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You know how it is; there's something wrong and it needs sorting out. Maybe someone's to blame, and you've been treated badly, or there's a problem which really shouldn't have happened, or you've bought something and it's faulty.

But what to do about it? Some people think that taking it out on a member of staff of the company/organisation concerned might do some good, but curiously despite the popularity of this approach, it is remarkably ineffective.

The second most popular approach, ignoring it and not facing up to the people responsible but instead just grumbling to your friends, that isn't good either. It doesn't do you any good, and it doesn't help the company/organisation to learn by their mistakes so as to prevent other people suffering in future.

A much better approach is to COMPLAIN. That is, to put a complaint in. Tell the people at the company what is wrong. Remember, it's the company that's to blame, and not the people who work for the company!

When complaining, the thing that's most important is to give yourself the best possible chance of getting some kind of solution/satisfaction. Also important is to achieve the best results with the least amount of aggravation, (which is a waste of energy).

It's important to realise that a person you are complaining to IS NOT THE COMPANY, (unless it's a small business where you can talk directly to the boss). A complaints department employee might be quite good at being accused of being at fault, having had a lot of practice, but they aren't really at fault personally at all! (see the item in the last paragraph about the phone company). It's generally best to be nice to people. Imagine what it's like from the other person's point of view. Would you respond better to "This is your fault! Get it sorted out!" or "I'd like you to help me solve this problem which is the fault of this company which you work for, please" ?

Also, consider what you want to achieve by complaining. The satisfaction of having had your say and "getting it off your chest" might seem important, but is it really? I would consider various things to be more important. For example, any combination of the following: A free voucher, someone stating that they will make an attempt to improve things in future, a thankyou for suggestions, visible signs of reform, a no-quibble replacement, some cash compensation, etc.

Some companies take the whole business of complaints much more seriously than others. Some famous shops are better than others at listening to a customer putting in a complaint with some constructive criticism. In the travel business, some of the famous names are good at listening to customers and some are not. Some are very bad, but they then have the problem that these days the customer has a higher power with which to bite back. I don't mean watchdogs, I mean the Internet. The customer can write about their shocking experiences on their own website. Companies would do well to consider this seriously!

For a company, it is surprising how much good Customer Relations can be generated by giving a free ex-gratia something-or-other to a customer.

But what if it doesn't appear to work, and you're talking to a person who is part of a big company and they are being awkward and don't care how you feel? Should you insult them? No, you should not at all. There is a much more effective strategy versus the awkward person, "jobsworth", or "vogon". You use the fatal flaw that they have in getting away with saying NO, which is that they are subordinate to a boss. You say "I'd like to speak to your superior". They almost always comply. And then you get to talk to the next level up, and the higher levels of staff often have a greater affinity with the company and don't want it to be seen to look bad. So, a greater chance of some success.

When trying to get something done with an authority, always ask the person's name and make a note of it. This makes a big difference, because the person feels they must do something rather than nothing, as they have to consider the unmentioned implicit possibility that you might come back and tell someone, their boss for example, that you have talked to them (mentioning name), and nothing was done.

Bear in mind that you are most likely right, but there is just a chance that you might be wrong. If it turns out that you have complained in error, be honest about it and apologise. They'll respect you for it.

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