As consumers, we have one thing in common: we all complain. We complain about minor skirmishes and also major upsets – ranging from the weather’s too cold or too hot, the movie was terrible, that driver just cut me off, and the item that just arrived in the mail was defective. Some of us become animated when complaining, while others remain calm. At one time or another though, most of us have spoken a bit too loudly while on a phone call with a customer service agent. However, according to Guy Winch, Ph.D., author of The Squeaky Wheel, Complaining the Right Way to Get Results, Improve Your Relationships, and Enhance Self-Esteem, there’s a correct way to complain.
“We have a complaining psychology,” Winch explained. “We believe that to complain to a company will take so much time and effort that it won’t be worth it. So 95% of us actually won’t complain at all when we have a problem. We’ll just go to the competition. Also, we’re afraid of the confrontation. We think it’s going to be nasty and time-consuming. [But] our complaints can be practical, emotional, and psychological tools that we use to better our lives. They can help us gain resolutions to meaningful problems. They can improve our moods, our self-esteem, and our general outlook on life. They can better and deepen our relationships. However, as many sharp tools do, complaints can cut both ways when used incorrectly. When we complain excessively or, in some cases, too little, we can end up getting more cuts, nicks, and scratches than we do benefits.”
As a result of Winch’s psychology background, he provided insight into the dynamics of complaining on a personal level, couples level, professional level, and consumer level. He shared numerous anecdotes to demonstrate good and bad methods for complaining. My favorites were Winch’s personal story about how he successfully dealt with loud noise in New York City, and how one customer disputed unfair pricing at the retail giant Marks & Spencer in England.
Winch explained the history of the toll-free 1-800 number and the reason that so many call centers don’t function in a productive manner. If more of us understood that most call center employees burn out and leave their jobs in less than two years, we might be friendlier when we call to complain.
Winch introduced the ingredients for a delicious squeak, or in other words, the complaint sandwich:
- Top slice of bread is the ear-opener: this statement (or paragraph if a written letter or email) should mention something positive about the situation.
- Middle section of the sandwich is the meat section: this is the actual request for action – the tone should sound more like a request for a favor instead of a complaint or demand.
- Final slice of bread is the digestive: the final statements or paragraph should make it more difficult for the recipient to dismiss the complaint immediately and also increases the reader’s motivation to help – the wording could be “I would appreciate…I would be happy…I hope to hear from you soon for any assistance you can offer.”
Above all, complaints are a gift for a business. They serve as free feedback, an opportunity to take action and make improvements. If the complaining consumer’s issue is resolved to his or her satisfaction – or if the expectations are exceeded, then he or she will become a lifetime customer and will tell friends and family how well the issue was resolved. And the story will be repeated again and again. Smart businesses know that customers who have a negative experience that is fixed become more loyal customers than if they’d been satisfied with their experience in the first place.
“Each time we visit a store, have a meal in a restaurant, take a bus or taxicab, or interact with a service provider, we have the option of letting them know what we thought about their product or service. Of course, most of our daily experiences are not worthy of comment as they fall somewhere in the “adequate” range. But when we encounter extremes in either direction, we have the perfect opportunity to take a quick dip in the waters of community activism.”
So how does your business deal with complaints? Is there a complaint resolution department? How quickly do you respond? And for those of you who represent the 5% who complain, how often do you get the results you desire? Please chime in.
For more information: http://www.guywinch.com
Follow Guy on Twitter: http://twitter.com/#!/guywinch
Become a fan on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/thesqueakywheel
Watch Guy talk about the book on YouTube: http://youtu.be/2TgoDCX0uLs
Check out The Squeaky Wheel Blog on Psychology Today:
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