March 19, 2010

Tip of the day

What not to do when making a complaint:

A few days ago, I encouraged readers to let their voices be heard.  The premise of the post was to encourage you to speak up if there were problems you were encountering and to also to give positive feedback when it is earned. 

Yesterday, I was with our daughter attending the Jan Brett book signing at our local Borders bookstore.  Mrs. Brett was amazing.  She taught the children how to draw a bunny, read from her book, encouraged the children to practice and build their own creativity, and talked about how importance eyes are in expression when drawing creatures.  After her talk, I went with a stack of over $50 worth of books to the cash register.  I decided that I would buy some extra books to have signed for upcoming birthday gifts for friends and family. 

The cashier started off rude.  It was one of those encounters where it wasn’t anything she said but it was how she said it, how she talked to me, how she shifted around the books, her smirk of an expression--everything.  A young lady, probably about 12-14 years old, came up to her to ask her a question and she was even ruder in her tone of voice with her.  I told her that I didn’t want to buy the books anymore because of the way she was treating me.  Quite sarcastically she said, “I didn’t think I was being rude to you!”  I told her that I wanted to speak with the manager and that I was so upset that I also wanted the phone number for the regional manager. 

Now, here’s the point in the story where you can learn from my mistake, and hopefully I will as well.  I was so angry, taken aback, and upset that I actually started crying when I finally found the manager in the store and started talking to him about the situation.  Yes, that’s right, I cried to the manager.  UGGH!  The guy must have not known what to think.  He asked me to give specifics, but I really couldn’t tell him what she’d done wrong other than the way she had acted.  She hadn’t cursed at me, she hadn’t assaulted me, but she did give me some of the worst customer service in recent history.  He asked what I wanted for him to do to remedy the situation.  Other than to talk with the woman and make sure that others weren’t treated in the same way, I didn’t need for him to do anything else.  Yes, I wanted a book signed by Jan Brett, but I didn’t want to pay money to Borders after how I had been treated by that cashier.  My plan is to write Mrs. Brett and ask her if I were to mail her a book if she would return it to me signed.  I vaguely remember that she had something on her site about doing that.

So, pointers on making a complaint:

  • If you can, try and deal with the person directly.  Sometimes people just need to be brought into awareness.  Sometimes I’ll make a joke with people.  Sometimes I’ll say something like, “Are you having a tough day?”  and not in a sarcastic tone of voice.  Even though I tried, this lady wasn’t receptive, even after I told her I didn’t want to buy books there because of my interaction with her.
  • Calm yourself down before talking to a manager or another representative.  You are more likely to be taken seriously.  When we are very upset, our brain switches over to the limbic system.  We lose logic.  Calm down, take a few deep breaths, and you’ll be able to think more clearly.  Learn from my mistake.
  • Think about what you want to say before you get to the manager or rep.  Be prepared to give specifics rather than global statements.  What exactly was it that was disturbing?  Granted, I still don’t know what I would say differently in this situation because it was more about attitude and intonation instead of what she actually said to me. 
  • Think about what you hope to see happen.  What do you want from the manager or representative?  What I wanted was for her not to treat someone else in the way that she had treated both that young lady and me.  I don’t want her fired.  I didn’t want anything free.  I just wanted for her to realize how she was coming across to others.  When I said something to her, it didn’t work.  It didn’t solve the problem. 
  • Be honest.  DO NOT make a complaint for the purpose of getting something out of the deal.  Don’t be false in your complaint.  Don’t exaggerate.  We’ve all heard about con artists who will slip on a “wet spot in the floor” and sue.  It is just as bad to make a complaint that isn’t true. 
  • Sometimes it is helpful when making a complaint to ask yourself, “Is this about ability or motivation?”  Should you recommend further training because there might be an absence of information?  “I can tell that your clerk is pretty new.  It might help to teach her about how to use a tax exempt form.”  Or does it seem that the person isn’t motivated for one reason or another?
  • Now, here’s the biggie, try to put yourself in the other person’s place.  If I do that, I’m guessing that the gal probably was stressed.  They were having a big day.  She might have had to wake up early to get to work for the event.  She might have had rude customers ahead of me.  Her dog might have died.  Her grandmother might be in the hospital.  She might be fighting a cold.  Who knows!  But, if I try and put myself in her shoes I lose some of my feelings of hurt and anger, and I can step back from the situation.  It does not excuse her rudeness, but if I try and think about under what circumstances I might be rude, it helps me to not take her rudeness towards me personally. 

Now, here are some pointers I’ve learned about being on the receiving end of complaints.  Some of these I learned through workshops with mediators, others I learned through employee training events, and still others I learned through social work.  (For ease of writing, I’m using he for he/she).

  • Stay calm and try not to take it personally, even if it is directed at you as a person.  You never know what a person may be going through that day.  Try to approach the situation with empathy and understanding.  A nice way of looking at empathy is to imagine looking over a person’s shoulder to see what he sees through his perspective.  You aren’t the other person, you can’t be in his shoes, but you can try and see it as closely to his perspective as possible.
  • A mediator once told me that a simple, “I’m sorry” could resolve most of the litigation in this country.  You don’t even have to apologize for the event itself, you can tell the person how sorry you are for their experience.  Mean it, people can tell when you are giving them lip service.
  • Don’t blame someone else.  I can almost always tell when someone hasn’t had good employee training because when approached with a complaint he will blame someone else for the problem.  Take responsibility for the problem, even if it isn’t your mess.  You can even say as much.  “I take responsibility for that, and I’m going to make sure it is resolved.”  If it isn’t your fault, the person will know that it isn’t.  Most of the time, he just wants to know that someone will make it better.
  • If possible, tell the person what you will do to resolve the problem and the time frame.  While not always necessary or even feasible to do so, it is sometimes helpful for the person to know how quickly the problem will be resolved.
  • Follow up if needed. 
  • Do what you say you are going to do.  Don’t exaggerate.  Don’t tell someone something you do not plan on doing.  Follow through.
  • Try to be at eye level with the person.  Watch your body language.  I have to watch myself because I often sit with my arms crossed because it is a comfortable position for me.  Yet, to someone who doesn’t know me, it might appear cross or angry.
  • Try to discuss the situation away from others, as privately as possible. 

So, why do I think that it is important to make a formal complaint?  I don’t believe in complaining about something that you aren’t willing to do something about.  In certain situations, a problem may not be resolved unless it is brought to the attention of the person or the employer.  I also want to reiterate the point I made in the “let your voice be heard” post a few days ago.  I believe it is even more important to tell people what they are doing right than it is to tell people what they aren’t.   Just about every day, I try to reinforce something that a person out in the world is doing—the Kroger bagger for being so kind to our daughter, the check out gal for giving a huge smile and asking how our day was, the hostess for greeting us in a very professional manner, the co-worker for going above and beyond the call of duty… Give compliments, but when necessary, use the tips I’ve listed above.   

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