Why do people complain?
It’s a natural part of human behavior. People complain about anything from the weather, dangerous drivers, slow WI-FI, waiting in line, and leaving toilet seats up! Simply stated, if something doesn’t meet our expectations, we’re going to let someone know! This spills over into the business world after purchasing products or services that fail to meet our standards. And when we try to resolve problems, companies often inflame our issues with poor, unresolved customer service.
Everyone has experienced rude or bad customer service, defective products, long telephone-wait-times, and staff or contractors who “overpromise and underdeliver!” When you call for help, some astonishing examples of customer-service frustrations are: Contacting the DMV and hearing 50+ times, from recorded, unenthusiastic tones, “It’s a great day in South Carolina!” Another is while being on hour-long-telephone queues, you’re excessively informed every 45 seconds how important you are and reps will be connecting shortly! Or, being instructed by computers to provide your telephone number, promising you won’t lose your place in line and someone will promptly return the call—never to hear back! Worse, after waiting forever on calls, you’re suddenly disconnected and have to re-start the infuriating process.
Unfortunately, it seems like “quality customer service” is declining while “complaints and dissatisfaction” are growing. Recent studies determined two-thirds of American families purchased poor products or services in the last 12-months compared with 56% the previous year. Most companies are eliminating methods to connect with their customer base to save money. Decision-makers often fail to see value in positively engaging with their consumers, solely focusing on short-term profits. They mistakenly contract vital customer-services to lower-cost foreign agents who speak poor English following inflexible policy manuals and having limited authority to resolve problems. Websites used to clearly display “CONTACT US” utilizing multiple approaches (postal mail, e-mail, text, chat)—not anymore! After struggling to locate that “golden hidden button,” we’re then guided to more aggravating barriers such as “Frequently Asked Questions” when simply searching for humans. Many who reach out to businesses engage with rigid-programmed computers. Most individuals begin their communications with patience only to end up yelling key words like “Agent, Representative, Operator, and Human.” Respondents are often peppered with endless questions by insensitive-technology which resists human-connections. Occasionally, you can trick artificial intelligence and other times, brace yourselves for painful encounters!!
Remember when “Made in the USA” products were dependable, like washers/dryers, lasting for 20+ years? Now, fast-forward—The business-sector realized vast amounts of monies could be saved by manufacturing products overseas. But today’s purchases are more complicated, made with inferior components, and have multiple ways to fail, especially when loaded with sensitive electronics.
In his best seller, “Good to Great,” Jim Collins determined that one of the secrets to creating successful businesses and excellent customer satisfaction is to thoroughly screen and hire talented employees who fit the business purpose, values, and culture; then, place them in positions they enjoy. With the October 2023 unemployment rate at 3.8%, employers are struggling to hire, train, and retain talented, friendly, experienced staff who are customer-driven. In my recent CEO interviews, some mentioned “We’re desperately just looking for bodies…anyone…to fill vacant jobs!” Thus, many staff exposed to consumers aren’t suited for jobs that require patience, compassion, knowledge, and problem-solving-skills.
Harvard University Business School revealed that many companies have determined “It’s sufficient merely to satisfy customers; as long as they respond with 4 out of 5 ratings, company-client relationships are strong. Afterall, this is the real world, where products and services are rarely perfect and people are hard to please. Second, investments required to change customers from being ‘satisfied’ to ‘completely satisfied’ won’t provide attractive financial returns and therefore probably isn’t a wise use of resources.” In other words, being fairly good is their goal! But leadership fails to realize that competitors are carefully studying them to develop ways to lure their consumers by exceeding consumers’ expectations.
