Friday 21 October 2005

How to complain

Let’s be frank. Most of us aren’t very good at complaining. Either we find it too difficult, too embarrassing or we just don’t know how to phrase it. Finding the right words to express the complaint is often very tricky.

So this week we’re giving some free tips on how to complain.

But first, some essentials of complaining.

The golden rules of complaining

Calm down. So often when we feel we have good reason to complain we’re already angry, upset or feeling abused. It’s very easy when we feel like this to lash out and forget that we need to be reasonable as we do it. A shop owner who is presented with a complaining customer who is shouting and swearing will rightly throw him out. So before you complain, calm down. Go for a walk, have a cup of tea, watch TV for a while. Do anything that reduces your blood pressure and that will enable you to deal with the situation calmly. It’s not going to help your complaint if you have a coronary or a stroke before you get back to the store!

Be reasonable. Don’t forget that mistakes happen, even in the best stores. Give them the chance to sort out your problem in a friendly fashion first of all. Have a quiet word with the manager and see if they don’t sort it out immediately. All decent stores (and they DO exist) will remedy things instantly and without a big fuss.

Seek advice. Talk to someone you trust about what to do. Talk to your parents, your cousin the accountant, someone trusted in your community or even to us, your friendly neighbourhood Consumer Watchdog! Get their opinion on your complaint. Ask them to tell you frankly if you are being reasonable and listen to what they say. Occasionally we all get a little over-excited and lose grip on reality so we need someone to help us to see reason.

Put it in writing. If the store doesn’t fix it after you’ve approached them in a friendly way then start to get tough. Put your complaint in writing and post it, fax it or hand it in. Most importantly though, keep copies of everything you write. Mark everything with the date you sent it or the name of the person you handed it to. If you have problems phrasing the letters then see below.

Keep records. As well as keeping copies of your letters, keep records of the phone calls you make, the visits to the store, the people you deal with and what they say. Also make sure you keep everything you can such as receipts, invoices and their letters back to you. Be at least as organised as they are!

Escalate. If your complaint doesn’t get the result you wanted then go to the next stage up the ladder. Decent, large organisations have a complaints procedure so get a copy of it if you can. BTC, to their great credit, have their complaints procedure displayed openly in their centres and have even published it in the press. This will tell you the sequence of people to hassle to get things sorted. Go to the very top if necessary.

Don’t give up. Stick to your guns. If you’re convinced that your complaint is valid then don’t give up. Take it higher and higher until you get to someone who has the authority to order their juniors to fix it. As Warona Setshwaelo on GabzFM likes to say: “Don’t take a No from someone who isn’t empowered to give you a Yes”. Do NOT be put off by some arrogant junior who think he or she is in charge when there’s someone more important who can overrule them.

Chase them. One of the standard tricks used by unscrupulous stores is silence. They’ll receive your letter and then do absolutely nothing. They won’t acknowledge your complaint and they’ll hope you’ll get bored, go away and forget the whole thing. So don’t stop. Phone them every couple of days and ask them who’s dealing with it. Ask them when you can expect a response. Bother them into submission. Fight silence with noise!

Take control. In your letters give them deadlines. Say things like “I expect a response from you regarding this complaint within 14 days”. Obviously make it reasonable so they have the chance to investigate but don’t make it too easy for them. You are the customer, you deserve a quick response.

Manipulate their emotions. Say things in your letters like “I realise that the conduct of your staff did not meet the normally very high standards at XXX so I am sure your are as disappointed and surprised as I am”. Appeal to their pride.

Get nasty. If all else fails then quote Shakespeare to yourself. “Cry Havoc and let loose the dogs of war!”. Threaten them with legal action, endless bad publicity and a mass boycott of their store. Write to your MP. Remember that politicians love an opportunity to look good by standing up for the little guy against the cruel oppressor.

And if you feel like getting really nasty? Seriously nasty? Unbelievably nasty?

Call us and we’ll set Kate and her team of watchdogs on them!

This week’s stars!
Lawrence at Securicor for being friendly, professional and efficient.
Patrick and the team at Mr Moves for being speedy and really efficient.
Boy from Facilities Management Group for being great fun and going the extra mile.
Lebopo, Ahmed and Cedric and the rest of the new management team at BotswanaPost for showing that organisations here in Botswana can turn around and lead the way!

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