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Kids and Money: Customer service problems your kids can handle

When it comes to resolving customer service problems, I try to be a good role model for my kids even though complaining is not my favorite thing. I’m no doormat, but I’m not one to pound on the checkout counter either and demand satisfaction.

So, I was more than happy to step aside recently when my youngest son volunteered to return a pizza we had ordered from a restaurant because the crust seemed less than fresh.

Upon returning to the pizza place, I stood to the side and let him do the talking.

First, rather than complaining to the clerk at the cash register, he asked to speak to the manager. Good move, since the boss would have the authority to fix the problem on the spot.

He then showed the manager Exhibit A — the pizza — and handed over our receipt. Good move No. 2, documentation.

Without hesitating, the manager agreed there was a problem, and apologized for the mistake and inconvenience of making an extra trip to the restaurant. She then issued a refund — for the entire four-pizza order, thank you very much. Good move No. 3, both for the manager’s generous gesture and on my son’s acknowledgement of it.

Since raising money-smart kids is a subject that’s near and dear, I share this family anecdote for a reason. Parents spend a lot of time talking to their kids about spending money wisely, budgeting and saving for the future.

But, I bet very little is mentioned about how to stand up for yourself, negotiate with the person behind the cash register and resolve a problem — whether it’s a bad meal, a bug in an electronic game system, or a problem with an oil change.

A little bit assertiveness training will help kids develop their financial muscles and become better consumers. Here are some examples on how to do it.

––To be sure, part of becoming a good consumer involves spending money. Better yet, the more stuff your kids purchase with their own money, the more skin they’ll have in the game when something goes wrong. To boost kids’ consumer skills, check out, a website created by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission.

––Rather than leave the kids in the car while you return the toy with the defective part, let them tag along and ask for the exchange or refund. Your role is to provide moral support and some coaching.

––The next time the cable service blacks out or the picture becomes scrambled beyond recognition, hand the phone to your teen and let him or her navigate through the company’s calling tree. And then, about the time your high schooler wants to hand you the phone to do the explaining and complaining and requesting a service credit, resist the tendency to take over.

––Since car repairs and general maintenance can take a big chunk out of the family budget, isn’t it in the best interest of young drivers to get comfortable talking to the mechanics and body shop experts when problems arise? Learning the car talk may eliminate some big surprise repair bills down the road.

Sure, pitting a teen against an adult on a customer service issue can be intimidating. And certainly there are bound to be some bad experiences. But inaction can have negative consequences, too.



Steve Rosen is assistant business editor at The Kansas City Star. To reach him, call 816-234-4879 or send email to


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