Although I’m now retired, looking back on our companies’ history, leaders desired to build great companies over 30-years. They promoted excellence, teamwork, and the importance of exceptional customer relations. Systems were created to make it easy for clients to confidentially provide positive and negative feedback. We weren’t obsessed with perfection but sought all clients’ outstanding “5” ratings. This approach was integrated throughout our culture of pleasing customers and when failure occurred, everyone promptly addressed their issues. It was a slow, but steady process that took years to implement. Mistakes and failures were viewed as valuable learning opportunities to refine our services and products. This fine-tuning-strategy turned into positive games that passionate staff wanted to win!
If all companies and employees valued clients from these perspectives, businesses have significant chances of blossoming, resulting in happy, returning consumers who tell others about their positive experiences! Whereas unhappy families and business customers will take their buying power elsewhere. Studies have determined that people who experienced bad situations will share their disappointments with 13 others by word-of-mouth. Revengeful, angry individuals will attack companies on infectious social media and on-line reviews that rapidly spread—the explosive fuel that disables or destroys organizations’ reputations.
It’s refreshing to experience excellent customer service by connecting with representatives who treat you like a special and valuable client! We recently wrote to our favorite travel partners, Delta Airlines and Viking Cruise Lines, about isolated concerns. As loyal consumers, the companies assigned experienced reps who said, “You have legitimate issues and we’re going to make this right.” Delta provided SkyMiles for future flights and Viking Cruises awarded credits for cruises. Thus, unfortunate experiences on a recent trip turned into happy outcomes! Even the best businesses make mistakes or fail. The key to retaining consumers is how organizations productively solve problems when notified.
According to university research, customers make an average of three contacts with businesses to resolve problems and most give up. The 2020 National Customer Rage Study reported “A whopping 58% of respondents who complained got nothing—zero, zilch. So, it’s not surprising that 65% of those with problems experienced consumer rage!”
Before lodging major complaints or experiencing serious dissatisfaction, consider the following preventative measures.
Research potential purchases: Subscribe to “Consumer Reports” ($39 year). This non-profit organization independently tests products and services using unbiased professional staff combined with thousands of members’ input (consumerreports.org). Membership includes on-line access for product-ratings and a monthly magazine. Examine “latest” customer website ratings on Amazon, social media, Trip Advisor (travel), Yelp, or type in Google “Consumer reviews for XXX product.” Beware! The Washington Post warns 40% on-line ratings, generated by artificial intelligence, sly companies, and competitors, are fake and misleading! Study differing comments using various platforms before purchases. Friends who have utilized contractors or bought products are also great resources. Your advanced assessments often result in improved customer satisfaction and fewer complaints. Saving money is important, so be patient—avoid rushing the buying-process and seek good deals (Most companies match competitor pricing). Don’t go cheap—seek quality! There’s an old saying, “You get what you pay for!”
Seek reputable companies: Amazon, Lowes, and Home Depot reimburse or provide gift certificates for unwanted or defective products within reasonable time-periods. Inquire about written warranties and return policies (found on their websites) for major purchases such as dishwashers. Utilize credit cards since businesses track sales (if you lose receipts) and American Express, Mastercard, or Visa usually provide protection versus using cash, checks, or debit cards with few safeguards. Some cards add an extra year to the manufacturer’s warranty. For returns, don’t throw away original packaging until you’re certain you want to keep items. Store home and business purchases/warranties in easy-to-find files—you’ll eventually need the documentation! They’re invaluable when problems surface or verification when, for example, selling your house.
Remedy problems before complaining: You’ll be surprised, even without technical skills, you can repair many inoperative products using YouTube or Google by typing “How to troubleshoot (Brand/model) with (List symptoms).” Or you’ll determine when to contact experts. Sometimes, problems are cured by unplugging electronic devices for 5-minutes or flipping circuit breakers that provide electricity to equipment. When re-connected, components are re-configured to manufacturer’s settings. These strategies often work!
