3. Do I have leverage?
Leverage is anything you can use to bolster your claim. One unfortunate fact I've learned in my 20 years as a consumer advocate is that most companies will do something only if it is to their financial advantage. Therefore, the best leverage would be something you could do, or promise to do, that would make it more expensive for the company to ignore you than to take care of you.
For a local firm, letting the owner know that you'll tell all your business associates and personal friends about a bad outcome might be enough to sway things your way. For a national corporation, the idea that you'll share your sad story with their number one competitor might spark them into action. Sometimes, even the simple statement that you'll eat up a substantial amount of their time and effort can be enough to get them to see things your way. (You won't really need to make them your favorite new hobby; they only have to believe that you will.)
4. Is there an acceptable solution?
In other words, "What do you want?" The answer has to be specific and monetary. "I want a full refund" or "Please replace the product" are acceptable statements. "I want a letter of apology" or "I want that guy fired" won't get you anywhere. I'm not saying that apologies aren't important or that the guy who behaved badly doesn't deserve to be fired. But you won't benefit from either of those solutions and most companies wouldn't agree to them anyway. Once you can answer yes to these four questions, you'll be much better prepared to stand toe-to-toe with a customer-service adversary. You may still end up without a truly satisfactory solution, but at least you'll know that you gave it your best shot.
Ron Burley is the author of Unscrewed: The Consumer's Guide to Getting What You Paid For.