Constructive Complaint

I have a friend who loves to complain. In fact, for him, complaining about service is less of a hobby and more of a second career. He is persistent; he is detailed. He reaches far into the targeted organisation and causes them pain. His nostrils flare at the slightest hint of evasion or untruthful responses. Like the bounty hunter, he usually gets his man or woman.

While this behaviour borders on the obsessive, my friend is right to pursue redress for poor service. We all are. And thanks to email and social media it is getting much easier to complain publicly and gather a following behind you.

But let’s give some think about how best to complain.

Vituperative attacks produce defensive reactions that are counterproductive. My advice is to start with a reasoned and constructive complaint and try to find someone who gets the point. By constructive complaint I mean something with the emotion taken out of it, and with something more positive than personal redress as its initial aim.

When a professional manager gives feedback to a staff member, they are often taught use the SBI method. I think it’s a good starting point for a customer complaint too. Here’s how it works:

Situation: what has happened, when, and how often.

Behaviour: the response of the organisation.

Impact: how this has made you, the customer,  feel.There’s no judgement at this stage. The recipient of SBI feedback is given time to consider the implications of the issue, without defending themselves from a vigorous frontal assault.

Of course, for this to work, organisations themselves need to find ways to develop their customer facing staff to handle constructive complaints. I hesitate to recommend Customer Service Training as the sole solution because, in my experience, this usually represents a triumph of hope over experience.

No, the real solution is an organisational culture in which anyone likely to have customer contact is interested in helping.

Last week, my fuel card stopped working. We topped it up with cash; but the amount wasn’t reflecting. We engaged with Customer Service, who were unable to suggest anything better than ‘try it tomorrow’.

We tried it, 4 times at 4 stations over 4 days.  We gave our feedback; they copied in more people to the email chain. Eventually I found the MD’s address and mailed him. He responded instantly with an apology and a promise to look into it. Within 4 hours I had received several emails and two personal calls from Managers; and the problem was resolved.

What a pity the only person really interested in helping me was the MD.


Chris Harrison leads The Brand Inside in Africa

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