Are you being served?

Are you being served article‘Expressions of dissatisfaction’… that’s what businesses call customer complaints. But when you’re feeling really let down by a company, what’s the best way to get your message through?

Actually, there’s never been a better time to complain. At last, businesses are realising that customer loyalty is key to their success. And the best way to win customer loyalty is to treat your customers well, to value them.

You may have seen the new customer-focused TV ads for a well-known Irish-based, budget airline recently. They previously celebrated ignoring customer complaints – now even they’ve got the message.

Twice a year, the Institute of Customer Service publishes their research results, where thousands of consumers are asked their opinions. You won’t be surprised to hear that Amazon, John Lewis and Waitrose are always at the top. They achieve this by being consistently good and reacting well when things go wrong.

What’s the best way to get in touch?

The world of communication is changing rapidly thanks to social media, so how do you go about contacting the company that’s let you down? A business should make it easy for you to find the route that suits you best. I always say face to face is best if it’s an option, as it’s by far the quickest way to find a solution. But it can be stressful and we’re all a little shy of conflict.

Phoning is next best and can be a good experience, but getting through and to the right person can be a pain.

Writing sounds rather formal, but email and social media are less so. A word of caution here, though. Many companies don’t monitor Facebook etc for complaints, as some see them only as marketing channels. Personally, I’d save this route for when a company doesn’t appear to be listening to you and you want to turn the pressure up a little by telling a few other folk. Companies don’t want to see you expressing your dissatisfaction in public.

There are a few famous examples of using social media to complain, like singer/songwriter Dave Carroll, whose particular gripe has now reached almost 14 million people:

So what can you do to make sure you’re well looked after?

  • Firstly, your demeanor will have the biggest impact on how your complaint is going to turn out. Be polite, stay calm, be factual, don’t shout, don’t swear and don’t exaggerate what’s happened. A nice customer who is in control is difficult to say no to and be rude to.
  • The same applies on the phone. To stay in control, write down everything you want to say, stand up (it sounds strange but posture is important!) and have a glass of water handy so your voice doesn’t dry up.
    Make sure you get to say all you want to say. If necessary, pause, let the other person say their bit, then go back to your ‘script’.
  • Always politely ask for a name, even if it was given before, as it makes the person more inclined to take ownership of your problem.
  • If you’re complaining in writing, keep it brief and to the point: what’s happened, what the impact has been, and what you expect to happen next.
  • Being reasonable is my top tip. Demanding your holiday again because you didn’t like the colour of the sheets in your hotel room won’t get you far. But it’s not unreasonable to have your car parking paid and to receive a further gesture, eg a gift voucher, if you’ve had to return to a store in your own time and at your own expense to change an item that was faulty.

If you don’t think you’re being listened to, then you need to think about ‘escalation’ (a horrible word). Sometimes people are unwilling to reveal their manager’s name or who the MD is (they may not even know). This is where writing may be your best option. A little surfing and a little ingenuity will usually get you a postal or an email address. It’s not rocket science working out Richard Branson’s at (@) Virgin for instance. I did and it worked. My advice is to keep it in the company, as going to an outside agency should be your very last resort.

I wasn’t going to mention your legal rights, as it tends to spoil things. But of course the Sale of Goods Act, Trading Standards and ombudsmen are there to protect you. It’s much nicer if a company does the right thing for you and hopefully exceeds the basic requirements of the Act. But have a read on the internet when things aren’t going your way to find out what your legal position is.

Never forget, you’re in control. If a company lets you down and doesn’t see the value of keeping you as a customer, you must vote with your feet and go elsewhere. A great company will put things right for you, every time.

Graham Hardy

About Graham Hardy

I spent nearly 38 years as a retailer, the last 14 years looking after the people who handled all complaints at one of the UK’s largest chain of stores. Now, semi-retired, I advise companies on how to treat their customers well: Graham Hardy Consulting

  • Nice article, Graham, and a good point about getting a named person to take ownership. Love the video.

  • Mandy Clark

    One thing that really annoys me in the UK is when the store is open until 6pm, why do staff stop serving at 5.45pm?

    • You make a good point Mandy, you’d think every retailer would be eking out every sale from every minute they are trading, to rival on-line retailers who are open 24/7. I’m afraid it’s down to poor leadership, the people in these shops aren’t motivated to want to maximise the success of the business. A truly motivated team won’t worry about finishing a few minutes late for the good of the business that employs them. A great retailer will pay their people beyond closing time to remove this problem.

  • Deborah

    Thanks Graham. I’ve just re-read this having had the most hideous experience with ordering a bed. Ordered in plenty of time; 2 missed delivery dates (clearly they are only used to dealing with people who don’t work and can stay in always). Complained first time round and got the name ‘Noman’ – jokes on me – he really did mean ‘no man’ because no-ones ever heard of him.
    No apology; no bed and a discourteous – ‘so you want to cancel then’. Damn right.
    Trying to source a blow up bed to put family up on this weekend. Will collect my thoughts, stand up and talk to one of their managers.
    Cross doesn’t begin to cover it.

    • Oh dear, that’s not a great experience is it Deborah.
      Firstly, both Wilkinson’s and Argos have single and double inflatable beds. We have a double for just such occasions in Norfolk, not a great night’s sleep but kept the dog amused.
      Regarding your problem, you’ve done just the right thing, taken away your business, but that’s no good for you or them really, it wasn’t what you wanted, you wanted a bed!
      And, letting them know how it’s left you feeling is vital, otherwise they’ll carry on disappointing more and more customers. Do your bit for all customers!
      Regarding a good bed retailer, we bought online from John Lewis and were so pleased we bought another.

  • Deborah

    Tesco got my business Graham – good inflatable and have to say once I put it up and laid on it, could have easily nodded off.
    I will write to the other company because I don’t want to talk to anymore of their customer services team. Might also let Silentnight know that they lost business through that company.
    Timely tips Graham, thanks!