Complaining for Results

Over the weekend, a few friends and I met at Dave&Buster's to watch the 7th game of the Eastern Conference basketball finals. As is customary of any good gathering, we ordered drinks and appetizers as we watched a very exciting and hotly-contested game. Everything was going very well until one of my friends complained that his drink was not very good and his order had come out cold. Of course, I suggested that he tell our server of the problems with his food and let her know what you wanted her to do about it. He agreed, but when the server returned, he complained about how bad everything was but never told the server what he wanted her to do to fix it. When he finally finished complaining, the server politely apologized and asked, "what would you like me to do?" My friend, bewildered by the question, snapped back, "Why do I need to tell you what to do, I would think you would know since this is your job". His comment drew a sharp look, then fake smile from the server, who took the plate and glass away. When she left, I asked my friend the question that spawned this discussion; why would you take the time to complain if you haven't thought about what you want the outcome to be?

In the normal course of interactions between buyers and sellers, there are going to be events that will make it necessary for buyers to voice a complaint or concern based on some action, or lack thereof, by the seller. In plain English, all of us have had something happen during a transaction that made us so unhappy that we had to tell the seller about it. Sellers, if they are worth their salt, absolutely depend on feedback from consumers in order to continually improve their products or services. If you go onto the Internet (or browse to another page since you have to be online to read this blog) you can find a survey for just about every business under the sun. Surveys are valuable to sellers because they give unbiased feedback on the seller's performance. A complaint, like feedback from a survey, is like a nugget of gold a seller uses to address issues that undoubted effect numbers much greater than the few people actually speaking up about an issue or concern. In the end it's about revenue, and complaints give sellers an opportunity to make improvements that eventually affect the seller's bottom line. But what does it do for the buyer, and why should you care?

While most people are not afraid to speak up when something goes wrong with service delivery, not many take the time to think about what they want the outcome of their complaint to be. Most of us get very upset when things don't go the way we think they should go, and our goal is simply to let someone know how frustrated we are. But if we would stop for a second and think through the source of our frustration, we will find that our service experience will be enhanced because our expectations will be made very clear to our audience.

If this sounds too weird to be true, and you don't believe me, try it out. Below are a list of steps you can follow in order to complain for results. While this list is not the final authority on how to complain effectively, it will provide you with the tools you'll need to make your conversations with sellers more productive.

  1. Understand why you are upset. Sounds simple enough, but without it, the subsequent steps will not make sense. What has happened, or not happened, to bring you to this point? How is it different from what I expected to happen? What effect did the action, or lack of action, have on my experience with the seller? If you can answer these questions, you have already done much more than most consumers do to make their complaints more effective.
  2. What do you want to happen? How would the seller's service to you be different in a perfect world? This is important because you need to clearly understand your expectations and how the seller has not met them. Don't worry about being unrealistic when you do this; you're the customer, and a perfect service world is what you, and the seller, are ultimately working towards.
  3. Know who you need to talk to. Complaining to anyone who will listen won't always get you the results you're looking for. Whenever possible, your complaint should be directed at the seller representative who has the authority to address your concern. A Shift Manager, General Manager, or Department Supervisor are examples of people you should talk to about your concerns. These positions usually have the ability to address your concerns right away without the need for approval from someone higher in the seller's internal hierarchy.
  4. Know what you want to say. Finally, when you have the ear of the right person, know what you want to say and how you're going to say it. Anger clouds otherwise reasonable thoughts, and makes it difficult for your point to be heard by the listener. A clear concise account of what's happened, why it upset you, and what the seller needs to do to address your concern will go a long way in getting you what you want. The quality of the response you'll receive will be determined by the quality of the concern you raise, so by clear about your intentions.

Try this out, and let me know what happens.