How to complain successfully – Life Hacks and Financial Management – photo of beer being poured

How to complain successfully

A 3 minute read • Simon Q

Part of our life hacks and financial management series. It’s happened to all of us. You paid for something you didn’t receive, you didn’t enjoy the meal you now have to pay for, or somebody was less helpful than you hoped. What should you do? The answer is simple: complain immediately to someone who can help put things right. Yet many of us don’t, despite knowing that we should.

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Here’s a recent example that surprised even me:

After being served a flat beer in a restaurant I told the waiter that there “may be something wrong with the beer or barrel”. He took the beer away and replaced it with a fresh one and told me that the cost would be removed from the final bill.

Note that I didn’t blame the waiter and gave him some wiggle room to agree that something wasn’t right rather than just say that the beer was horrible. I hoped for a replacement but never expected a free beer. This is a good example of both a successful complaint and exceptional customer service.

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So, what’s the secret to complaining successfully? In my experience it’s the way you complain that determines if you are successful, so here are my tips for successful complaining.

Tips on how to complain successfully

  1. Check you have a valid complaint – ask someone you trust or put yourself in somebody else’s shoes; check your facts and ask yourself if you are being reasonable. It’s helpful to know your basic rights as a consumer
  2. Be clear about what you want to happen – are you looking for an apology, a replacement, a refund, a discount or somebody’s head on a spike. I don’t recommend the latter so be realistic about what you might get
  3. Complain to somebody who can help – it’s no good moaning to your friends or family after the event so complain as soon as you have a problem and find somebody who will help you
  4. Lower the emotion – be factual, polite, calm and controlled; look for a solution rather than simply “to win”; be assertive but not aggressive; use ‘managed anger’ carefully to show you are serious but don’t ever insult or embarass people
  5. If it’s not going well – the person you are dealing with may have little authority or experience so escalate your complaint to someone more senior such as a manager or supervisor
  6. Follow up in writing if necessary – a serious grievance is usually best dealt with in writing. Make sure you keep notes from your conversations and copies of any correspondence
  7. If your complaint is rejected – if you feel you still have a case, think about what you could do next. For many financial claims in the UK you could look at the small claims court. Or you could simply drop the complaint if it’s too much effort
  8. When you get what you want – thank the person for helping to find a solution

Here’s another example that did not immediately present a solution but had a successful outcome:

After a long night being kept awake by a boisterous stag party in a Manchester hotel – and after unsuccessfully asking the night staff to find a solution – I complained to the manager the next morning. He explained that the hotel was full so I couldn’t have changed rooms, but empathised and offered a free night’s stay at the hotel at a later date.

A few words about complaining on social media

Many companies now recognise that customers want to contact them on social media and offer Twitter and Facebook accounts were you can seek help. This can be a very quick way to resolve some complaints but can also be a source of frustration when the social media team is remote from the problem you experienced.

I urge caution when complaining to a company on social media. If you are reasonably sure you will get the outcome you want then my tips will help you. A well-run social media team will be able to escalate problems and guide you to the best part of a company to get a resolution. Sadly, this isn’t always the case so be ready to try an alternative approach.

Above all, remember that much social media interaction is in the public domain and people who follow you can see how you dealt with the complaint. So keep it polite and respectful.

And finally

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References  UK Small Claims Court

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