Politeness goes a long way to resolving complaints

Be sure to document your situation before speaking with merchants

Young kids may be watching for a sleigh drawn by eight tiny reindeer. I’m on the lookout for a square-wheeled Red River cart drawn by a wheezing three legged ox. What other mode of transportation could take more than three weeks to deliver from Calgary a replacement part no bigger than a cell phone for my treadmill? A dog team of starving Chihuahuas?

I placed the order August 18 after a repairman serviced my machine, ending its groaning. Facing another winter when poor walking conditions might curtail my outdoor exercise, I invested in this replacement thinking if I could clock my steps and mileage, I might make better use of the equipment.

The console left Sears’ Calgary parts warehouse the third week of September. But as of October 13, it has not yet arrived, though at the time of ordering the supplier assured me it would be “delivered to my mailbox September 3.”

Even then I figured a delivery date of September 3 was pie in the sky. I wasn’t green enough to expect Sears stocked their warehouse with consoles for every model treadmill they sold in 1996. Who knows from where Sears itself might have to order the part I needed. Ontario? That’s the address on the warranty, though it was printed in the U.S.

I waited patiently for the day my six-ounce repair would drop into my mailbox.

My patience ran out when I received instead a lengthy statement covered with fine print ending with “New balance $144.90, minimum payment $20 due October 23.”

Interest at the rate of 29.9 percent has been charged since September 28 … for a product I haven’t yet received. Included in what Sears claim I owe is $32.42 for bedroom slippers I picked up and fully paid for with cash August 7, 2014.

As never fails to happen, though my files cover many years, the one receipt I needed (but had tossed) was the one from August 7.

After spending the better part of a fruitless Thursday afternoon on the phone with various Sears departments about this foul-up, I visited Sears’ local office October 10 where it was pointed out to me customers are under video surveillance, which would reveal if I had indeed made the August 7 payment. Except the video erases after 30 days. Likewise for their computer records; my payment would be long lost in the company’s computer files.

No matter how busy the Terrace outlet may be on weekends, I was in no mood to be put off by their offer to photocopy my statement and check back with me Monday or Tuesday. (While I held a lengthy exchange on the outlet’s phone with a Sears office, twice borrowing the manager’s ballpoint to jot down details including a phone number, only one customer walked in.)

I could have slunk out without a satisfactory conclusion to my visit. But I’ve dealt with too many similar situations, and read many advice columns on how to seek a remedy for less than satisfactory service. Advice always boils down to several commonsense rules:

File your complaint sooner rather than later. Do your homework. Take along receipts and other documents. (Never toss paid bills as I did. Gather them in a shoebox; they become critical.)

Note the names of whoever you speak with, any phone numbers used to reach them and a brief summary of your conversation with each.

If the first person you speak with is no help, go higher. Speak to a supervisor. Persevere.

Never use offensive or abusive language. A polite, firm and never-say-die attitude usually will get you through an obstructive customer-service department.

I’m still waiting for delivery. Maybe to lower feed costs, the ox pastures as he travels.