When All Else Fails… Contact the CEO



I have a friend that does not put up with bad customer service.  He always tries to courteously deal with the problem at a local level.  However, if there is no resolution, he does not hesitate to escalate the matter to the very top.  


When he lived abroad, he flew back and forth from London to DC for most holidays.  Unfortunately, on one instance, his flight was delayed, and his plane took off more than three hours later than the initial departure time.  


Entitled to Compensation

According to EU Regulation 261/2004, passengers are entitled to compensation of $260 (€250) for inter-EU flights of 930 miles or less, $416 (400) for flights between 930 and 1,860 miles, and $625 (600) for other journeys if they are departing from or traveling to an EU member state.


There is an exemption in the regulation that states if the delay is caused by an extraordinary circumstance, such as bad weather or crew strikes, that they will not be required to compensate their customers.


Since my friend was aware of the regulation, he politely requested his compensation at the customer service counter once he landed.  The airline employee promptly told him that the airline did not adhere to that policy.  Prepared for this response, he shared the regulation with them.  He indicated their non-compliance since this was not an airline policy, but an EU regulation that they could not opt out of.


The employee stood firm and once again repeated that they did not adhere to this policy.  While most people would have become angry or upset, my friend calmly thanked the employee and left.


Contacting the CEO

While he was hailing a cab back to his place, he started searching for the email addresses of the top executives that worked for that airline.  In no time, he obtained the CEO’s email address.  He sent him a detailed email with all of the pertinent information outlining his claim.  


The next day, he woke up to a prompt apology from the CEO along with assurance that he would receive his compensation.  The CEO also assured that the company would conduct customer training around this issue to prevent future inconveniences in a similar manner.  On top of that, for his inconvenience, the CEO offered him elite status with that airline.


So I’m sure you are thinking, this is a bit extreme.  You are right, but I have to tell you, it works 99% of the time.  About once a year, my friend goes through this process after receiving atrocious service, and he BCC’s me on the email he writes to the CEO.  I always chuckle thinking, good luck with this one.  Within a week, my friend notifies me of a resolution in his favor with perks that I never would have imagined.


Our Terrible Photo Shoot Experience

Why did I tell you about my friend?  Well, I recently ran into some awful customer service that made my blood boil.  My wife and I decided to get family portraits done with our extended family just before Christmas.  It was my wife’s birthday as well, so we thought this would be a nice way to have everyone together.  We set up the appointment weeks in advance and were told to show up on time in order to start promptly.  We were told that we should expect to be there around 1 hour, 1.5 hours at the most.


When we arrived, we were told to wait for a “few minutes” as they were running behind.  We waited, but those minutes turned into over an hour.  Whenever one of us would get up to ask how much longer it would take, we kept receiving the “minutes” response.  Had we realized it would be over an hour wait, we would have gone out to eat or even back home.  Our appointment was at 4:10pm, so by 5:30pm, we were starting to get really hungry and agitated.  The employees just kept blaming “corporate” for always double-booking appointments.  


We had purposefully booked the appointment right before our dinner reservations so that we could all celebrate afterwards.  Needless to say, we missed our reservations.  We didn’t even get started with the process until after 5:30pm.  After the photo shoot, we were utterly exhausted and starving.  Before we left, we had to go through all the photos taken and select our favorites.  We did so very quickly as we were eager to leave that place as soon as possible.  The exit sign was never so alluring.  


Seeking Resolution In-Store

When my wife spoke with a manager about our frustrations, the manager responded with, “How do you think we feel?”  I’m sure those employees felt as terrible as we did, but how did that response remedy the initial complaint?


My wife went back to the portrait studio to pick up the pictures a couple weeks later.  We couldn’t believe the quality of our materials.  Some of the pictures had a strange red hue to them, making our faces look sunburned.  Additionally, many of the photos were crooked and even a bit blurry.  


Trust me when I say that I won’t ever step foot into another portrait studio until scouring online reviews.  A 2.5-star online rating is never promising.


Contacting the CEO

Needless to say, meeting with the store manager yielded very poor results.  As my anger was starting to get the best of me, I asked my friend if he could help find the CEO’s email address in order to help resolve our issues.  


We found the CEO’s name but were unsure of the email address.  I crafted up an email with the events that transpired, and then I sent it.  I actually had to send it six times as the first five email addresses bounced back before I finally found the correct one.  Quick side note: sometimes you have to play around with the email address like “John.Smith”, “J.Smith”, or “JSmith” before you hit on the right combination.  Within 24 hours, I had a response from the CEO apologizing for the tepid customer service and offering a substantial refund.


If it wasn’t for my friend, I would have never thought about emailing the CEO.  Of course, my preference is to work things out on the lower level in a civil manner, but when all else fails, it’s nice to know that there is another, typically successful, option.


