A dispatch from the trenches of holiday shopping

I have a complaint.

In the past few years, the rise of social media has fundamentally changed the way that businesses interact with their customers and vice versa. It was always considered the “Retail golden rule” that a satisfied customer only told 2 or 3 people about their transaction or shopping experience.

An unhappy customer usually told 10 or more people about a negative interaction. The old maxim was that it was 10 times harder to overcome a bad report or review once the customer left your store. The good news is that a person who experienced a negative interaction whose complaint was handled promptly and efficiently told a whopping 26 people on average.

Skipping forward to the social media age, we have Trip Advisor for all things vacation and travel, Yelp for restaurants, and a plethora of other sites reviewing and reporting on everything from toilets to yachts. Locally, there are a number of Facebook groups where people can report good service or lodge complaints or beefs with ranging from plumbers to pets. Generally speaking, the Administrators of these sites do a good job of regulating some of the more off the wall or unreasonable complaints, but some do sneak through from time to time.

People who complain effectively have a number of things in common. Firstly, they know who to complain to. There is no use wasting your breath and effort verbally berating someone who does not have the authority to resolve your complaint. As much as they empathize with you and as much as they’d like to help you, they simply can’t. All you will do is make both of you frustrated. Secondly, be reasonable; if your meal was cold or not prepared properly, you probably have the legitimate right to a new meal, or a gift certificate if you are unable to take advantage of the new meal offered. It’s unreasonable to expect that a restaurant owner would write off or “comp” your entire party for one bad meal. Perhaps most importantly, don’t lose your temper. No amount of yelling or name calling will improve the situation you are in; in fact, it will most likely make it worse. Employers will usually (and rightfully) stand behind an employee that is being verbally abused by a customer. When complaining, you want the person to see your side and feel empathy. Yelling at them or calling them names will not achieve this and will most likely get you nothing but a headache in return.

Effective complainers also know how to escalate things properly. Taking your complaint to the next level may involve an office in the Lower Mainland or out east. Documenting your concern and your expectations usually saves the frustration of repeating your complaint over and over as you move through the chain. Be stubborn, be reasonable and be polite. No company will spend precious capital or resources on someone who is loud, abusive and swears “they’ll never come back”. Once this line is uttered, it’s usually all over. What would be the point of giving a refund or credit to someone who has already said he’s no longer a customer?

Blasting someone or some business on Facebook without following some of the basic steps above is the most ineffective method of complaining. Not giving the other person an opportunity to make things right before going online is both unprofessional and unfair. Very few people will take you or your problem seriously if all you do is post a rant, especially a rant filled with half-truths and threats.

Bad customers usually get bad service no matter where they go. Bad customers can be rude and abusive to you and your staff and they can make unreasonable demands in relation to the incident in question. They can also threaten to complain on social media or other places online, in effect almost holding you hostage. Bad customers sap your resources and energy, and keeping them around is not a good idea. While a single bad customer can practically destroy a business, making the attempt to turn one into a good customer can frequently pay off handsomely.

If you find yourself receiving poor service or value for your money, instead of jumping online and assuming the worst, try complaining effectively and the results may surprise you. The vast majority of the business owners I know want happy customers. Satisfied customers come back and spend more money and really, isn’t that the point they opened the business in the first place?

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