The Art of Complaining

We live in a predominantly service economy, yet one of the drivers of our daily unease is the too-frequent breakdown of what should be routinely good service. So how can we best handle these small kerfuffles that bedevil us?

We live in a predominantly service economy, yet one of the drivers of our daily unease is the too-frequent breakdown of what should be routinely good service. So how can we best handle these small kerfuffles that bedevil us?

When you have a service grievance, rule #1 is that it's always best to aim for the highest level of authority that you can access: the supervisor, the manager, the owner. Or even the CEO’s secretary. I have had good success with this last one dealing with big corporations, such as Visa. It’s funny how problems disappear when you get to someone high enough on the food chain. Remember, you cannot get relief until you get to someone who has the authority to actually do something.

When you do get that door opened a crack, rule #2: be as nice and businesslike as possible. You want a sympathetic ear here, not an argument.

Which leads into rule #3: be ready to substantiate your situation. Present your case briefly of how you were badly treated. Have names, dates, documents. etc ready to go. This whole process is really about accountability and this is your window of opportunity.

Rule #4 is do not lie or exaggerate. You do not want to impair your credibility and today’s technology makes claims checkable as never before.

At this point in your prepared presentation is rule #5: request a specific, reasonable remedy, such as asking the boss how he/she can make an unhappy customer happy, so that you can “tell your friends.”

As an example, let’s say that you arrive at a hotel and they do not have a room to honor your reservation. Note that hotels always keep “holdbacks” for special situations, even when they say that they have no rooms left.

I once faced this situation in Buenos Aires and the manager finally gave me the Presidential Suite which occupied one half of the top floor. Multiple members of the bell staff grandly accompanied us and our small bags to the Suite, largely because most of them had never even seen that palatial space.

The leading sources of complaints are cars dealers and repairs, home improvement, credit cards, telecommunications, landlords, and airlines. If you have not had the dubious pleasure of being disrespected by someone in any of these areas, just wait, you will be. But getting some kind of satisfactory resolution is an art that gets better with practice. Be a good consumer, keep smiling and be persistent.

If all else fails, and know that not every proprietor really does want every customer to be satisfied, keep in mind some fall-back watchdogs, such as the Better Business Bureau, your local TV consumer Hotline and, of course, Yelp.

One more thing a doc can learn from all of this; how to handle the other side of the coin. Every doc has had an unhappy patient at some time or other. Listen to what they have to say. If you or your staff has erred, apologize and offer to make amends. Write off the bill. Take extra time. Do what you have to do. Yes, we are consumers who deserve to be well treated, but we can learn to use these tips in reverse when the shoe is on the other foot. Good patient service is an inherent part of good patient care.