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 Award-winning business author and broadcaster

Leadership trainer and coach

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  • Writer's pictureAudrey Tang

How to complain for resolution

Updated: Jul 25, 2022

Complaints can sometimes be one of the most useful things a manager can receive. They not only offer an account of what allegedly went wrong, but in going to the person who can do something about it - you have given the organisation a chance to make things better. The problem is we either don't do it, or we do it wrongly.

Some research suggests that dissatisfied customers have somehow become aware that organisations have poor understanding of them. For example, half of dissatisfied customers are fatalistic, doubting that it is worth complaining. Gursoy et al (2007:358)’s paper “Propensity to Complain” reviewed literature in which “50% of dissatisfied customers choose not to complain directly to the service provider (Day, 1977; Day, 1980b; Day and Bodur 1978; Day and Laird Landon, 1977; Gursoy et al 2007) because…a) it is not worth the time and effort, b) they do not know where or how to complain and c) they believe that nothing will be done even if they do complain (Lewis and Morris, 1987).” Thus evidence that organisations are succeeding is not challenged by evidence that they are failing. This reluctance to complain, along with management acceptance that short, quantitative surveys are enough goes some way to explaining why organisations which have passed every inspection are confounded by dreadful occurrences and service user dissatisfaction.

Further, if complaints are embedded in “grievance culture” (Baggini, 2008:7), where complaining is more a necessary psychological well-being activity, and mere venting to friends or colleagues is enough to restore a sense of satisfaction without taking the sometimes painstaking route to formal complaint (eg. Alike et al, 1992; Baggini, 2008), formal complaints are few (Gursoy et al 2007:358).

So there is onus on both sides.

On the side of the organisation:

1. Make your complaints procedure clear - with a designated person assigned to it, and a "manned" means of getting in touch.

2. Investigate and respond to complaints within 14 working days - including your findings and a summary of the action you will be taking.

On the side of the complainant:

If the organisation has a clear means to complain (at the very least Contact details and a Name, or if you can find the name of the manager, use that)

1. Resist the temptation to social media to vent your frustration without giving the organisation an opportunity to respond first. This merely results in defensiveness, and the problem may never be solved.

2. Outline the situation as you experienced it stating everything factually and chronologically.

3. Ask for next steps.

Of course if you do not hear anything within your stated time (...personally when I have taken the trouble to do 1 - 3, I will expect a response within 5 working days which is fair for an organisation that is on the ball) then I'm more than happy to take the twitter route and have been known to tweet, facebook and message.

Yes it takes time, and yes it's not as satisfying as firing off a quick tweet on social media, but if you believe that resolution can be had, there are four huge advantages to taking the time to structure your complaint properly, as per point 2 (above):

- While the indicent is fresh, you are able to better recall it

- Once you have set it out it no longer plays on your mind

- It is very easy to recount it by cutting and pasting it as many times as you need at a later date

- It takes emotion out of the situation which means it is facts that can be actioned, and you do not run the risk of defaming anyone or saying anything slanderous.

It is also very helpful for the organisation so they know where to start their investigation, which means you are likely to get a full response.

I also always ask for "next steps" because I want to know that my complaint - which I have taken the trouble to write - is going to be taken seriously and actioned - and will ask for the next steps if I am given a "standard letter" response.

As soon as we treat complaints with the value that they are worth, positive changes can be made.

Dr Audrey Tang is a chartered psychologist and author. Listen to her podcast Retrain Your Brain here; and catch her practical masterclasses Psych Back to Basics on DisruptiveTV & Energy Top Up for resilience For quick tips and tools: click for SKILL PILL and Q&A videos and here for Media appearances. Twitter/IG @draudreyt

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