So readers tell me, have you ever emailed a CEO?  What was their response?  If not, have you ever thought about it?  Share your responses below.


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  1. Man, I can’t stand poor customer service. As someone who worked with clients for the first 10 years of my career, there isn’t anything that gets me riled up more than this. I have never emailed the CEO of a company, but this is a great idea to get a quicker response to your issue. The CEO will be much more motivated to keep bad reviews out of the marketplace than a middle manager who probably doesn’t like their job or care much about the company.

    • Thanks for stopping by Go Finance Yourself!!!

      I have to admit I had never emailed a CEO before this but based on my friends feedback I am extremely happy with the results.

      While I’m sure it could get abused the CEO thankfully agreed with the sub-optimal customer service.

  2. That’s an interesting approach, although I’m not surprised it works. I was told before that if you need better customer service that you should just keep asking for higher and higher managers, because at some point their time is worth more than the refund you want.
    Matt @ Optimize Your Life recently posted…The Ostrich EffectMy Profile

    • I never thought about it like that but you’re probably right, the higher you go their time is probably worth way more than the refund that I want so it’s probably easier for them to justify just paying it.

      Thanks for the insight!!!

  3. Now let me add a caveat. I once had a coworker that would abuse this for free stuff, don’t be that guy. I have escalated such thing with mixed success. Ultimately sticking up and making your voice heard in a professional manner is the key to ensuring your treated well and all policies are honored. The reality is sometimes the employee just doesn’t know, but fixing it for all is only possible with your feedback. My biggest experience was a few years ago I experienced an issue with a new car that sprung a leaky gas tank. It had one of those systems where you could call for help in case of a car issue. Reaching out to them they forwarded me to a tow company that could do nothing for me until a fire company showed up to assess the gasoline. It took multiple calls to get the fire company to show up, meanwhile my car dumped an entire tank of gas on the ground and I sat there on the road for a good two hours. Ultimately the company gave me 2 free years of the service and retrained their staff.
    Full Time Finance recently posted…Why You Should Always Promote Your BrandMy Profile

    • I definitely agree with you with Full Time Finance that this could definitely be abused.

      I sent a courteous email with details of our experience and why it was unsatisfactory.

      They quickly wrote back expressing their displeasure with our experience and planned to overnight us a check with a full refund.

      It definitely restored our faith in the company.

      Thanks for sharing your experience!!!

  4. Wow very interesting stories! I’ve never done this before, but I will sure try next time I get bad customer service.

    I really hate the bad airline customer service. One time I was in Philly with a layover to Toronto late at night. The flight was delayed overnight and they didn’t even bother to hand out hotel coupons. Anyways, made the flight first thing next morning and emailed customer service when I got back home.

    It took much longer than I would have liked, but they ended up giving me a $200 voucher. Not sure if it was worth all the trouble at the airport, but at least I got something out of it haha. Now I wonder what would have happened if I emailed the CEO!
    Andrew recently posted…A Few Ideas To Invest In Sports MemorabiliaMy Profile

    • I probably should have let my friend write his experience and still may prod him to do so.

      He would have demanded an elite status upgrade and made sure that he was compensated for the lost time.

      He is an executive that usually gets his way 🙂

    • I was shocked that it actually worked to be honest with you. I figured that the CEO would have some sort of filters on his email so that they could stay insulated. But you are definitely right the squeaky wheel definitely gets the grease.

    • Unfortunately we had explored both of those avenues to no avail. So while a bit scary escalating the issue it was refreshing to hear that the CEO cared enough to send a personalized letter back.

      Here’s hoping that I never have to do this again.

  5. This was a really interesting read, thank you for sharing. I haven’t mailed any CEO yet, but as I was reading stories about Amazon affiliate sites, I read a story that one of these site owners has e-mailed Jeff Bezos when his account was blocked because of breaching some small letter policy (keeping quite a few thousand dollars unpaid). Eventually he got a reply from the CEO Office informing him that he can use his account again and get the money as well.
    Sounds like a great way to deal with things when nothing else works.
    Roadrunner recently posted…Building an Amazon Affiliate SiteMy Profile

    • I definitely agree that it’s a nice tool to use if all else fails. I would like to give the person that I’m dealing with the opportunity to resolve the issue before I raise the issue.

  6. I just got rid of a Property Manager for one of our properties, because of unethical and negligent behavior. I recently added up what his negligence cost us and asked for a settlement. I told him that if we don’t get a resolution, I will submit a formal complaint to all of the local professional organizations, and also the City and State regulators. Since he is the CEO, I have to go above that. I’m still waiting for his response, and I would prefer to settle, but we’ll see!
    Primal Prosperity recently posted…The Price of Everything and The Value of NothingMy Profile

    • Wow that’s really unfortunate that you had such a bad experience. It’s always unfortunate when experiences like this occur. Here’s hoping that he will come to his senses and fairly deal with you.

