There are some people who are incredibly effective at making complaints. They seem to know instinctively how to pitch their problem, what to say, and what to do to get apologies, refunds, or other satisfactory outcomes. Other people find that they just seem to end up shouting in frustration down the phone.
There are a number of simple rules to follow that will make your complaints more effective.
1. Know what you want to achieve
The most effective complainants are those who have a clear idea of what they want to achieve from their complaint, and who set it out clearly to the person to whom they are complaining.
If you want a refund, for a product or service that didn't live up to your expectations, say so. If a refund won’t be enough, say that too. If you are simply looking for an apology, then make it clear. This makes your complaint much easier to deal with and also more likely to be resolved to your satisfaction.
2. Threaten the company’s reputation
Effective complaints threaten to damage the company’s reputation in some way. Not overtly; you don’t have to say ‘If you don’t respond, then I’ll go public’. It’s enough to say ‘I was really happy with you, and would have recommended you to all my friends, but now I don’t think I will’.
This will make the company concerned aware that you might just start telling your friends about your experience or, worse, talking about it via social media.
3. Write or go in person, don’t phone
It is possible to make effective complaints by phone but, in general, the odds are stacked against you. In the first place, you can’t see who you are talking to. A very junior person may promise to look into it and then do nothing. If you write or email the chief executive, your complaint is much harder to ignore. And if you’re standing at the reception desk, or on the shop floor, demanding to see someone senior every two or three minutes, you’re likely to get a much faster response because you’re “embarrassing” them.
Reputational damage is bad news for most companies.
If you really have to complain by phone, then remain focused on what you want to achieve and state it clearly:
- Make sure that you keep a full record of the conversation, including the name of the person to whom you spoke.
- If you’re not satisfied, ask for the manager’s name and, if they don’t call you back, call again and ask to speak to them.
- Be persistent.
4. Use social media, especially if you don’t get an immediate response
A complaint expressed via Facebook, especially with the company’s name together with ‘bad customer service’, is likely to get a very quick response.
Most large companies have someone monitoring Facebook for any sign of activity about them. Again, it’s about reputational damage. To make the matter even more high profile, aim your tweet at the chief executive if he or she is active on Facebook, using their @handle at the beginning of your post. Make sure that you have spent time crafting your post carefully to express the nature of your complaint, or saying how long it has taken to respond to your original complaint.
5. Expect the unexpected
Don’t be thrown by a company’s response to your complaint. If you’ve complained effectively, you may well get a much higher level of response than you were expecting.
For example, the chief executive’s PA or a very senior manager may call you, or you may get a personal email or tweet from the chief executive. Whatever the level of the response, don’t feel that you need to jump at the first offer made: you can always say ‘Well, that sounds quite good, and I’d like that very much, but I’m still not confident that you’ve really taken on board’. Quite apart from anything else, that gives you thinking time.