Wayne Adult Community Center

Feature article from the February, 2006 Newsletter

Effective Complaining

The stereotype of old people is that we complain full time. Probably we do complain more than younger people, but that may just be because not only do we usually have more time to devote to it, but also many of us have learned that sometimes complaints yield results.

This article will not discuss the question of complaining to relatives, friends, or significant others, because that is more appropriately the purview of psychologists and marriage counselors. We will talk only about complaints to commercial entities:

There are things you can do to increase the chances that you’ll get action when you register a complaint about a product or service. Below are principles most of which your newsletter editor learned from an erstwhile boss. They have been very valuable:

1. Be brief. No one wants to read a long, rambling or detailed tale of unhappiness.

2. Be specific. Instead of a general statement such as: “The dishwasher does a poor job”, tell in what way the job is poor. For example: “The dishwasher does not remove food that is clinging even weakly to the plate”.

3. Stick to the facts. Don’t offer opinions unless (a) they have a sound basis and (b) they could be useful in solving the problem. In other words, don’t engage in conjecture.

4. Use plain language; don’t try to impress them with your eloquence.

5. Avoid hyperbole and emotional outbursts at all costs. For instance, instead of saying: “Your description was a fraud”, say: “The product was not as described in your brochure”.

6. Don’t make any threat you’re not willing and able to carry out (unless you’re a champion at bluffing). In any case make a threat only as a last resort; always try a soft, diplomatic approach first.

7. Keep a record of all correspondence and phone conversations, including date, time, and names.

8. If the representative you’re speaking to seems uncooperative, don’t hesitate to ask that you be transferred to a supervisor. If your letter does not produce a satisfactory reply, call the company for the name and mailing address of the Chief Executive Officer and write to him or her.

9. State what it is you want, whether it’s a refund, a replacement, a repair at no cost to you, an alternate product, monetary compensation, or something else.

10. If you know how the situation could be corrected, specify the remedy; tell them what it would take to convert you from a very unhappy customer to an enthusiastic one.

You might not be able to suggest a specific remedy, especially if the problem is technical in nature. But in some cases, ingenuity and luck can save the day. To give an example from your newsletter editor’s own experience:

At one time I maintained two telephone lines, one for voice communication and a second one for Internet access. When cable Internet service became available in my area, I switched to that and discontinued the second phone line.

A few months after I reverted to a single line, that line began to go out of service every time there was even a light rain.

Verizon was not inclined to solve my problem: Each time I reported the trouble, they would offer to send a repairman only after a day or two, by which time the line would be clear.

As I was preparing a complaint letter, which included a statement that I was considering an escalation to their regulatory agency, I remembered that my second line had never gone out of service in the rain. I included that fact in the letter, and said that I wanted to be switched to that line.

As it turned out, that line was still available. The problem was solved, and my phone number did not even change.

Of course, some people (and some companies) are intransigent, but I’ve used the ten principles outlined above many times over the years, and they’ve almost always proved effective.

W. A. Shapiro