When and how to complain

There is a right way and a wrong way to complain

When not to complain and what you shouldn’t complain about

Don’t complain just to get a lower price.  There are plenty of ways to negotiate over price, but complaining about quality or results when that is not the case is a dirty trick.  You may end up doing it, but realize it really isn’t ethical.  There are better ways to save money.  Think how you would feel if someone complains about your product, posts a bad comment on your blog or website, and generally bullies you into a lower price.  Then they buy your product and don’t change any of their prior actions.  That’s complaining just to get a lower price.  Don’t be a douche.

Don’t be rude, mean, or disrespectful, especially to customer service folks.  In general, the customer service people that you deal with didn’t cause the problem.  They are there to help you are at least appease you, take advantage of this.  Yelling at the customer service folks, much like yelling at the waitress because the cook didn’t do something right, will likely lead to more problems than they solve, whether that is being hung-up on, having them refuse to compensate you, or spitting on your burger.

Don’t complain if there is no way to make you happy or if you don’t think there is a solution.  If there is no way you’ll ever be satisfied with any possible solution why waste your time and theirs?  Some people just want to start a philosophical debate about why they are right and some company is wrong.  It may be a perceived slight or disrespect.  Most of the time the provider is completely unaware that this may have occurred.  You then have someone who just wants to go and complain.  This usually is the venting process.  It lets them blow off steam, and good customer service reps let it happen, then try to fix the problem.  But some people just like to yell.

Related to the waste of time mentioned above, if you’re just asking that the company apologize for treating you poorly in your opinion, but aren’t seeking anything else, just skip it.  Pretend they deeply and sincerely apologized to you and move on.  Remember everything has a trade-off.

When to complain

You should only complain when the product or service is not meeting your needs.  If you’re not happy with a product or service, there is no psychic manner for the provider to know this.  The good firms even like to receive feedback, though they’d also prefer that you were satisfied.  Given this, the respectable firms will help you become satisfied, and they’ll learn from the process to improve themselves.

The right way to complain

Make sure you complain when you should and do so the right way

Complain only when it will be worth your time to do so.  Are you willing to wait on hold because you were overcharged a dime?  Will you return to a store after driving home to get an extra quarter off your bill because they missed a coupon?  Why bother?  There is a materiality threshold, to use accounting parlance, which you need to meet in order to complain.  Don’t be petty.  A dime isn’t going to make a difference, and odds are you’re not paying yourself for your time very well.  Think of life as a big give a penny take a penny jar.

How to complain

Be nice.  Be considerate.  Tell them what the problem is, what you were expecting from the product or service, and that you are disappointed.  Be understanding, stating that you know errors and mistakes can occur, and that if you didn’t bring it to their attention, they wouldn’t have known there was a problem.  Be firm that you’d like compensation.  You can either let them offer you something, or simply state what you’re interested in receiving.  That’s a negotiating tactic that I’ll get into in another article

When asking for compensation, know what type of things you’re interested in.  If you were somewhat satisfied with the product or service, a full refund really isn’t in order.  You’ll have the best luck with things that you value, but are very cheap for the company to provide.  For example, I went snowboarding with a couple of beginners, and of the two lifts that a beginner ticket could take, one was down for the day, resulting in very long wait times.  At the end of the day, after about 4 runs, I complained, stating that on a weekend, having a single beginner lift was unacceptable, and that I would like a refund.  They couldn’t give me a refund, but they did offer free tickets for the next trip.  They can do this because there is essentially zero incremental cost for them to have 2 more people on the lifts than not.  Very low cost to them, but saved me $75.  Anything super-high margin is good.  Free soda in a restaurant, special highlight in a web job listing, or extended access to something.


Readers, what tips and tricks do you have to resolving your complaints?  Any stories where things went really well or really poorly for you or someone else?  What did you learn from that?


24 Responses to Complaining – the art of getting what you want

  1. Frugal Fries says:

    Well, I agree to a certain extent about being polite–it doesn’t always work.

    I have had some jobs in customer service, and we were trained not to budge on store policy (or get a manager involved) unless the customer was noticeably angry or upset. Of course, they could’ve calmly asked to speak to a manager, but if the customer wasn’t foaming at the mouth, they would likely hear the same canned response.

    That said, I have used “complaining” to receive some free or cheaper things. I only do it when I have a legitimate concern though. The honey vs. vinegar approach doesn’t always work for me though, but I do try to be as nice as possible at first.

    • Karl says:

      There are definitely tactics to use, but I generally start off as nice and reasonable as possible. If that doesn’t work you have a number of different options depending on whether you are in person or on the phone. The central idea though is that if you’re right and some compensation is due, you may need to “escalate” in order to get it sometimes.

  2. WorkSaveLive says:

    It really bothers me to watch people berate and disrespect waitresses/waiters and customer service people.

    I think how you treat those types of people really reveals a lot about who you really are and how you act behind closed doors. It’s sad how mean and rude people are to somebody that is trying to do their job, support their family, and that typically has not fault in the problem you’re complaining about.

