When and how you should complain

Travel and leisure companies make up a large component of the service sector. This summer, you are bound to come into regular contact with service providers of all forms, and some things may go wrong. When you’ve paid good money and received rotten service, it’s enough to make your blood boil. Is complaining the answer?

Let me just start by saying that this is literally the only context in which I would ever encourage anyone to complain (general complaining about one’s lot in life just ain’t my style!). I wholehearted believe in the consumer’s power and getting value for money. If you’ve paid for something that fails to deliver on its promises, then it’s only fair that you bring that to the service provider’s attention. And if that provider is in any way business savvy, they’ll know that in an environment of ever-growing competition, your dissatisfaction should not be ignored and in fact provides invaluable insight into how to better their business.

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Why Many Hesitate To Complain

Societal norms play a big role in our perception of acceptable behaviour. In some cultures, complaining is frowned upon and a ‘grin and bear it’ attitude is esteemed. For some, a person who complains is ill-mannered, disagreeable or even entitled. We may be tempted in certain contexts to feel that even though we are the customer and are paying for a service, the service provider is, in essence, doing us a favour and to provide negative feedback even when undeniably warranted, is being ungrateful. If you’re inclined to feel that way, it’s time to face up to the fact that, it is at the very least an equitable exchange – you’ve given up your hard earned money in order to have a product or service meet your expectations. If that doesn’t happen, you owe it to yourself, future customers and the business itself to complain.

For others, the choice not to complain, despite being sorely disappointed, gravely inconvenienced or out of pocket, stems from the fear of the complaints process being hard, long-winded and leading to uncertain results. If you’re in this camp, take heart! Companies these days know the advantages of making complaining easy for their customers.  So go on, give them the benefit of the doubt that they care about you as a customer and they want to make things right.

Another kind of consumer that doesn’t warm to the idea of complaining is the one that doesn’t want to rock the boat. Perhaps you’re out with your family or friends, or even better, on holiday with them.  Something’s gone wrong but you feel complaining is just going to spoil the experience for everyone and you’d rather not create a scene. Ok, I totally get this one. But, chances are if the situation is serious enough to even have the idea of complaining come up into your head, the experience for you or your companions has already been tarnished, and by complaining, you’re actually giving the service provider the opportunity to straighten things out so you can carry on enjoying your experience without having that bad thing overshadow your overall time.

The Tricky Part

Is it always appropriate to complain? The answer is no, and like in many other everyday situations, you have to pick your battles wisely. Before complaining, ask yourself if it is a minor thing that, in context, really had very minimal impact on the overall service you experienced or the function of a product purchased. So, for instance, if you’re dining in a restaurant, you may choose to overlook your cocktail being a bit too sweet for your liking. However, if the food arrives and the meat is under-cooked and inedible, that’s a more compelling reason to complain.

In some situations, it may be wise to not complain straight away, in the heat of the moment. Allowing time to pass may allow you the time needed to contemplate if the situation really warrants complaint and gives you the chance to calm down so you can communicate with the service provider in a clear, effective and dignified manner.

Things To Bear In Mind When Complaining

Have clearly in mind the objective of your complaint. Are you just hoping to vent? Are you looking for a verbal apology? Do you want a refund? Are you seeking remedial action by means of compensation or replacement of an item?

Be reasonable: If you are seeking compensation, be reasonable in your demands. The company will not take you seriously if you have grand expectations from them that far exceed the value of your original purchase.

Show respect: Remember that in many cases, the person who you’re dealing with about a complaint is likely not to be the same person who has given you poor service. Therefore, you have even more reason to be as calm as possible in answering their questions and in giving an explanation, while showing them respect.

Use the designated channel: Find out the procedure the company has in place for complaints. Most sizeable companies have a designated way in which they want their customers to provide feedback. If there is one, use it. In doing so, your complaint is most likely to go to the team best trained to handle and resolve problems, which will give you a more speedy and satisfactory resolution.

Go higher up: If you’ve followed the prescribed procedure, and your complaint is either ignored, or is not being handled correctly, escalate it. Don’t allow the first person you are dealing with to put you off, if you feel you have legitimate cause for complaint. Ask to speak with their manager for starters. If that doesn’t get you anywhere, go to Senior Management- Director level if needed. Thankfully, the digital age has made the contact details for these persons relatively accessible; use them as last resort.

Social media is your friend: Companies are increasingly using social media to engage with their customers. They understand too, that customers are going to use these channels as a quick and easy way to contact them about problems. Arguably, the most valuable thing brands have is reputation, and they will be quick to pay heed to anything that threatens to tarnish it.

Give them a chance to put things right: Most companies realise just how important rectifying service failures is, and are passionate about creating happy, loyal customers. Before berating them publicly and letting all your social media contacts know just how rubbish you feel the company is, allow a little time for the company to take matters into hand and to figure out how best to resolve the issue with you.

Why Complaints Are Good For Businesses

Businesses want to be profitable and to have repeat customers. With this in mind, feedback, both positive and negative, provides crucial insight into the deep, dark jungle of their customers’ minds. Negative feedback is fundamental in understanding what’s gone wrong, how they’re not living up to customers’ expectations and how they can improve.

A company’s’ worst nightmare is having a disgruntled customer silently walk away from their establishment, with the resolve never to return and to let everyone they meet know why. Losing this customer, and potentially many more, over a problem that might have been very easy for them to resolve is exactly what organisations don’t want. Armed with the knowledge of a situation gone wrong, they can look into any breakdown in set procedures or provide training to staff to help them deliver high service standards. These are all opportunities for the company, ones from which they can benefit greatly.

To make all the above seem less arbitrary, I’ll tell you about a recent experience in which I had a bad service experience and decided to complain. I bought some shoes from a popular online shoe retailer. In summary, three weeks down the line, due to very flawed communication by the delivery personnel, I still hadn’t received my order. In the meantime, I spent a lot of time calling both the retailer and the delivery company to chase up the matter. During that time, promised call backs from a supervisor never happened. At that point, as it was not readily available, I enquired how I could escalate the matter into a formal complaint. The manager who called me to deal with my complaint was absolutely delightful- she didn’t try to invalidate my reason for complaint and expressed her happiness that she had the chance to fix things for me, even though by then, I had gotten my shoes. She went above and beyond in apologising, and offering compensation for the failure. The result? I am pleased as can be – to me, that manager’s manner and actions totally overturned all the frustration of the previous weeks, and you know what? I might just be using them again in future, which I promised myself I would not do, had the complaint not been dealt with to my satisfaction. So win-win: they’ve got a happy, soon-to-be return customer, I’ve got lovely shoes for a fraction of the original purchase price.

So, what I’m trying to drive home to you, dear reader, is this: don’t think you’re doing a business a disservice when you complain. To the contrary, you’re helping to drive improvement within their organisation which will only help them in achieving one of their overarching aims: making money.

Have you had a situation where you hesitated to complain, but now wish you did? Or have you had a good result with something you've complained about. Let me know in the comments!