Thursday, April 24, 2008

How to complain

Learning how to complain properly can serve you well for the rest of your life. It can make your life a lot easier and more pleasant.

I’m not talking about bad mood complaining like, “I hate my hair,” or “That movie was terrible!” (I’ll cover that kind of complaining in another blog entry.)

I’m talking about constructive complaining, for when things in life don’t go your way or don’t happen properly or to your liking.

For instance: You’re in a restaurant and the fish you ordered doesn’t taste fresh. The new windows weren’t installed properly in your house. A charge showed up on your credit card after you cancelled the purchase.

1. Complaining properly is all about your tone of voice. If you speak with an annoyed tone, angry, ready to kill – all the other person hears is your tone of voice, and not the substance of the complaint. All they think is, “This person is a jerk,” or “What a bitch!” All they see is a crazy, impossible person. And they don’t want to help you.

2. Start with a compliment. “You know, I eat in this restaurant at least once a month and I’ve always had a delicious food here. But tonight, there is really something wrong with this fish.” This establishes you as a sane, decent person with a legitimate complaint.

3. Complain calmly. State the facts in an even tone of voice.

4. Realize that the person you are complaining to, in many cases, isn’t responsible for the problem, so don’t treat them as if they are. Yelling at a waiter because the soup is cold isn’t good. His job is to carry the soup to you; it is the job of the chef to make sure the soup is hot. Yelling at a credit card person doesn’t help, because s/he is just an employee with no power, taking your call.

5. If you are nice and/or civil to the person you complain to, then they will want to help you resolve the issue.

6. Make a suggestion as to how you want the problem resolved. Don’t just say, “This fish doesn’t taste fresh.” Say, “This fish doesn’t taste fresh, and I don’t feel comfortable eating it. I would like to send it back to the kitchen and have a steak instead. Also, could you please tell the chef to check the fish, so that other patrons won't get sick?" You have to tell people what you want, what would make you happy.

7. Don’t stop at no. If someone can’t help you, don’t yell at him or her, antagonizing the situation even more. Simply ask to speak to the manager, headwaiter, or supervisor. But not in a threatening tone. “I understand you can’t help me resolve this. Can you please pass me to your supervisor?”

8. Write letters. Write emails. Write to the President of the company. She or he probably won’t personally read your letter, but I know from working in corporate America, that all letters to Presidents get read and answered by someone who will take action on behalf of the Prez.

I’ve had people bend over backwards to help me resolve a situation. I'm not saying it is easy, or that you won't have to be tenacious sometimes, to get what you want. My New Yorker magazines disappeared for 4 months. I wrote to the subscription department, with detailed explanations, and they got me my back magazines and extended my subscription for 6 months longer as a compensation, thanking me for being so detailed in my report. Another recent example is that recently, my credit card was billed incorrectly. It took several calls and emails, but finally, I found the person who would credit the mistaken charge. Then, I received 5000 points as a "We're sorry," compensation.

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