Flattery Project: I thanked 42 companies, see what they sent me!

Companies take complaints very seriously.

Years ago, when I still drank Diet Coke, I opened up a can that tasted funny. It tasted closer to seltzer than Diet Coke, so I called the customer complaint line on the back. After a brief conversation, where I read them some information off the can, they sent me this glossy coupon for a free 12-pack of Diet Coke cans. Score! One bad can = 12 good ones!

Fast forward a few years, just as in-flight Wi-fi was just becoming popular, I emailed a complaint to Southwest about how their in-flight Wi-fi didn’t work. I didn’t throw a fit, I just sent a polite email to their customer service about how the wi-fi probably wasn’t ready for prime time yet. I was looking for a refund of the access fee, but they did one better… well, a hundred better. They sent me a $100 credit voucher!

I’m not sharing some secrets when I say that complaining about bad service will get you something. We all know that complaining works.

But you should only complain if something bad happens.

What if a company is so great so often that you never have any reason to complain?

The old saying, after all, is “flattery will get you everywhere,” not “complaining will get you everything.” 🙂

What if I just started complimenting every company I liked to see what it would get me?

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Table of Contents
  1. The Flattery Project
  2. What did we get back?
  3. Best Swag: Nespresso
  4. Most Thoughtful Response: Republic of Tea
  5. Summary

The Flattery Project

All good projects have a name, ours is The Flattery Project. I identified about forty companies whose products I enjoyed (or someone in our family enjoyed) and emailed their customer service a compliment. I sent each company roughly the same template email:

Hi,

I wanted to say that I’m a huge fan of your company.

I’ve been a long time buyer of [product, service] and can’t imagine buying anything else. I know a lot of folks probably email to complain and it can be tough responding to those, so I thought I’d add a little sunshine. 🙂

You’re doing great work, it’s appreciated in our house, and I wanted to say thanks.

I don’t know if you have any samples or coupons you could send my way but I’d be most appreciative to try more of your products.

Thank you and have a great day!
Jim

I made some edits to the email from place to place. I didn’t ask for samples from restaurants, for example, but for the most part, I kept to that same template.

The companies we contacted:

  1. Barilla
  2. Burt’s Bees
  3. Celestial Seasonings
  4. Chapstick
  5. Chicken of the Sea
  6. Chick-fil-A (see our best Chick-fil-A hacks!)
  7. Chipotle
  8. Chobani
  9. Clorox
  10. Coca-Cola
  11. Colgate Palmolive
  12. Dunkin’ Donuts
  13. Einstein Bros. Bagels
  14. Energizer
  15. Famous Dave’s
  16. Folgers
  17. Frito-Lay
  18. General Mills
  19. Gillette
  20. Hormel
  21. Jamba Juice
  22. Jimmy John’s
  23. Kimberly Clark (Huggies)
  24. Kraft
  25. Nespresso
  26. Nestle
  27. Noodles & Company
  28. Papa John’s Pizza
  29. Pepsi
  30. Purell Hand Sanitizer
  31. Powerbar
  32. Proctor & Gamble (Pampers)
  33. Red Robin
  34. Republic of Tea
  35. Sanford Uniball Pens – I had to shorten the message because their form limits the number of characters.
  36. SC Johnson
  37. Smuckers
  38. Stacy’s Pita Chips
  39. Stash
  40. Tom’s of Maine (Toothpaste)
  41. Wendy’s
  42. Wrigleys

What did we get back?

In the process, I learned a lot of brands are owned by the same major conglomerates. Some major conglomerates were more generous than others. Every PepsiCo brand sent us something. Some companies never replied – which was very surprising.

