“We’ve received your complaint.”

Filing a complaint is a standard response to the human need to right a wrong. Somewhere in the midst of a transaction or interaction, an expectation went unmet, or as my husband would say, “a swing and a miss.”

Customer complaints used to be part of my wheelhouse as a marketing communications manager. A complaint meant our organization was not making the brand impression we intended. But our customer service staff argued that complaints were often frivolous or unfounded.

We tested the idea of complaints when we defined “great customer service” as a differentiating point for our brand. We promised customer service workers that we would track every complaint and we authorized them to issue refunds, replacements, or gift certificates to our stores. We wanted our staff to listen and ask, “How can we make this right?”

And you know what we discovered? 90 percent of the customers who complained wanted us to “know.” They wanted to be heard as consumers of natural foods. They wanted us, as cooperative grocers, to be trustworthy and transparent. Less than 10 percent took advantage of our complaint policy, returning items for frivolous reasons. No one scammed us.

It’s difficult to lodge a complaint these days. Some companies deeply bury their phone numbers if they provide any at all. A number doesn’t guarantee a person on the end of the line. With many hospitality and service organizations struggling to meet consumer demands, some are posting preemptive signs to make consumers feel guilty for complaining. I read one recently that proclaimed, “The world is short-staffed; be kind to those who showed up.”

To that, I’d like to say, “Consumers are getting short-shrifted; be kind to those spending their money in your establishment.”

Ever since the Vet Center closed in Houghton, I’ve been holding social groups in person and online weekly. I’ve been preparing to launch veteran community groups when I get my writing school online. For a year, I’ve been holding a writing group for veteran caregivers through the VA once a month. I do this because I understand that isolation kills our veteran families. I do this because of what my Warrior Sisters taught me about thriving in this tough population sector. The greatest women I have known have taken care of Vietnam veterans. These women or the long-haulers. They are my heroes. My mentors.

We meet every other Friday at a local restaurant along the Portage Canal beneath the Houghton Lift Bridge. It’s a beautiful view any time of year, and the food is good. But we’ve been having an issue with our reservation. Several months ago, the floor manager told us if we were going to meet regularly, we should reserve our round table in the back room. So, we did. But every time we go, if anyone other than the floor manager greets us, they have no idea what reservation we are referring to.

Once, a hostess sat us in a big booth across from her station after knowing nothing about our reservation and explaining we couldn’t have our regular table. It was taken. Then, ten minutes after seating us, she called me on my cell and asked if our group was coming in because they were holding our table in the back. I looked right at her and started waving, telling her we ARE the group and that was the reservation we said we had.

She’s no longer there. And all the new staff are unaware of the reservation. Last Friday, no one believed that we had one. A waiter came over and got sassy with me. I suggested he check reservations and he said no one can get into the “system.” He was rude and treated us like an inconvenience. When he turned away, I air-slapped him. Later he asked about our group like we were cute kitten crafters or church ladies.

We’re veteran spouses. Married to gnarly old sheepdogs who protect their nation’s flocks. They’ve faced down wolves and we help the dogs who get bit; find the ones who get lost; bury the ones who lose the fight. We aren’t sheepdogs. We aren’t wolves. We aren’t the sheep. But we are the bad-ass bitches married to men who went to war so smartmouthed waiters didn’t have to. Call us BABs and learn your damned reservation system.

I did not say what I thought. I did not leave a complaint. I even tipped generously because we do take up time and space, longer than most tables. Yet, before we all left, we decided to try different places to meet. Sometimes, customers don’t complain. They simply go away.

Ironically, someone has lodged a complaint against me. It began last Monday when I received calls and voice messages from unknown callers. No matter the number (six different ones were used), the same woman said she was trying to get in contact with me because someone filed a complaint against me. I deleted the calls as spam. But on Friday afternoon, I answered a local call, expecting someone else. The complaint was a legal matter, a court filing.

These scare tactics infuriate me. One, because it’s triggering — I feel unsafe like I did something wrong, and a bad consequence is going to slap me upside the head. Even though I recognize the old pattern of response, I still panic, almost to the point of passing out. I practice breathing meant to calm the vagus nerve. And I try to listen carefully to discern. This is no complaint. It’s a scam.

The trouble is, the scam is sophisticated enough to include pieces of my personal data. They have my legal name, my phone number, and even the last four of my social security number. They tell me it’s a credit card. I tell them I have no outstanding debt, which is true. He instructs me to send evidence to an email account taylor.s@kensingtonassociates.net. I don’t.

Instead, I start my own investigation. Apparently, Kensington Associates are indeed debt collectors but they have Better Business Bureau complaints filed against them and they show up on scam alert sites. The creepy thing is that they have enough information to falsify a real legal complaint to sue consumers for old debt or, as in my case, for debt paid in full.

On Monday, they called back and I requested a written validation note. They evaded my request and insisted that they were ready to serve me papers. Again, I asked for details in writing so I could compare it to my credit report which I had already checked (no such debt was listed). They refused (which is illegal). I informed them of my right to refute the debt to which they said they will fine me $2,500 to $3,500 for refuting it, and then they told me, “Good luck in court.”

This con group is messing with the wrong BAB. I got all the information from them that I needed to file a Federal complaint. I pulled out the big guns. I even lawyered up and found the equivalent of an ankle-biting ambulance chaser who goes after debt collectors who break the law. Because guess what? If you have a complaint against a debt collector, you have a lawsuit and they will have to pay fines and your lawyer fees. I’m not messaging around. I even found the account number they gave me and have a validation letter in the mail stating that I paid off the account in question in full over ten years ago.

If you have had any trouble with consumer scams or shifty debt collectors in the US, visit the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. If you are concerned about identity theft, the Federal Trade Commission has a dedicated website. To find out what recourse you have in your state, go to your State Attorney General’s website. If you are in a different country, share how your nation protects consumers in the comments if you think it could help others.

We are not powerless. Yet, we don’t have to complain about every missed expectation or consumer disappointment. I agree with the idea of being kind to those working in customer-facing jobs in our era, but I also believe that kindness must be extended to customers, too. And if a scammer comes along, don’t be afraid to file Big Complaints. They count on people not knowing their rights, or being too scared or embarrassed to file. Go bold! Bite the bad guys back. Cut the sassy hospitality workers some slack. And at the end of the day, know you are worth every dignity afforded to all beings.

This is a juicy topic for literary artists! I’ve got several stories bubbling already.

June 27, 2023, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story as a response to “we’ve received your complaint.” Who has received the complaint and why? How was the complaint delivered — with grace, humor, vitriol? Go where the prompt leads!

  1. Submit by July 3, 2023. Please use the form below if you want to be published in the weekly collection. The Collection publishes on the Thursday following the next Challenge. Stories must be 99 words. Rules & Guidelines.
  2. Writers retain all copyrights to any stories published at Carrot Ranch.
  3. A website or social media presence is not required to submit. A blog or social media link will be included in the title of any story submitted with one.
  4. Please include your byline with your title on one line. Example: Little Calves by Charli Mills. Your byline can be different from your name.
  5. Please include the hashtag #99WordStories when sharing either the Challenge or Collection posts on social media.

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