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How to complain

 

It’s been a bad week for customer service, with more news of cancelled Ryanair flights causing chaos and disrupted plans for thousands of its passengers. The budget airline is not alone: Southern Rail, Sainsbury’s, and Tesco have all suffered their fair share of adverse press recently for their ‘approach’ to customer service – however well-intentioned.

When poor service leaves us disappointed, inconvenienced or out of pocket, it’s tempting to unleash our frustrations on the nearest customer representative available.

Ranting and raving won’t necessarily help you to make your point any more effectively, however, and can even turn you from victim to perpetrator if it’s recorded in writing or over the phone.

So what is the best way to air a grievance? We make a case for polite persistence:

By phone

  • Don’t lash out at the person on the other end of the line. The fault likely lies further up the food chain, so keep your comments objective and neutral rather than personal.
  • Be clear about what you want to achieve. Is it a discount, a refund, or a replacement item, or would you just be happy with an apology? Stick to your objective and ask how you can achieve it.
  • Don’t be afraid of repeating yourself if necessary.
  • If it becomes apparent that the person to whom you’re speaking is unable to help, politely ask to be referred to their supervisor or manager.

By email

  • One step more anonymous than a phone call, electronic communication can tempt us to give rein to our inner troll. Remember that an actual person will read your message, so be just as polite as you would be over the phone.
  • Remember that emails can be recirculated indefinitely, so don’t write anything you might regret.
  • Provide as much information upfront as possible, including a reference or order number and attaching photographs or screen grabs if relevant.
  • Keep it formal – adress the recipient by their title and surname (if known), and sign off with your own, plus a phone number so that they can call you to follow up.
  • Keep your message concise and accurate. Excessive punctuation or capital letters will undermine your credibility.
  • Emails are relatively easy to ignore and prone to getting lost in ‘the system’, so follow up with a phone call if you haven’t heard back within a few days.

By post

  • While it lacks the immediacy and convenience of email, post may be a more effective method of complaining than you expect – most large organisations have a system for responding to correspondence within a certain timeframe.
  • Keep your letter brief, clear and objective. As with email, refrain from emotive language or aggressive punctuation.
  • Make sure you include contact details and a preferred method of response.

In person

  • If you’re in a restaurant, hotel or other public place and need to complain, be discreet – keep your voice low and try not to attract the attention of others.
  • Be sensitive to the culture of the city or country you’re visiting. Direct, undiluted criticism may be more effective in New York than in Tokyo, for example.
  • Don’t resort to aggression – if you feel yourself losing your temper, remove yourself from the situation and revisit it later, when you’re calmer.

However stressful a situation, take time to think about the steps you’ll take to resolve it. Whether it’s counting to ten, putting the kettle on, or drafting an email that you never intend to send, a brief ‘time out’ will help you to gain some perspective. And who knows, you may even start to see the funny side…

Have you had to complain about bad service? How did you go about it, and what was the result?

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