Why complaining works

19 April 2010

No one likes a complainer. And, from my experience since moving to England in 2007, no one here likes a scene. However, sometimes it is necessary and will do you more good, than harm.

I can confidently say I fall under the 'customer is always right' or at least 'entitled to some element of customer service' band wagon when buying things from a shop or eating a meal out. 

This may be because I’m Canadian. We are a bit more bolshie (though not as much as our Southern cousins) than the English and tend to speak up if we are really annoyed rather than muttering under our breaths in a frustrated fashion (please, don’t throw any tomatoes at the screen; it will hurt your computer more than me). It is not without nerves that I speak up, I assure you. I hate having people stare at me if my voice is raised during a conversation with a manager, and get anxious as I try to fight my case for unfair treatment as the more demure take sideways glances at me. But I usually push on and fly past the butterflies.

Why? You might say it’s because I’m stubborn. I say it’s because, in the end, if I’m purchasing something or spending my hard earned money on a meal or product, I do expect to get good customer service. And I know that the more people who don’t tell those in charge that something is going wrong, the more people will get screwed over, ahem, by 1) bad management; 2) apathetic staff; 3) giant faceless corporations who do not care.

And when I come off victorious, and as the manager/customer relations team admits I was correct in making said complaint, I feel a little sparkle of satisfaction that I may have helped make things better for customers of the future. Or maybe not. But at least I will have tried.

But to better illustrate my complaints – so readers do not think I’m a whinger without purpose – I feel the need to give some examples of recent experiences.

The first came with Tesco. It was a small matter but I felt was one that needed to be addressed. One lunch hour I had a desperate craving for sushi, but was too near to payday to afford a meal out. So I grabbed some sushi from Tesco. Well, I say “sushi” but it was near enough to plastic to be akin to doll’s food. The disgusting meal was thrown away; my colleagues confirmed to me they would never buy sushi there because it was awful; and, I felt the need to write an email to customer services explaining to them the fact their product was inedible.

Now, you may think: “What’s the point? It’s a few quid!” but maybe by sending my complaint, they’ll make better sushi. Or maybe not. But at least I will have tried!

And I did get a response. A very kind chap both rang and emailed me promptly to offer apologies, get more details about the food and offer me a voucher for a future shopping trip. He also assured me he would discuss changing suppliers or the recipe, and fix the problem for future starving office workers.

He may not actually do this, but at least he made an effort. And for the few minutes it took for me to go online, find Tesco’s customer service email and send a description of what went wrong, I hopefully did a bit of good for other shoppers and felt vindicated that my money didn’t get wasted on a bad product.

When TFL charged me twice for taking one tube journey, I didn’t let the money go to waste. I sent an email (after a terrible experience with a tube worker who refused to help, despite admitting that I was right and who told me to call the company’s 0800 number if I wanted anything done) and, again, received a response within a couple of days and the appropriate refund on my Oyster card.

I felt I had hopefully pointed out an issue the company needed to resolve on the Northern Line and hopefully saved fellow commuters, who don’t take notice of their card balance, some extra change!

Both Asda and Ryanair have also both received complaints of late. The former because of a ridiculous situation which involved incorrect pricing, lack of help and nauseatingly rude staff, to the point I still might never enter another Asda store despite the apology and the £5 gift card received later on; the latter was useless. But it’s Ryanair. So I doubt anyone will be surprised.

The key in writing a complaint is to always be clear in your issue; to only complain when something has actually gone wrong; and to not over-react. I stay calm and ask for a manager at the time (if I’m in a store or at a restaurant). I make note of exactly everything that went wrong (in my head at least), the time it happened and who I spoke to because the more specific you are, the more likely people are to listen to your issue. And if I feel myself over-reacting or get an apathetic response, I email rather than phone or continue on in-store.

I am not very good at explaining things verbally, but the written word is my friend; if it’s the opposite for you, then go the other way. But remember: getting angry doesn’t get results. A well-thought out argument, however, does; but only if you really are in the right.

Don’t take on the idea that it’s too difficult, so why bother. All companies will have a customer service email listed or at least a number you can call. If it’s an 0800 number and you only have a mobile, don’t be put off: head to Google and find an 0800 number buster that will allow you to make the call at a local rate, rather than the extortionate prices charged to mobile phone users (oh dear…I feel another complaint coming on).

It’s really not that difficult; and you’ll often be surprised at how willing they are to help. Especially given most companies rely not on advertising but word of mouth: an aggravated customer is not something companies want because the more people that unhappy person tells, the more likely it is fewer people will come through their doors.

Stores/businesses do have to remember the customer is what makes them run. Without customers, what do they have? Things go wrong, of course, and as a customer, you have to accept that. But what I can’t accept is rudeness if there is a genuine complaint. This is usually a tactic applied if they know they’re in the wrong and want to scare you off from continuing. But, I say, hold firm!

Know when you’ve been treated badly and don’t be afraid to speak up. If everyone who receives awful service is too shy to say anything, there’s no reason for customer service to improve!