So you feel frustrated, angry about BT and being on hold at a call centre, waiting to register a complaint, or been enraged by the bland non-apology that comes in response to a written grievance and promises the earth but delivers little that’s tangible? Do you know why? You’re not complaining correctly.
Jasper Griegson, the ‘King of Complainers’ and author of three books on the subject, is a man who can bend giant corporations to his will. Here, he explains how to complain effectively.
A letter is the best way of complaining. An email seems transient, and making a phone call might leave you on hold for a very long time. People receive fewer letters these days, so it’s a less crowded field. The basic rule is keep the letter short, punchy and clear, and preferably on one side of a sheet of paper. Don’t send 18 pages of scrawled ramblings because no one will read it. Of course, also send your complaint into http://www.btcomplaint.com who will publish your complaint and include it in report that will be sent for investigation to Ofcom.
In your sights
Never address your letter to an anonymous customer services or complaints department. Get the name of someone reasonably senior – a second in command is a good place to start.
For instance, write to the finance director of the company you are complaining to (his name is probably on the company’s website). Richard Branson might be inundated with complaints, but other executive directors will not be – therefore, your moaning missive will be something of a novelty.
Hitting the target
Make sure your letter gets to the person you intend it to go to, so write, type or draw anything on your envelope you think might help your epistle to stand out. I often mark my letters ‘Private and confidential. Addressee only.’ Once, I wrote to an executive at John Lewis using a pink envelope, sprayed with aftershave and ‘Sealed With A Loving Kiss’ written on it. Sure enough, she read it.
The smoking gun
Give them something to look at and, if you have any evidence, flaunt it. If you are complaining about cockroaches in your rented accommodation, send photographs. Keep any evidence – such as invoices, guarantees or receipts – separate from your principal letter, but attach them by paper-clipping them on the back. And remember, always send photocopies, not originals, in case your correspondence gets lost in the mail.
Do you feel lucky?
You may feel angry, but don’t write an angry letter. If you can engage your recipient in a one-to-one dialogue and exchange banter, you’re less likely to get a computergenerated response. It also makes your letter stand out from all the other banal business communications. Give your recipient something more amusing than the other stuff in their in-tray and you can make their day.
What you get
Make it clear that you’re looking for compensation – but don’t specify exactly what you want. End the letter asking for ‘a meaningful and substantial gesture of goodwill’. You don’t want to underestimate the value of your claim. Leave it up to the company and you might be pleasantly surprised. If you’re not impressed by its offer, you can always go back to it.
Wear them down
Don’t be fobbed off. The company is likely to attempt to justify itself by implying that your claim has no merit, and sometimes it becomes a war of attrition. Don’t give up and never accept the first offer. It’s a good idea to pre-empt this with a line such as: ‘Let me assure you that a dismissive two-line apology will not satisfy me.’ Use a scatter-gun approach; write the same letter to every member of the board: by broadening your audience, there’s more chance that someone will think the company should settle with you. If all else fails, take your complaint to the small claims court (I have never lost a claim there). It’s simple to do and there aren’t huge legal costs.
There is no magic formula, but your letter should be adventurous. You don’t have to write a formal letter like a Victorian correspondence clerk. I sometimes personalise it, even if I don’t know them – ‘Dear Paul, how are the kids?’ – and have even been known occasionally to complain in the form of a poem.