Monday, May 4, 2009

To whom to complain

When you have a complaint, it's important to deliver it to somebody who can do something about it. And it has to be high enough in the food chain that it gives someone a stomach ache. Or at least a little gas.

Now, this doesn't mean that, if you get a flat tire on your Chevy, you have to complain to the president at GM. After all, he might not even be there by the time your mail gets delivered.

When you complain to a big corporation, your complaint starts at the lowest level, even if you address it to the CEO. For example, when you call the 800/number and hear "Executive Offices", you can bet your bottom dollar that you have not reached the executive offices of the corporation. You have reached a customer service call center.

You might reach a compassionate, customer service-oriented person, but that person is likely to have limited resolution powers. If your complaint is pretty simple and low in cost, you might get lucky and be entirely satisfied.

However, on at a local government level, if you have a complaint that is a personnel issue - let's say, about a sheriff's deputy - then there is only one place to deliver your complaint, and that is to the Sheriff himself. When you address your complaint to him, it is for his eyes and ears.

He can't talk to everybody who calls or writes but, if you address it to him, then he'll have to delegate it, and the person to whom he delegates it will have to act in the sheriff's place. Okay, so I mean in a "perfect world." But if that person blows it, it's the sheriff who will end up taking the heat for how it got mishandled.

Do not start at the sergeant level. Don't get stuck talking to a deputy's supervisor, when you report a problem. That person is too far down the food chain. He or she might be competent, polite, respectful, interested and concerned, AND that person probably doesn't have the authority to fix the problem. Or may not be willing to.

What do you do if the sheriff doesn't respond? (Like to a letter dated in November 2008?) What if you are just totally ignored - the hope being that, if you are ignored long enough, you'll just give up and go away. Don't settle for that! You go on up the ladder. Where does this ladder go?

For starters, maybe the County Administrator.
Or the Law & Justice Committee.
Or the County Board.
Or the State's Attorney's office.
Or the Illinois State Police.
Or the Illinois Attorney General.
Or the FBI.

What you do is send a lot of letters, a lot of emails. Include local elected officials and the officers of State associations. It takes a little time to dig out email addresses but, once you have them, they will save you a ton of postage.

Keep good records. Keep your paper trail. Write down every contact, every date and time, every title and phone number, everything a person says he will do. Set a deadline. If a person says he'll call you back, ask by when? "Next week" is not an answer. An answer is, "I'll call you back by Wednesday, May 6, at 2:00PM" If he doesn't, call him back at 2:01PM.

Hard core? You bet. Make people accountable for doing what they say they'll do.

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