But here’s the full list of what we got back: (green means they sent something)

  1. Barilla– The first email back explained they had coupons, as in coupons existed but we weren’t sending you any. Then I asked where I could find these fabled coupons… to which they responded: “Often times we do offer coupons on our website as well as occasionally in the Sunday paper. You will be receiving a brochure packet containing coupons in the mail in the coming weeks.” Hey! I’m getting coupons! Unfortunately it was mostly brochure… with one $1 off coupon for two boxes of BARILLA ProteinPLUS, Whole Grain, Veggie, White Fiber or GF Pasta. Also included, info on their Wasa crackers and a $1 coupon for that.
  2. Burt’s Bees – a $1 off $10 purchase coupon
  3. Celestial Seasonings – No response 🙁
  4. Chapstick – “Unfortunately the online store does not have any samples or coupons.”
  5. Cheerios – “It is our policy not to provide coupons upon request.” BOOOO
  6. Chicken of the Sea – A polite thank you response the next day along with a promise of coupons in the mail and a reminder of their loyalty email newsletter. Three coupons arrived the next week for FREE Chicken of the Sea products, maximum value of $3.
  7. Chick-fil-A – “Because each Chick-fil-A restaurant is independently operated, it is up to the Chick-fil-A Operator’s discretion as to how much and when he or she distributes coupons in their area. You may check with your local Chick-fil-A Restaurant and speak to the Operator or Manager to determine if they have elected to distribute coupons.”
  8. Chipotle – “We love our fans, and we truly appreciate your support. We’ve always got something cooking up on our social media; please follow the links below to stay in the loop with all of our delicious promotions.”
  9. Chobani – “Thanks for reaching out to us! We just love hearing from our fans and we’d be happy to send along money-saving coupons for our delicious, creamy Chobani® Greek Yogurt products! You can expect them to arrive in just a few short days. P.S. Feel free to contact us every 30 days for coupons for your family.” — YEAH!
  10. Clorox – “At this time we do not have coupons/samples available to send, but periodically, we offer cents-off or free coupons for products on our website.”
  11. Coca-Cola – No coupons or samples available. I should check my local newspaper or supermarket flyers for coupons and specials. 🙂
  12. Colgate – Hill’s — They sent me Hill’s contact info but I didn’t follow up.
  13. Dunkin’ Donuts – A polite “thank you for being a customer” email, no coupons though.
  14. Einstein Bros. Bagels – No response 🙁
  15. Energizer – “At this time, we do not have any coupons to send. However, we would be happy to put you on our mailing list for future promotions.” 🙁
  16. Famous Dave’s – A polite thank you response appeared within minutes, but nothing else.
  17. Folgers – No response 🙁
  18. Frito-Lay (a PepsiCo brand) – Sent $1 off any one Fri-lay product priced $1 or greater and two 55 cent off coupons on any Fri-Lay product priced 55 cents or greater.
  19. General Mills – No response 🙁
  20. Gillette – No samples, no coupons.
  21. Hormel – I emailed them about Applegate, their organic line, and they told me that they don’t have coupons available by mail and that I should email Applegate directly. When I emailed them, they told us to check their website for coupons. (which you can get if you sign up to their email list)
  22. Jamba Juice – “There is nothing more rewarding in our business than to be recognized for a job well done; however, at this time we do not have any free promotional items available to send you.”
  23. Jimmy John’s – They will pass my compliments off to the store.
  24. Kimberly Clark (Huggies) – “In answer to your inquiry, we do not have a program for sending product samples or coupons on request.” but you can sign up to their email list to get coupons from time to time.
  25. Kraft – No response 🙁
  26. Nespressosee below
  27. Nestle – No samples but they did send me a 50c off printable coupon and this little nugget of information – “Due to the overwhelming demand for coupons we are only able to fulfill one request every six months.” So you could email them every six months for a fifty cent coupon. 🙂
  28. Noodles & Company – No samples or coupons, just an invitation to their EClub (which we’re already a part of an periodically does include coupons).
  29. Papa John’s Pizza – “Thank you for your compliments! We are constantly striving to improve our services whether it is in the store, online or our product quality that you have come to love. We are very pleased to hear that you are enjoying it! We have forwarded your notes to the appropriate department and thank you for your feedback. Please feel free to call us at the number below if you need any assistance while ordering online in the future. Thanks again and have a good day!” — to be fair, there are 25% and 50% off coupons online all. the. time.
  30. Pepsi – Two coupons for One Free 6 or 8 Pack (bottles or cans of any flavor Pepsi-Cola product)!
  31. Pfizer (Purell Hand Sanitizer) – Coupons! Two $1 off coupons for 2-8 fl. oz or larger OR 35ct wipes or larger.
  32. Powerbar (Premier Nutrition) – Two coupons for a FREE PowerBar Product (up to $2.99)
  33. Proctor & Gamble (Pampers) – They don’t normally send out coupons but they do have a $3 off Pampers diapers and $2 off Pampers wipes coupon they could send. Also included was a $1 off Ultra Mega Roll Pack of Charmin.
  34. Red Robin – No response 🙁
  35. Republic of Tea – “Thank you for your email and kind comments. We appreciate that you are a Citizen of our great Republic. I would be happy to mail you some samples.” — seems pretty middle of the road, but the card we got was very thoughtful.
  36. Sanford Uniball Pens – I had to shorten the message because their form limits the number of characters but they “do not offer samples or coupons at this time.” 🙁
  37. SC Johnson (Ziploc) – In thanks for your loyalty, while we don’t have samples available, a booklet of savings is on its way to the address you provided. It features coupons for a variety of SC Johnson products. Please watch for it in about two weeks. A few days later a large coupon book with coupons for all types of SC Johnson products arrived.
  38. Smuckers – “Unfortunately, we currently do not have coupons available for distribution nor do we maintain a coupon mailing list. However, we occasionally run coupon offers in Redplum® coupon inserts found either in your newspaper or mailbox, on Coupons.com and Redplum.com, and at your local grocery stores.”
  39. Stacy’s Pita Chips – A polite reply but nothing. 🙁
  40. Stash – I got an email in an hour where they asked for my address to send some coupons! A couple days later, two (2) 50 cent off coupons for any box of tea (18, 20ct)
  41. Tom’s of Maine (Toothpaste) – Samples! They sent a 0.9oz beauty bar (Daily Moisture with olive oil & vitamin E!) and a 0.48oz of men’s deodorant.
  42. Wendy’s – No response yet.
  43. Wrigleys – No response 🙁

