The Art of Good Complaining

Being the daughter of an audio engineer, going to the movies was always a little different for our family. Besides the fact that we kids were forced to sit clear through the end of the credits to give my father the pleasure of spotting any friends or colleagues who had a hand in creating the masterful digital sound, we then would have to wait for him to track down a theater manager to let them know that something was wrong with the audio output in the theater itself. More often than not, Dad would make fast friends who appreciated him lending his expert ear to their establishment…and would thank him by giving him a movie voucher for next time. It became a running joke that Mr. Hogan hadn’t actually paid for a movie since 1987.

Maybe it’s genetic then, because I’ve always had a way with words when it comes to complaining nicely.  My usual opening like goes something like “I realize this isn’t your fault, so I apologize in advance that you’re the one taking my call, but…”. It’s amazing how often that disclaimer immediately helps win over the person I need on my side. I find this approach is far more successful than what I really want to say or do, which unfortunately yields extremely poor results.

Whether my techniques were acquired or inherited, I won’t complain about them. There are times when others have been mistreated, or just gotten nowhere with a complaint and I’ve called back to discuss and gotten exactly what we wanted. Of course, things don’t always go my way, and when I decide something is worth escalating, I do so with little to no expectations of the person receiving the feedback listening let alone caring. I do it more as a way to vent when I experience such bad customer service. Every once in a while though, I see glimmers of hope that remind me customer service and pride of small business ownership still live today.

On a recent trip, after my late-night gym trip, I opted to run out for a healthy post-workout snack from the neighborhood cafe (I lie, it was the local Chocolate/ Gelato/ Coffee shop – and it’s REALLY good!). I squeezed in a few extra minutes on the treadmill to make up for the delicious Italian wafer that comes with their house-made gelato. When I pulled up in front & ran in (oblivious to the “CLOSED” sign in the window), I was shocked to be stared down by two lethargic teenagers who told me “sorry, we’re closed”. Looking down at my watch, it was still 7 minutes before closing time, and I let them know. They again assured me that they were no longer open.

Completely irritated, I was tempted to post a poor review on Yelp, ruining their perfect 5-Star rating streak. Instead, I found an email on their website & quickly typed a message titled: “Too bad you aren’t open when you say you are”. I briefly explained the situation & off I went in search of a more sensible post-work out choice (like maybe a protein bar).

To my surprise, I awoke the next morning to a reply from the store’s owner. Not only did he apologize for the way I was treated, and assured me that company policy is to remain open during business hours, but – get this – thanked me for letting him know. He asked me to stop by if I was still in town, and said they wanted to give me something for my trouble. When I walked in on my way to morning appointment, I was pleased to meet his son, who again, thanked me profusely as he handed me a $20 gift card and made me an incredible espresso on the house.  He also told me that the employees would be handled. As I walked out, he called out “Come back again soon, Love”.

Granted, one lost out-of-town customer wouldn’t make or break a store like that, but it’s amazing that instead of losing business, I want to tell everyone how great this family-owned store is. Instead of being frustrated and never going back – I now know where I’ll be getting my coffee every time I’m in the neighborhood…a place where customer service is alive & kicking.

Join me next time for episode two featuring my adventures with Time Warner Cable…

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