Define expectations to avoid problems: Unless you know contractors, serious issues can occur, especially with complex projects. Solicit several “written bids” from reputable vendors to define lowest prices since they’ll often match competitor costs. It’s interesting how specialists view your project differently. Listen to their free innovative ideas and experience. Develop written agreements both parties sign outlining work details, costs, payment schedules (when project stages are completed), timelines, and other important items before work begins. While less preferred, e-mail or text exchanges that document agreeable negotiation trails may suffice—avoid non-documented verbal contracts. Attempt paying by credit cards for their insurance-protection or checks to track payments (not cash but obtain receipts if you do). Some contractors require up-front financial advances to purchase supplies—shoot for 20% or less. Monitor work during the process to ensure hired workers are following agreements and implement changes as work progresses. Avoid payments for each work-stage until all activities are satisfactorily completed, especially the last one. Otherwise, you’ll lose your priority and power to control final outcomes.
Pay for extended warranties: Products these days are made with inferior parts and anything that’s moveable and electronic is prone to break or fail. That new washer you’re buying to replace your beloved 20-year-old appliance probably won’t last long! Buying 5-year warranties for $100+ on significant purchases are well worth added assurances. Every major item we purchased with Lowes’ warranties over last ten years were activated—sometimes multiple times for service or replacement on single units. Yep, we got a new washer after 5-years!
Is it worth complaining? In his bestseller “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff,” Carlson recommended not allowing trivial things to consume your life—it’s not worth getting bent-out-of-shape nor wasting time complaining. We often allow major stressful problems in other areas of our lives to flow into non-related issues that result in complaints. In other words, we’re primed when small incidents occur that ignite our tempers! So, “pick your battles” and overlook insignificant matters unless there are irritable patterns.
Express small concerns early: There will be incidents which warrant immediate action. For example, if you ordered meals that were unsatisfactory, with a friendly-smile, describe situations to servers and ask them to please remove items, replace them for other ones, or discount bills. This approach often solves problems since staff desires generous tips. If this strategy fails, don’t attack but “calmly” inquire with managers to address dissatisfaction. Decline waiting until you return home to stew over problematic-issues with regret that could have been addressed on-site. It’s more difficult to lodge complaints “after paying and leaving the crime scene.”
Park emotions: After experiencing frustrating, dreadful avenues to resolve problems, it’s often difficult to calm down. Before launching full-scale, feel-good attacks towards people or organizations, carefully develop complaint strategies. Harvard Business School reports 96% of dissatisfied buyers never complain because they think it won’t matter. However, those unhappy individuals will make it their mission in life to eventually tell 13 others about painful-mishaps. Filing well-designed complaints are healthy for people to vent disappointments—and businesses, hopefully, to learn from their mistakes and improve their services and products.
Define outcomes: Companies struggle to determine what complaining-consumers are seeking—what do you want in compensation for your misery? Create specific, reasonable, and negotiable options that will address your upsetting experiences. However, expect nothing! Customer service reps are trained to save company money. If you’re seeking apologies, forget it—the “walking-dead-reps” will say emotionless, “I’m sorry.”
Document dissatisfactions: Determine exactly what happened in chronological order. Assemble information that confirms your findings. In major situations, create folders to organize your efforts. Document dates/times and names of individuals contacted, conversations, e-mails, website chats, texts, and letters. It’s critical to build irrefutable proof for your defense. Your interactions may be with third-party contractors or poorly-trained staff who don’t record communications. Be prepared—hard-nosed customer reps may not provide satisfactions. Don’t give up—play complaint journeys like games to prevail!
Examine company websites’ communication channels: Prepare for frustrating struggles to find the right people or departments to contact. Many businesses lure you through infuriating artificial-intelligence rabbit trails and hide human resources. Search Google: “Best ways of complaining to (company’s name),” “Customer service contacts for XXX,” and “Consumer reviews of XXX.”