      Thanks for sharing!!!

  7. It’s definitely true that this works, without a doubt. I have no issue with it either, assuming you have received poor service. In fact, I wish I had the courage to stand up to companies when I have received poor service, unfortunately I’m the kind of person to keep my mouth shut in the moment and complain to everyone else afterwards.

    That being said, many people do take advantage of these things. They contact customer service and even higher ups with minor grievances, even completely fake grievances at times, with the expectation of receiving free things. Annoyingly, it probably works.
    Money Miser @ Money-Miser.com recently posted…How You Can Retire Before Someone Earning More Than YouMy Profile

    • That’s unfortunate that people would lie about poor customer service in order to make gains for themselves. I’m a big believer in what goes around comes around.

      I am/was definitely like you. I would complain about things afterwards but had a hard time standing up for myself in the moment. Having a wife that is more assertive definitely helps and since this is the first time that I’ve emailed a CEO in 35 years, I hope it’s the last 🙂

      Thanks for sharing!!!

    • I know when I was trying to find the CEO’s email that it took me six tries before I found the right combo that got delivered to him.

      So while not readily available with enough digging and playing around it’s possible to get into contact 🙂

  8. I have never emailed or contacted a CEO about poor customer service, but I can understand how it could lead to a resolution. Everything’s about customer service nowadays. Bad customer service is bad for business. Thanks for sharing your stories! At least I’ll some strategies in my back pocket should the need arise.
    SomeRandomGuyOnline recently posted…Poopy Diapers Everywhere!My Profile

    • I always try to resolve it at the manager level if possible but it’s definitely nice knowing that it’s available to escalate if need be.

      Thanks for stopping by and sharing!!!

  9. Perhaps I’m being a bit apathetic, but I don’t think I would ever take the time to raise an issue up to the CEO. If I didn’t get a proper resolution after speaking with the local manager, then I just kindly let them know that I will no longer support their business, I’ll advise my friends to avoid them, and I’ll be posting a negative review on all applicable review websites (e.g. Yelp, Angie’s List, etc.).
    Mr. Need2Save recently posted…Time For Reflection; 2016 ReviewMy Profile

    • I use to do the same thing that you do. The only thing that concerns me with online reviews is potentially getting sued be an overly litigious company. I read about too many of those in the local newspaper so I am a bit shy to share my opinions in writing, which is unfortunate.

      Thanks for sharing your perspective!!!

  10. Don’t worry too much about needing to escalate -the CEO isn’t responding to complaints directly (unless it’s a very small company). Typically these complaints are routed by the CEO’s admin to a special service department that has powers unlike the usual customer service representative. It’s still a very effective method of complaining because that team has the power and knowledge to actually resolve your issue. The team may also handle complaints from the companies regulator (if applicable). If you can’t find an e-mail, mailing a certified letter to the CEO -whose name and corporate address can be found on their investor relations page-has the same impact. If it’s a financial complaint you can contact the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (which I have done), which usually has the same kind of impact as contacting the CEO. Companies rarely mess around with their regulator.
    Liz@ChiefMomOfficer recently posted…Restricted Stock – Sell as Vested or Keep?My Profile

    • Thanks for the awesome tips Liz!!! I definitely wasn’t aware that there were special departments that handled those type of complaints.

      I am now much better informed 🙂

  11. Very interesting way to ensure that your concerns are being addressed appropriately. I had a few run in with bad customer service, but had not gone this far to get the issue resolved. I will keep this trick in my back pocket. Thanks for sharing. Hopefully, you at least end up with a couple of pics that you liked.

    – Leo

    • Glad it was a helpful tip 🙂

      My wife is pretty disappointed with the overall experience. I was ok with some of the pics but I clearly don’t see the same things that she does 🙂

  12. Oh wow! I’ve never escalated anything directly to a CEO before, but desperate times call for desperate measures, eh? I do think it’s important not to stand for poor service or plain bad business.

