No one wants to be labeled as a complainer. In fact, making a complaint often involves conjuring up negative energy that leads to a highly variable, generally unsatisfying result. So, you decide that you shouldn’t bother and you move on…or do you?
Do you really just forget about the event or interaction that upset you? Do you simply stop thinking about it and fully devote your thoughts to other matters? What is much more likely is that you just end up complaining to other people instead. You tell your friends, family, and anyone who will listen to you. You choose to complain to people who can do nothing about what happened instead of communicating your concerns directly to the party who created this negative experience.
Whether you consciously do so or not, you take an already imperfect process and create an even smaller chance for a successful resolution and you still end up being labeled a complainer, but worse, by the people who are closest to you.
Living a life that never causes disappointment, concern, or frustration is not realistic so the only choice you really have is to become more effective in the way in which you state and channel your complaints. In other words, when you have to complain, let’s make sure that it is worth your while and that you are able to turn what has been a negative into a positive.
Let’s take a common complaint. You are unhappy with the service that you are receiving from the big bank where you have done your banking for years. You have received your statement and discovered yet another unexplained fee and you have had enough. Working for a credit union, I know nothing about these experiences, but I am told that these big banks can be quite frustrating to deal with!
What can you do to make sure that your voice is heard and that you achieve your desired result?
The first step that you need to take is also the hardest step. Take the emotion out of the equation. No matter how upset you are, there is no benefit for you to gain by expressing that emotion to the person on the other end of the phone. However important the matter is to you, an employee of that bank is going to need an opportunity to understand the situation before they are in a position to possibly help you. Take a deep breath, do some jumping jacks or whatever is necessary for you to gain and maintain your composure so that you can accurately and clearly articulate your issue.
Next, give some thought to what you would like to see happen once you have made the offending party aware of this matter. It is too easy to start complaining without giving thought to why you are complaining in the first place. Using our example, do you simply want the fee explained or will anything short of a full scale reversal be unsatisfactory? Will there be anything that an employee of the bank can do to satisfactorily resolve the matter or will you be closing your account regardless of what he or she can do? The bottom line here is to not start the story without knowing how you would like it to end.
Then, consider any and all of the circumstances and contributing factors. What correspondence might you have missed? Is there a common thread with this fee and others that you have received in the past? What options, if any, do you have to directly communicate with the area or department of the bank that has issued the fee? This part of the process will help you to see and consider all of the details and data that are pertinent to the matter before you allow yourself to jump to any conclusions. Gather as much information as you can before you put your complaint in motion. Having full command of the details will also help you to establish credibility with the person(s) to whom you are issuing the complaint.
Now, take the time to properly align the scope and type of your complaint with the cause of that complaint. In most cases, our example likely being one of them, a phone call is a good place to start. Nothing replaces direct interaction and nothing is more direct than person to person contact. In- person communication is the most effective form, but often times this type of contact is not possible, especially in our world of virtual interaction and on-line discussion. When you have determined how you will establish contact, don’t bring the proverbial sledge hammer to kill an ant. Over-reactions and exaggerations kill your credibility.
When you decide how you will issue your complaint and the extent to which you are willing to go, be sure to choose terms that are most likely to give you an advantage. Try not to call the bank during their busiest hours. Try to reach someone who will be in a position to help instead of telling the full story to the first person to whom you speak. Make the call during a time when you are least likely to be interrupted on your end and make the call from a quiet place where you can concentrate and calmly state the facts.
Lastly, know when you have taken your complaint as far as it can go and don’t overplay your position. If you fall short of your desired result, do not make threats or say anything that you are not fully committed to doing. If your response is to close your account, close your account. If you think that you will get further with a supervisor or a manager, then ask to speak to that person, but be prepared to be patient in re-telling your story. If you are going to ask for a person’s help, be sure to give them a chance to help.
Once you have taken all of these steps to the best of your ability, the complaint process is over. You have done what you could do to issue an effective complaint. You may achieve what you were looking for, you may fall short, but you will have done all that you can do. Go forward with that satisfaction and remember that you always have choices.
So, to recap, an effective complaint is comprised of the following steps:
- Neutralize your emotion
- Determine your objective
- Review and consider all of the facts
- Align your actions with the cause
- Set the terms to your advantage
- Know when it’s over
Even though you did not choose to receive poor service and you would rather not have to issue a complaint, you do have the power to decide how you are going to handle the situation. If you choose to let it go without complaining about it, so be it. If, however, you need to register a complaint for your own peace of mind, deciding to follow these steps will help to put you in a position to reach a satisfactory conclusion and to make your complaint worthwhile.
This article is part of Scott Arney's educational series, entitled The Serial Decision Maker.