Word complaints carefully: Write with concise, understandable 12th grade grammar employing fewest words. My Italian professor encouraged us, “Cut to the chase! No bullshooto!” Microsoft Word software contains a very-helpful Editor which proofs documents. Ask unbiased, proficient writers to examine your work. The goal is for opposing staff reviewing information to be impressed with your professionalism, writing-skills, and circumstances, while feeling empathy. Although you may sense rage and anger at times, address issues without emotionally-charged aggression and patiently display the facts. Place yourself in the representative’s shoes and remember they’re humans—they didn’t cause your problem, although they may add to it. Envision your requests like awkward dances between two individuals who don’t know nor like each other. Begin with good expressions about vendors. If you’re a loyal associate of organizations, define allegiance (Delta Airline’s Diamond Member). The goal is to convince reps you’re a valuable consumer who needs their serious attention and some benefits for their company’s missteps. Afterwards, introduce your concerns. If there are multiple issues, divide them and define how vendors could have handled problems better.
Time complaints: Determine where corporate headquarters are located—schedule your communications around their time zone. You don’t want to contact business reps expecting helpful compassion at 6 AM in California while you’re sipping coffee at 9 AM on the East Coast! Best times to engage competent staff, hopefully in better moods located in Eastern US, are 10-11 AM or 2-3 PM Tuesday-Thursday. Avoid complaining on Mondays (when unhappy representatives are growling), or Fridays and weekends when less experienced and foreign staff are on-call. Be prepared for long wait-times with aggravating messages and suffering while maneuvering complex-roadblocks. Calling by phone without paper trails is less preferred, except for addressing minor problems or you are a highly-ranked-client, If your concerns “fall-on-deaf-ears,” it’s important to end communications pleasantly and decline post-interview surveys to avoid staff creating “negative-incident-reports” that will follow and damage your efforts. Continue calling different days/times until finding solutions. If connected to unresponsive third-parties, ask for supervisors or with overseas agents, seek US-based representatives. Remember your behavior with initial reps may be recorded or managers will be briefed before speaking with you, so stay pleasant! “Being nice” is a powerful negotiating-tool! Use first/last names to personalize conversations—begin with friendly tones: “Hi Sarah, this is Mike. I need your help.” Then, take notes!
Consider on-line web-chats or e-mails which provide evidence: Program e-mails for “delivery-receipts.” When ending communications, ask reps to document conversations, especially if favorable, in your file. Request reference/claim numbers for future inquiries and include your contact information.
Going up leadership ladders: If you’ve experienced major situations or failed lower-level resolutions, write decision-makers. Search Google: “Names and contact information for (company’s name) corporate officers.” I usually send detailed letters to customer-service VPs or CEOs via two-day-USPS envelope with delivery-verification tracking numbers and priority-appearance-packaging.
Addressing serious complaints: If you cannot settle differences, you can transmit your concerns on-line (60% never hear back), but don’t attack. Other options are: (1)-Better Business Bureau which requires a simple complainant form that will likely generate transgressors’ responses; (2)-Small Claims Magistrate’s Court ($7,500 maximum reimbursement) where presentations don’t require attorneys. Complaints are filed in defendant’s residency or geographical-area where incidents occurred; (3)-Attorney General wherein corporate headquarters are located; or (4)-Formal lawsuit (which is stressful, expensive, and time consuming). Registered-letters from lawyers alert offenders bad trouble is brewing, you’re serious, and for them to negotiate!
The Bottom Line: Present yourself as friendly, reasonable, and professional. Complain correctly with facts, and your chances of success are favorable—no promises since you’re rolling the dice for receptive ears. Remember, complaints can become irritating struggles—pray for God’s guidance and patience—you’ll need it! Winston Churchill advocated to “Never, Never, Never Give Up!” Kenny Rogers also sang with wisdom about playing poker and life: “Know when to hold’em…know when to fold’em!”
© Copyright November 2023 All Rights Reserved Mike DuBose. Please share our article by providing individuals our website link www.mikedubose.com with the author’s credits without altering the document’s content. Our purpose is to “Create opportunities to improve lives” and we appreciate your being a partner in helping others.
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