    There have been a few times where I haven’t gotten resolution whatsoever, but I vote with my money. I simply choose not to give those people my money any more. It’s not the most obvious F-U, but I guess that’s also a good punishment for bad service.
    Mrs. Picky Pincher recently posted…8 Frugal Snacks for Picky PeopleMy Profile

    • Thanks for sharing Mrs. Picky Pincher!!! I am like you in that I normally vote with my wallet but this time I really felt I needed to escalate and I’m definitely glad that I did 🙂

  13. I’m like your friend and have contacted CEOs (or at least the CEO’s office) several times. The last time was just this month when our internet was out due to a screw up on the part of the tech people. I made nearly a dozen phone calls to people at regular levels who assured me the problem would be resolved, but it never was. I even called the local office here on Thursday (the internet had been out since Sunday) and they said that there was “no way” they could get a tech out until the following Tuesday. After a call to the CEO’s office they had a tech out within two hours and we had our internet back. I’m a firm believer in “be polite, but stand strong for your rights as a customer.” You did the right thing, MSM.
    Laurie @thefrugalfarmer recently posted…Awesome Last Minute Christmas GiftsMy Profile

    • Thanks for sharing Laurie. Sounds like you gave the local office every opportunity to resolve the issue before you needed to escalate the issue. Glad to hear it was resolved!!!

  14. My swim coach used to do this with snail mail. I won’t say he abused the system but he was very demanding as a coach & person. If he purchased something, he expected it to be in perfect condition. If it wasn’t, he tried to handle the situation at the retail store he purchased the item. If that didn’t work, he wrote the CEO of the company. Back then, they even had a publication that listed the names and mailing addresses of the CEOs of Fortune 1000 (this was pre-internet). He would frequently get a replacement item or some voucher/coupon. Sometimes, if he needed to buy two of something, he would buy one, look for a defect & complain to the CEO with the expectation of getting a replacement. If successful, he had his pair. If unsuccessful, he would buy the 2nd item to make a pair. He didn’t write the CEO from a sense of outrage but more from a probability standpoint. He knew that he had 50% chance (or whatever probability) of receiving something for his complaint. He was scrupulous though. If he couldn’t find a defect, he would not make something up. It’s just that he was so demanding that he wouldn’t accept the smallest defect and hence most items were “complainable.”

    I also know that when you contact your senator or congressman, the staffers give more attention to snail mail than email. Email is easily duplicated and easily sent. Snail mail requires time to print the letter and address the envelope. It requires time & money to stamp the envelope. As a result, they believe snail mail is more “legitimate.” I would think large corporations are the same way. Even more so if you send it certified mail.

    • Thanks for sharing Dan. I had no idea that congressional staffers took snail mail more seriously. But it does make a lot of sense.

      That’s a really interesting story about your swim coach. Sounds like he was a piece of work.

      How was your experience training underneath him?

      • My swim coach was something to behold. He operated under the belief that people don’t know what they can accomplish unless someone is pushing them. If you push someone long enough, they no longer need to be pushed because they will begin to push themselves or rebel (i.e. quit). By today’s standards, he would be charged with child abuse or fired with cause due to parents’ complaints. He would routinely scream in your face and it was like something out of Full Metal Jacket. Embarrassment & if needed, corporal punishment were his major tools of motivation.

        I remember there were some girls on the team that I thought looked fine. He told them they were “too damn fat!” He ordered them to lose weight. After they didn’t respond to that, he decided to bring a bathroom scale to the pool. At the end of practice, he called the team together and made us watch as he weighed each of the girls and announced their weight. Then he wrote down the weights & posted them on the bulletin board for everyone to see.

        He preferred if you quit because then it left more time for him to focus on the dedicated swimmers. With that said, somehow you grew to love the guy. By sticking around, you gained his respect which was very hard-earned & important. I’m not sure if his schtick would play at college level but if he could get you by age 10 or so and you stuck it out, you would run into a burning building if he said to. By the time you were in high school, you felt you had gone to war with your teammates who stuck it out with you. Like combat veterans, you had stories to share.

        • Wow I definitely can’t see that being acceptable today with cell phones and parents more aware these days.

          Sounds like you were able to push through and have lots of stories to share about your swimming career.

          Thanks for sharing your perspective!!!

  15. I always email customer service to see if I can get a refund whenever I do not get the services/products or quality I am offered! Works almost all of the time, and when it does it’s always worth it! It doesn’t hurt to try. Currently, I am waiting for a $10 refund on my uber because it told me it would be between $6-8 and ended up being $17. So no matter how small the amount, I always try.
    I love the approach of going straight to the CEO. I never would have thought of that! I’m going to try that next time 😉

    Thanks for another great post!

    • Thanks for sharing Finance Spa!!! I would have never learned the CEO trick unless it was for my friend. It never occurred to me to go straight to the top but I’m glad that I did.

    • Thanks for sharing Josh!!! I am definitely not nearly as tough as my wife is when it comes to negotiations with customer service. She can negotiate with a smile and not take it personally while I’m not nearly as refined as she is 🙂

      So with that said I let her handle the negotiations when it comes to cable/internet.

      Thanks for sharing!!!

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