6 tips for successful complaining

ProblemThere’s an old stereotype of the British customer sitting at a restaurant. He complains bitterly to his partner about the meal. The service is slow, the waiter is rude, the food is awful. Halfway through the meal the waiter comes over and asks if everything is ok, and he chirps up “Yes thank you, it’s very nice”.

It’s not only the British who are useless at complaining. While some individuals seem to revel in confrontations with hotel receptionists, airline check-in staff and waiters, to most of us these encounters are stressful and uncomfortable, and we usually back away from them and are content with grumbling to ourselves and others.

Yet as a provider of a service I want to do everything in my power to encourage people who are unhappy with what I do to be comfortable in letting me know their gripes. Positive comments are nice to hear but it’s the criticisms and suggestions that really help a business to improve.

Here are 6 suggestions for effective complaining while travelling:

1. Stick to the facts. The room smells, or the sheets are dirty is a fact. The cleaner is lousy is an opinion. Likewise saying the meat is cold or difficult to cut is a statement of fact. Saying the chef is an amateur will not get you very far.

2. Keep to the issue and don’t get personal. As above, remember what it is that you are unhappy about and how it affected you directly. Try to avoid singling out individuals for criticism, as this will encourage defensive behaviour.

3. Know what you want as a reasonable resolution and state this from the start. If they are even half decent, the management of a business will want to clear up your complaint as quickly as they can. If you offer a way out that is relatively painless for them (change room, another dish, another seat) they will take it and be glad to have you out of the way.

4. If the person you speak to doesn’t have the authority to help, ask politely but firmly to speak to someone who can help. Junior staff are often asked to manage minor complaints and only involve senior colleagues if they have to. Insist on seeing the person who can address your complaint.

5. Don’t walk away without a concrete commitment to resolve the problem. If it’s a hotel and they can’t offer a room change that day but they say maybe tomorrow, get a commitment that you will definitely get that change. If your complaint is being passed on to a senior person, get the details of that person so that you can contact them if you don’t hear back. Commit the other party to follow up on their promises. I am guilty so often of not following this one, and of accepting when the other party says they will ‘see what they can do’.

6. Always respect the other person’s need to save face. This is not only true in Asia but worldwide. If your complaint humiliates the person you are speaking to, they are unlikely to be willing to help you. If you are seen to be polite, respectful and working together with them to find a mutually agreable solution, your chances of success will be greater.

There’s bound to be lots more advice to offer those who might need to raise an issue while they are travelling, and please feel free to add your suggestions. I do think it’s good to be comfortable at letting people know when you are not satisfied with the service you receive, and might one day get over my reluctance to complain.

Author Information

8 Responses to “6 tips for successful complaining”

  1. Haha! That sounds like a Canadian too. Dave said to me while we were reading it…”That’s you!” I have a problem with being polite. But you are right, complaining properly is the key.

    January 23, 2010 at 4:43 pm Reply
  2. Thanks Dave and Deb, and you guys are a great example of how to complain well, in your recent experiences in India are anything to go by. You seemed to handle a difficult situation very well. http://su.pr/1ALnT8

    January 23, 2010 at 5:32 pm Reply
  3. A Spanish friend with a restaurant commented to me (a Brit) on the difference between British and German customers as follows. The British customer would behave just as you describe – saying everything’s fine (when it wasn’t), but then go and tell everyone how dissatisfied he’d been. The German customer would ask to speak to the chef, and explain, in detail, how he liked his eggs/steak/fish cooked – and then return to the same restaurant the next day for another meal. Result? Restaurant owner happy – customer happy. It’s a story worth remembering when you’re having a lousy meal!

    July 26, 2010 at 11:37 pm Reply
  4. I have always worked in hospitality and am always the first person to go out of my way to fix a known issue. Hate those people that complain unneccessarily or expect the world for the slightest issue – wanting entire bills for free or a round of drinks for the whole table when only one person waiting an extra minute on their meal. Worst is when they complain about how their steak is cooked yet they don’t have a clue how they ordered it or how it is meant to be cooked if they ask for rare…

    July 28, 2010 at 1:22 pm Reply
  5. Thank you Guurbi and Steve for your thoughtful comments. Agree that if people are up front about specific requests they are less likely to be surprised and have reason to complain. Us Brits are so rubbish at raising an issue – but as you both suggest, management will normally do their best to help, if only they know what help is wanted.
    Good point Steve about professional complainers – they must be a nightmare for all those working in hospitality. Your example made me smile. We sat in a Indian restaurant and watched in embarrassment as a couple complained to the Indian chef that he didn’t know how to cook a pasanda curry. What qualified her to be an expert? Well, this one was a different colour to the one her take-away serves… what hope is there when faced with someone like that…

    July 28, 2010 at 10:21 pm Reply
  6. This is when I slink away and let Ian do the talking! LOL! You make a very good point, though. Complaining about things afterward doesn’t help and offers the business no chance to make it right!

    September 16, 2010 at 6:23 pm Reply
  7. Haha. Guess Filipinos complain the same way as Brits. But yeah, if you can find a way to solve the problem with a compromise, then do that. And oh, don’t complain violently while your order hasn’t arrived yet. Disgrunted employees might do some magic with your food before serving it. ;)

    October 18, 2010 at 5:59 pm Reply
  8. So true Cedric – I always worry about that ‘magic’ touch if I make a complaint before I have my food in front of me!

    October 19, 2010 at 1:29 pm Reply

Leave a Reply

Spam protection by WP Captcha-Free