Good Moaning…

We’re not really complainers, here in the UK.

Now I can understand that as we are very British. Polite and nobody wants to cause a scene. We have also never really got to grips with the concept of service.

For me though, it is the abject hopelessness of complaints processes that pulls my proverbial chain. And that is because even when we have overcome our natural resistance to rocking the boat (or have taken advantage of the distance between ourselves and the object of our ire, which is afforded by the internet or geographical distance) companies are almost universally dire at responding effectively.

They just don’t get it. Or is it a case that they do and are being deliberately obtuse?

As those in the service industry are rarely respected (if they are performing menial tasks for us, we expect deference, don’t we?), it is arguably to be expected that some sort of passive-aggressive fightback from service providers would be an eventuality. Or is it just a question of nitwittery?

I’ll leave that one to you to interpret, but in the meantime, here are a few strategies that complaints teams might elect to adopt – four approaches, all beginning with I. Ladies and gentlemen, I present the Four Is:

Ignorance: (either selective or absolute). You complain and list a handful of concerns about your experience. A cerebrally challenged lickspittle picks up the baton and either picks and selects the points they respond to or provides you with a cut-and-paste templated reply.

Irrelevance: Then you list your points, they respond with comments that are entirely irrelevant. ‘My toaster does not work’ is met with, ‘We can assure you sir, that our products are manufactured to the highest quality and you did agree to the purchase’.

Incomprehension: ‘You mis-sold me this policy’. Wait for it…‘But sir, from our records we can see that you purchased the cover and signed to confirm that you understood’.

Incompetence: ‘Yes, I take your point that we have a duty to provide you with safeguards. But from our records, you did not ask for them. (This might also be termed ‘warped logic’).

All lines of progress that will serve to frustrate, annoy and bewilder you. If you have the temerity to raise the point that they are not directly addressing your concerns, you may be fortunate enough to receive this gem:

We are sorry that you feel that we have so far not addressed your concerns. I will now do so point-by-point’. And then they revert back to any one or combination of the above without attending to anything that you have actually raised.

It’s either brass-necked, or mind-bendingly dim. Possibly, a calamitous clown cocktail of the two.

The problem for customers is that while organisations have established escalation processes, they are very rarely used.

Most of the time, your complaint will simply be ‘escalated’ to a person of the same rank who sits next to the original ‘responder’.

Any proper escalation would need to go to the line manager of the initial incompetent, which brings a new challenge. The bigger boss is themselves responsible for the performance of the underling. If they acknowledge that the original operative has bungled their job, they will have earned some additional work. If the complaint leads to the opening of a worm can, that work may become voluminous. It will also reflect poorly on those in supervisory positions. After all, what are they doing in their more senior role to address the incompetence in their teams? So expect much of the same stonewalling and whitewash.

If a complaint does ever reach the higher echelons, a big cheese will have to choose between supporting his acolytes or deciding there is institutional incompetence which, you’ve guessed it, they will have to resolve and possibly be responsible for. Have a punt at which way it’s going to fall.

So, what are the other challenges with complaints? I will highlight three:

Firstly, one of the imposing obstacles to complaint handling is employee fear of retribution from organisations who may be held vicariously liable. Employees who have to operate on shoestring budgets and under immense pressure do cock-up. That is an inevitable feature of organisational life. Instead of feeding back the failings so that appropriate risk assessments can take place, they initiate a process of obfuscation that becomes so lengthy and unwieldy that complainants become fatigued and start to weigh up whether any future time and effort in collating evidence and accounts will actually be worth it. This re-balancing process is what many downtrodden workers rely on. Deflection max.

Secondly, for the big bosses, complaints represent a cost-centre. They don’t lead to revenue generation. So, while they may play a role in customer retention, a lot of enterprises will rely on new sales to replace your custom, particularly if purchases are going to be separated by a large window. After all, there is no guarantee that you would have returned to them anyway for your next purchase. There will always be a sizeable customer segment in any industry who will not be loyal to one single brand. So, the commercial entity has already trousered your cash and as we know, possession is nine-tenths of the law.

Thirdly, most complaints handlers are irrevocably dense. They just cannot get their heads round the essence of what most complainants are saying, let alone any wider implications of events and circumstances that are recounted to them. They just reach for their little goody-bag of text snippets that their volume delivery centre manager has provided to them in some sort of warpo service ‘toolkit’ and tack them into your responses. The fact that in doing so they may be creating a mosh of nonsensical gibberish will not prove to be a burden to them.

So, what can complainants do to address the situation?

Unfortunately, not a huge deal if your goal is to get it resolved at source. You need to be strategic and patient. But here are a few pointers that will ratchet up your chances of success with minimal hassle:

Well, from the off – be clear on where the complaint could go if you pushed it. If it could get to a court hearing (i.e. a claim for compensation) or you think that in-house escalation may bring you some goodies, then read on. If it couldn’t, then make it brief and tell them what you really think. Don’t waste any further valuable effort and spread the word online if you must. If it has mileage, then:

When you write your complaint, number each paragraph and make just one point in each. Then ask for the response to have matching numbered sections. This is how lawyers split up their documents. It focuses the mind of the responder and make it harder for them to pad out their correspondence with baloney.

Don’t get irate and always be reasonable. Be aware that anything you write may be adduced in evidence. Allow their bollocks to accumulate in the knowledge that any third-party reading it would become as exasperated as you have been. If you give them enough rope, they will well and truly string themselves up without too much encouragement. You may even find that the way in which they address your complaint constitutes new grounds for concern. Good news for you; bad news for them.

As the complaint progresses, be clear that you are keen to resolve as early as possible, but you cannot see that they are engaging with the process. This will demonstrate to others that you are open and sensible.

Never fire off anything litigious as it will look like you just wanted to throw your weight around. While Lawyers and Judges make their dough out of lawyering and judging, they do prefer to spend their time on the cases that really had no other option than to be resolved in court.

It’s all about laying the foundations of your case and giving them enough rope to hand themselves on your case.

If you’re serious about your complaint, it will be much too important to be left in the hands of the complaints teams. And remember, when your legal papers hit, somebody senior will receive the file. And their seniority within the four walls of their shitbox company will count for squat. At that point, they will have to answer to the judge and will have a lot of ground to make up.

And then they will start to consider route 1 resolutions. Which means compensation. At this point, you can cite time spent on preparation as well as your refund. You may even be able to ask the judge to apply additional layers of redress if you can evidence that the offending party has acted unreasonably. And all that is going to hit them where it hurts.

So, don’t lose heart with poor service. Sit back and let it work for you. You know it makes sense.

unsplash-logoIcons8 Team

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