Before You File A Complaint …
Something goes wrong.
A product doesn’t arrive on time. A person doesn’t do what you expect. Events don’t fit into your schedule.
Let’s face it … things happen that fall short of what we expect. As leaders we are also customers each day in our work, as well as customers when we’re at home.
Throughout my life, both professionally and personally, I’ve seen horrible examples of people who created friction in business because they didn’t feel they were given a full value of service during a charitable event. Colleagues of mine have lied to businesses to get a better product or faster response time (“After all, I’M the customer!!“). And there have been clients who have ruined a person’s career track because they weren’t willing to listen to or understand the variables or systems that hampered an individual’s ability to service them better.
Filing a complaint is serious stuff. How we go about filing a complaint when things go awry reveals a lot about our leadership and our ability to interact with others. Here are some great ways to handle these situations:
- Seek first to understand. Steven Covey’s first habit of highly successful people. Talk to the individuals first to discover what the issue at hand truly is. It may not have been a deliberate behavior, but a series of unfortunate events that culminated in a sub-standard showing. The willingness to meet expectations may well be there, but was just an anomaly that may or may not have been avoided.
- Look at your own expectations. Is it about others meeting their obligations, or about your convenience when things don’t go your way? Do others know your expectations? Are they reasonable to others? Restaurants for instance may not know you need a peculiar condiment for a sandwich, so complaining does no good when your expectation is not the norm. Examining your own motives first will help you bridge the gap in service expectations. Communicating them clearly can resolve most of these issues.
- Understand the variables. Sometimes people are handcuffed by circumstances beyond their control. Delivery trucks break down. Retail items sell out (“while supplies last”). Kitchen and factory capacities can be maxed out at a certain time. Computer systems crash. When you discuss point #1 with others, you can find out what these outlier variables are. This can afford you an allowance of time and expectations to work around the systems, and help you work with others towards a solution.
- Don’t lie or embellish. A colleague of mine many years ago called a vendor and screamed because “all” of the product was wrong, when only 5% of the order had an issue. His attempt was to make the vendor pay dearly for a minor infraction, while trying to establish his authority as the customer. This resulted in extra work, cost, and stress for the vendor – all very unnecessary – and resulted in increased costs later down the road. Be honest in your dealings, otherwise it will come around to haunt you and your reputation.
- “It is what it is”. Many people hate this phrase, but sometimes, you have to accept reality. While that doesn’t mean to never pursue change and improvement (see #7 below), it does mean a measure of professional grace that can strengthen your relationship with the other party. Change the things you can, and accept the things you cannot.
- Think through the ramifications. A complaint could ruin someone’s career if it’s not thought about properly and if you and your organization is not one of character. Placing an negative review on Yelp or other social media can tremendously hurt someone’s business or reputation from which they may never recover. Also, it may fracture otherwise good relationships. Ponder the consequences and who it will affect besides yourself.
- It the complaint is legit, please file it. After discussing with others and validating the issue, a complaint may be necessary. Others cannot improve if you sweep issues under the rug. You do owe it to a company to let them know where they can improve. Consider yourself a partner in the solution, not a protagonist or adversary. That valuable feedback handled correctly is the only way that the people you do business with know where they fell short. Work with others through this process in making them better.
Constructive complaints can yield great industry changes, better competitive advantage, and deeper and more committed relationships. How these are initiated is entirely up to you. Just remember, it’s not just yourself in the equation, but others and their livelihoods as well. Work to be an asset, and not a liability, to the success of those you patronize.