyone you speak with. Some companies won’t let employees give last names – which I think is pretty good policy – but the rep should then be able to give you some sort of ID number). A few hours later, I got an email, saying that the voucher should work on sale items now. I tried it again, it didn’t work, and I wrote back repeating my same ask – “I bought this voucher because it said that the only exclusions were clearance items. How can we fix it so I can use it to purchase X,Y, and Z sale items as promised?” (TIP: if you’re arguing about a specific piece of merchandise, always include the merchandise numbers – it is easier for someone to help you if you’re talking about item #123456 than if you’re talking about shirts in general). Finally we figured out that the voucher could only be used on sale merchandise for the current season, not all sale items (which were not on clearance). I said that was great, lovely new merchandise, blah blah blah, but I wanted it applied to the merchandise I’d picked out based on the terms I’d bought the voucher on. So they went in and made a code for me so that I could do this. Did other people who’d purchased the voucher say “oh, I guess it meant no clearance and no sale merchandise” and just buy full-priced items? I’m sure it happened. But it was a difference of $50 (plus I hate when companies don’t adhere to what they’ve promised), so it was worth it to me. They also then emailed me a code for 10% off to share with as many people as I wanted, which could be used multiple times per person. So that was a nice recovery. (I’ve named the company and included the code at the bottom of this post, in case you want to use it).

Bonus tips on calling customer service at any type of company you have a relationship with (e.g. credit cards, banking, Netflix, jam of the month club, whatever you like as long as you are a subscriber instead of a one-time purchaser):

  1. Call customer service and if they can’t fix your problem right away ask to be transferred to retention. Or just call customer service and say “Hi, I’m calling because I’d like to close my account” and they’ll automatically transfer you there. The customer service reps in the retention group almost always have a lot more power to make things better for you, because their goal is to keep you as a customer.
  2. Have a specific ask and a calm, friendly tone, and keep repeating it. This part bears repeating (ha) – if you get angry, people are less likely to help you.

Here’s an example:

You: “I saw you have a promotional rate of 2.9%. I’ve had your card for two years and am at a higher rate, so I’m being penalized for being loyal. How can we fix this and lower the rate on my card to 2.9%?”

Company rep: “Well, sir, that promotion is only for new customers, blah, blah blah. . .”

You: “I understand that, and thanks for taking the time to help me – I know you’re not the one who caused the issue. But I’ve had your card for two years and am at a higher rate, so I’m being penalized for being loyal. How can we fix this and lower the rate on my card to 2.9%?”

Company rep: “Well, sir, we really don’t like to lower rates for current customers, but in this case I can give you a one-time reduction from 9.9% to 8.9% for being a loyal customer.”

You: “I really appreciate that offer, but what I’d like is to have the rate reduced to 2.9%, the same teaser rate that you are offering to new customers.”

Company rep: “We appreciate your business and loyalty, and thank you for being a cardholder since 2012. But I’m afraid I can’t lower the rate any more than that.”

You: “Thanks for trying to help me. Who has the authority to lower my rate to 2.9%?” (and on til you get there)

Yes, it’s annoying, and you’ll probably have to wait on hold, but if it’s something like a credit card payment or a recurring bill (like cable) that adds up, it’s worth the time. Good luck!


The company is Hartstrings, which makes nice quality if pricey children’s clothing, and here’s the code they gave me for 10% off:

A6D63EBE8B1D4AAF

It should be good on sale merchandise (everything but clearance). If you end up using it, write to me and let me know – I’m curious if they’ve actually fixed it.

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