    • Karl says:

      Especially since the customer service folks generally didn’t cause the problem. At times it’s perfectly fine to get angry at someone who was the cause of problems. Because, really, without feedback, how will they know when you’re really upset? 🙂

  3. Michelle says:

    I would definitely say it depends on the situation, but in retail you usually need to be nice. I worked in retail as a manger for 5 years, and many customers would lie, yell, cause a scene, etc in order to get a discount. If I knew you were lying, I used to just flat out say no. And if you were yelling at me when you were clearly in the wrong, I would say no as well.

    • Karl says:

      Yup, that goes back to the idea of don’t complain just to get a discount. The sales folks are generally aware of what’s going on and when you’re lying versus when you have an actual problem.

  4. Money Infant says:

    I’m usually pretty bad about complaining and usually end up just voting with my wallet and not returning to that place in the future. Let’s face it, there are very few things that don’t offer us a lot of choices.

    • Karl says:

      There is certainly that too. But as I mentioned, research actually shows that customers who had a problem which was solved, are generally more loyal than just a regular customer. So as a business, I would invite you to complain if you had a problem, knowing that I could help you become a long-term customer. Of course that assumes I’m a smart business.

  5. SB @ FPR says:

    I am bad at complaining as well. and I often complain out of no reason when a simple convincing would achieve the purpose. I need to learn handling those situation better.

    Good tips.

  6. I’m a New Yorker, we complain and complain a lot about everythign and nothing.

    Most of the time, I find that it works. But then recently one of my close girlfriends showed me a different tactic.
    She’s sweet, soft spoken and doesn’t complain but puts lots and lots of sweetness into her request, people almost melt to help her.

    the complaining is so ingrained in me, that I just can’t shake it off~

    • Karl says:

      It surely can work both ways. I think the difference is that someone is wanting to help you in one case, and wanting to get rid of you in the other. 🙂

  7. I have had to call in many times to get various issues fixed with various different companies. I have noticed one common thing. If you sound reasonable, they will not offer you anything but an explanation as to why something is the way it is. They will keep trying this until you give up.
    I have recently gotten very fed up with this so now when I call in I make sure to have an angry voice (although I am rarely actually angry) and state that I am extremely unsatisfied with their service. I have gotten great results so far. I know it is not ideal but it works and I only call for actual problems.

    • Karl says:

      I like to start reasonable and escalate up to irate if I’m not getting the results I want. I’m not above causing a sense if need be either. 🙂

  8. I have worked on the customer service end of things for many years and it is amazing the threats people throw at you just to get their way. Sometimes they sound like they are 2 years old and throwing a temper tantrum.

    • Karl says:

      Lol. Yeah, I had a problem with an airline change fee literally one day after I had booked around $6,000 in airfare (scheduling out a number of weeks) and they wanted to charge me $50 because I wasn’t an MVP super plus platinum member yet. I told them I shouldn’t have to pay the change fee as by the time that flight actually came around, I would be higher status. No dice. So I told them I wouldn’t fly their airline if I had to pay the change fee. They said OK. As soon as I reached the correct status, I cancelled the remaining flights and haven’t flown them since. I always believe in following through if you’re going to make a threat.

  9. I worked in customer service for years and a sure fire way to not get what you want with me was to yell and scream at me. You can ask me for a manager as many times as you want, but they are busy at the moment.

    Now, be nice to me, and I’ll do everything I can to help you. I’ll even talk to my manager and ‘go to bat’ for you.

    Whenever I have an issue now, I never get mad. I get frustrated and may ask to speak with someone else, but I always stay nice and calm. They are the messenger, they didn’t cause the problem, but they can help solve it.

  10. @Karl = It sounds like your threat was more than justified. I would have cancelled too.

    What I should have said was I find it difficult when people toss out their threats & demands for the smallest things just because they want to see how high you will jump to secure their business.

  11. Nick says:

    I’m definitely consistent and polite when trying to get what I want. I often politely ask whether the person I’m talking with has authority to work with me and, if not, ask for someone who does so I don’t waste anyone’s time. Knowing what I want and asking for something specific helps too.

    If it’s something that takes more than one call I’ll try and have one contact person and ask for their extension. Getting to know them and them to know you helps, too.

  12. jefferson says:

    It sometimes seems that most people that are out there complaining are just looking for a free handout..

    Customer: “It was the worst service I have ever had!”
    Manager: “How about a gift card so that your next meal will be free”
    Customer: “Sure!”

    If you really hated it that much, would you really want to go back?

    I know people who have turned complaining into an art form and regularly use it get their way.

  13. […] Complaining – the art of getting what you want @ CultOfMoney […]

  14. I think when dealing with a customer service rep that you need to need to follow the golden rule (Treat them like you would want to be treated). I also recommend calling back if you are not having any luck.

  15. […] @ CultOfMoney writes Complaining – the art of getting what you want – Be nice. Be considerate. Tell them what the problem is, what you were expecting from the […]

  16. I think I was born to complain. But before raising your eyebrows, I complain for a valid reason. I’m happy that nowhere did I belong to the above scenarios you mentioned where people complain which in the end, makes them appear petty and pathetic. I am not like that.
    The ff. are my complaint triggers:
    1. bad service
    2. poor quality products
    3. unfair pricing

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