The Sweetest Whine Of All (How To Complain)

Poor service.
Bad Surprises.

Your connecting flight was cancelled.
They lost your restaurant reservation.
Your entree came late.
The service person was rude.

Now what?

Yes. It is time to complain.
But how can you do it well?

The art of complaining is completely counter-intuitive.
Most people make the same mistakes and end up getting nothing.

Here are some tried and true tips:

  • never yell at the person that can help you (they didn’t cause the problem, so why take it out on them?)
  • clearly, directly and respectfully explain your expectation, the process, the result and your reaction (lead the listener down a path of logic and calm…and by the time you get to the punchline, they too will be offended). For example, don’t say “This place stinks. Our food wasn’t cooked properly. I want all of my food for free.” Instead say “we were so looking forward to coming here tonight. I picked your restaurant because we are celebrating a special event. We specifically ordered our steaks rare. The waiter even confirmed our order. Unfortunately, he brought them out well done. Mistakes happen. We understand that. But then he brought out a second batch that were even more overcooked than the first. I was hoping for a better memory of tonight than this.”
  • Always establish your realtionship to the entity (”I am a Platinum Frequent Flyer:” I have been a customer for 15 years;” ““I have always brought my clients here).”
  • The more that other disgruntled customers are yelling, the cooler and calmer you will need to be (it will be noticed by the customer service liason and will pay you big dividends).
  • Suggest the specific “remedy” that you are looking for.
  • Speak up for yourself, but never let your words or tone get out of control.
  • Try to inject a little humor into the situation.
  • Focus on the problem/issue. Refrain from personal attacks against the service provider.
  • Today’s Tip: Before you go into a stream of consciousness rage, think before you complain. Use logic, past relationships and respect to score points with the listener. Your goal is to get what you expected, not a pound of flesh.

    Today’s Question: What was the best result that you ever had to a complaint and why?

    3 Responses to “The Sweetest Whine Of All (How To Complain)”

    1. Bob Cohn Says:

      Thank you for these instructions.
      About 20 years ago, my wife and I were flying to my father’s 88th birthday celebration. We had arranged to visit old friends in a city that offered good connections to the celebration. Our flight was to arrive early afternoon, we wouild then spend the afternoon, and evening with our friends, whom we had not seen in many years, and after breakfast with them the next morninig fly on the celebration. Our flight which was out of Newark Airport was cancelled, and there was nothing else on the board that would get us into our destination city before mid evening.

      As we approached the airline’s customer service station, we could hear the outraged tones of the other passengers, and as we waited in line for our turn with the agent, it got worse. By the time we reached the front of the line, we were embarrassed by what the agents had gone through, and the agents were clearly, but professionally frazzled by the abuse.

      At that point I had not had the benefit of your instructions, but intuitively followed them pretty closely anyway. I explained the siutation calmly, and the impact of not being able to enjoy our long planned and much looked forward to visit with our friends, and asked what we might do. They looked at each other, so clearly relieved to deal wtih someone who wasn’t screaming and demanding, and the woman said, ” This looks like a situation in which to apply rule 72,” which meant nothing to us. The man behind the counter consulted the computer (how do they learn all those codes?) and discovered another flight from La Guardia airport that would get us in about a half an hour earlier than our originally scheduled flight. They rebooked us, thanked us, gave us new tickets and called for another emoployee to escort us to the Heli-pad, and we were taken by helicopter to La Guardia, where we were met at the gate and escorted to our counter. Our flight was on time and we enjoyed our visit with our friends.

      I have no reason to believe that the more demanding passengers fared as well.

      Bob Cohn

    2. Robert Bluestone Says:

      Scott, you really nailed this.

      I used to always believe that the louder you yelled, the better the response.

      Interestingly, that never really worked out for me.

      Today was different. I just picked up some clothes at my dry cleaner and they were ruined.
      However, instead of screaming, I took your advice and tried to be clever (and strategic).

      Long story short, guess who has free dry cleaning for the next 2 weeks?

      I have pointed several people at my company to your blog and website. We could really utilize some of your persuasion tools to help our business.



    3. William Wrightman Says:

      I enjoyed reading about your methods of effective “complaining.” They will be put to good use.

      One recent personal experience: My family and I went out to eat. My son Dylan ordered a steak, medium rare. When the waiter came back to our table, he only had the adults’ entrees. My son’s order (a Filet) was served a significant time afterwards due to a “problem in the kitchen.”
      When my son cut into his steak it was very overcooked. We sent it back. When the new steak arrived, 15 minutes later, it was a clump of raw meat. By that time my wife was practically having to feed my son the scraps of food on the floor, because he was so hungry. (He didn’t want any part of the fish that we had ordered).

      When I asked to see the Manager, the waiter curiously replied that “the manager is on his honeymoon.” By this time it had practically been one hour since my main course was served.

      I wanted to voice my annoyance, disdain and anger…but didn’t know what approach to take.

      We left the restaurant in a hungry and disappointed mood.

      I only wish I had found your tips sooner. I lost out on an opportunity to be verbally effective.

      Trust me, it won’t happen again.


      PS I really like your witty titles and perspective. You have a interesting writing “voice.”

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