Best Swag: Nespresso

There was one standout response… and I wasn’t surprised. Nespresso sells single-serving espresso machines, a higher end Keurig (I talk about it in my Upgrade & Save Strategy post).

I enjoy the espressos and decided I’d depart from the template and sent them this email:

Hi Nespressoans, I just wanted to write you a message thanking you for such a great product. I was first introduced to one of your brewers while staying at a very nice hotel in Manhattan. When we returned home, my wife gave me one of your machines as a gift and I haven’t looked back. We love the high-quality coffee it produces and just wanted to say thank you. Cheers, Jim

To which they replied with something polite… but I thought I might push the envelope…

Hi [name of representative], Thank you for the quick reply to my email, I was wondering if you guys had any Nespresso swag so I can show off my love of your product? 🙂 Jim

I am glad to hear you love Nespresso. I understand you would like to know if we can offer you any items to show off to your friends.

We usually do not provide free gifts. However, as a one-time courtesy, I will send you a gift at no charge.

They sent a pair of Cappuccino Cups and saucers. They’re pretty wonderful and I use them all the time. 🙂

Most Thoughtful Response: Republic of Tea

A thoughtful card from Todd B. Rubin, plus a bag of Orange Blossom & Get Active tea
A thoughtful card from Todd B. Rubin, plus a bag of Orange Blossom & Get Active tea

Republic of Tea, sent me two tea bags but a handwritten card from from Todd B. Rubin, who is the current President of The Republic Tea and the son of Ron Rubin, who acquired The Republic of Tea back in 1994. They’re known for having non-traditional titles (his business card listed his title as Minister of Evolution) but it’s one thing to have quirky names that imply you care about your customers… and actually caring.

I sent in an email that, truthfully, told them how much I loved their products. I like that their bags are unbleached, don’t have staples and tags, and a lot of other “innovations” that make their product that much better. Mostly… I sometimes forget I have a mug of tea that I left there with the bag (I know, steeped it too long!) but I still want to microwave it. 🙂

Summary

All in all, it was a fun little experiment and a little peek into the customer service workings of a few companies.

