One simple word can make a very powerful statement. And I’ve found the word ‘complain’ stirs up more controversy than you might expect. Do you regularly hold back from complaining because it makes you feel awkward?
When we launched our ‘Complain for Change’ series on Which? Convo, our main aim was to highlight that it’s OK to make a complaint if you have a bad experience with a company. In fact, we positively encourage it! Not only could the company rectify your problem – it will often take your feedback on board to improve its products or services.
But our calls for people to complain have met some resistance, with some saying we shouldn’t encourage moaning. I think there’s a commonly held opinion that a complaint should be reserved for situations where a company has made a significant mistake, rather than for things that are simply inconvenient.
I admit, I used to baulk at the idea of complaining (one of my mottos was ‘try not to make a fuss’), so this made a lot of sense to me. As someone with more than their fair share of assertive friends and relatives, I’m always wary of a complaint turning into a ‘scene’. But the difference between the two things became clear when I went out for dinner recently.
Complaint versus suggestion
We were at a fairly posh dinner and we’d pre-ordered our food and drinks. The bottles of wine appeared soon after we sat down, but when one of us asked for a jug of tap water, we were directed to the pricey bottled water on the table.
One member of our group made quite a loud complaint, letting the waitress know it was ‘ridiculous’ that they wouldn’t give us tap water.
Rather than let the waitress get an earful, I called her over and calmly let her know that any place that is licensed to sell alcohol for consumption is obliged to offer people free access to tap water. She looked a bit sheepish, but scurried off to find some.
Removing the stigma of a ‘complaint’
I’d call that a complaint, but it’s a far cry from writing a strongly worded letter or shouting at some poor customer service rep down the phone. What’s more, the problem wasn’t a disastrous one – no one found glass shards in their salad or a fly in their soup.
But I think that making these small, polite complaints can be incredibly valuable. The longer you put up with a problem, the more likely you are to make a disproportionate fuss when you finally do make a complaint. For instance, the flat-dweller getting frustrated with their neighbour’s loud music would do well to knock on the door and ask them to turn it down, rather than stew over it for weeks before eventually complaining to the council.
I know the word ‘complain’ can sound confrontational and a bit extreme, but it doesn’t have to be. For me, a complaint covers any feedback I give a company about things it could improve. I’m getting the hang of it now, and have started giving quite a lot of feedback to companies ranging from ‘this service was not acceptable and I’d like a refund’ through to ‘it would be fantastic if you could do this in future’.
How about you – do you tell companies about the little things, or do you hold back and save your words for when something goes really wrong?