|Really, the English should be champion complainers. We do it all time. Workmen are always lazy, rude, inefficient…and that’s in England. Over here we’re even crosser. I’ve heard English people complaining about how many foreign people live here! But if we are a nation of whingers, why aren’t we any good at it?|
I like to think I am. I am the proud recipient of a flight upgrade from BA, and an apology from Telefonica. Perhaps it’s because I know how it works on the other side of the desk. A few years ago the company I worked for decided every department needed a complaints “handler”. As I was on holiday at the time my department chose me. That’s the thing about complaints - nobody wanted to look after them. Would you?
Of course not! Complainers are horrible! They have a go at you about the failures of other people, departments, companies, the law or the weather. They’re unclear and unreasonable. And the abuse! You’d pick up the phone to hear an incoherent stream of personal insults. Shortly after 9/11 I had someone screaming down the phone that he’d like to fly a plane into the building I worked in. No wonder no one wanted to help him!
So what do you do if you have a complaint? Before you march up to them with a custard pie in each hand, here are some tips -
1. Be polite
You might be furious but yelling won’t help. The more serious the complaint, the more icily polite you should be. Save the swearing for shouting at the TV. Calm down, keep your head, and keep them talking.
2. Know your facts
A vague complaint - “I think I bought these here um…a while ago, and the girl…I think…said they were, well, they should be, machine washable” - sounds as if you are trying your luck. If it’s worth complaining about, it’s worth remembering details. Try keeping notes of what happened and when.
3. Know what you want
Why are you complaining? What do you want them to do? It’s worth working this out before you start. Be as specific as possible. Reimbursement? Compensation? What kind of compensation? Remember lots of firms are happier offering goods or services than cash. Try to be reasonable, it will strengthen your case. And always ask for an apology – after all, they owe you one.
4. Be persistent
The dog that won’t let go gets the bone. Give yourself regular dates to harass them on. If promises are made always ask “When” – and if it doesn’t happen go straight back.
5. Be consistent
Your complaints should be all up-front from the start and the story behind them shouldn’t change. If people solve each problem only to find a new one they will stop taking you seriously.
6. Get names, go up the chain
It always helps if you can identify who has said what. Go up the chain of command step by step. Don’t go straight to the boss – he or she may know nothing about your situation. But do work up from the people you first dealt with – until you get satisfaction.
7. Talk, telephone, type and email
Some people – let’s call them ‘men’ – hate using the telephone. Some people love it. I love email because it gives you a record of who said what when. But since you don’t know which medium – phone, face to face, email, letter or fax - your problem people prefer, why not try them all?
8. Threats and third parties
I’m not keen on threats but if you get stonewalled think third parties. Who could back you up? Ombudsmen? Trade bodies? Journalists? Even, last line of attack, lawyers. Let them know who you’re talking too – then they can’t say they weren’t warned.
9. Thanks do wonders.
When someone gets it right, let them know it. If you thank the people who do help, they will want to carry on until the problem is solved. Besides, it’s nice to be nice, even for complainers!
10. Keep your sense of humour
This is all about not taking a complaint about a frayed shirt or cold meal to the European Court of Human Rights. The worst meal I was ever served was also the funniest, and makes a great story. It’s not always funny at the time, but sometimes complaints just won’t make a difference. In that case, if we can laugh at our misfortunes – well, that’s some compensation isn’t it?