If you want to do this to get free stuff, you can. Coupons are plentiful. Samples too sometimes. In terms of ROI on your time, it’s probably not worth it…

… but sometimes it’s nice just to say thank you to the companies that make the products you love. 🙂

My next “fun” idea (not really personal finance related) might be to email startups for nice soft t-shirts, that’s all I wear these days. Everyone at my gym, my kids’ daycare, and everywhere else I go know about a whole host of financial companies because of me (and Fincon!)! I don’t know when I’ll do this but wish me luck! 🙂

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About Jim Wang

Jim Wang is a thirty-something father of four who is a frequent contributor to Forbes and Vanguard's Blog. He has also been fortunate to have appeared in the New York Times, Baltimore Sun, Entrepreneur, and Marketplace Money.

Jim has a B.S. in Computer Science and Economics from Carnegie Mellon University, an M.S. in Information Technology - Software Engineering from Carnegie Mellon University, as well as a Masters in Business Administration from Johns Hopkins University. His approach to personal finance is that of an engineer, breaking down complex subjects into bite-sized easily understood concepts that you can use in your daily life.

One of his favorite tools (here's my treasure chest of tools,, everything I use) is Personal Capital, which enables him to manage his finances in just 15-minutes each month. They also offer financial planning, such as a Retirement Planning Tool that can tell you if you're on track to retire when you want. It's free.

He is also diversifying his investment portfolio by adding a little bit of real estate. But not rental homes, because he doesn't want a second job, it's diversified small investments in a few commercial properties and farms in Illinois, Louisiana, and California through AcreTrader.

Recently, he's invested in a few pieces of art on Masterworks too.

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Comments

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These responses are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

  1. Shawn says

    FYI, as a person who works for these companies that this form letter is being sent to, I want to give you all a tip. When we see email requests for coupons that are clearly form letters, like the above one, it drastically reduces the chances that we will send you something. If you want a coupon, write your own reason why and make it personal, it will increase the chances you might get something.

    • Jim Wang says

      Thanks for the great tip Shawn, I agree 100% – I meant my letter as a guide and not something to spam you guys with. 🙂

      • Penny says

        I did the same thing with several food companies in australia, but each email was me personally thanking them for a specific product I liked as well as asking about future products or noting issues I might have noticed, also letting them know I was a fan.

        every time I got sweet loot, and I can tell you I would now buy foods from those companies over others. form letters are no way to get anything. do it from the heart, trust me.

        Loot I got from Mars foods was a stand out. thier whole range of simmer sauces, multiple 90second microwave rice packs as well as several large jars of spices. estimated value… $40. = Result, loyal customer. 😛

  2. Kat says

    I sent emails to several companies and got some pretty cool replies. I got free tea samples from Celestial Seasonings, a pack of $1.00 coupons from Udi’s Bread and A sample pack and coupons from Emergen-C. It’s fun to try to see what companies will send.

  3. HoBoFoSho says

    I would be interested to see what the difference in response would be if you generated fictitious complaints about each of those same companies, maybe try to mention how their competitors have never given you these problems and send them in to all the same email addresses. In my opinion, you recieved nothing worthwhile as a gift for your positive notes. Especially when compared to the free 12pack and $100 credit.
    I’ve been paying a lot more attention to how people react to things and what the common tendencies are. It seems to me that negativity dominates our society. We seem to crave it, dwell on it, hope for it and if it’s left up in the air for someone to make an assumption, people will almost always assume it’s negative. For example, text messages. Has anyone ever misread the time of a text in a more positive tone than intended? I have never seen it.
    There’s no urgency to prevent your positive opinion of any company from spreading to your friends and neighbors so you recieved the bare minimum acknowledgement for your praise. I’m betting the complaints would have you flooded with free merch and services to shut you up. This would prove that one of the influences we have nudging us to the dark side is that we are consistently rewarded for our negativity. Your thoughts?

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