Bob Holland

Part of our OC Life Mission Statement states our desire to bring out the best in people. Also, if you're a regular reader of our Lovin' Local page, you'll have a noticed a segment I introduced recently in there called 'Do unto others....' In this segment I encourage us all to treat others in the same way we'd like to be treated ourselves. It's with these thoughts ringing in the back of my mind that I write this story.

Last week a local business owner, and friend, rang to ask my advice about an incident that had happened earlier that week in his business. Basically, a customer had complained about a food product that they had purchased, which clearly was not up to their standard. There was no question about the product falling short of both the customer's and the business owner's high standards. On face value, it really was just one of those unfortunate things that happens in most businesses from time to time.

Briefly, this is how things unfolded.

The customer returned to the business pretty annoyed and complained quite vigorously to a staff member. The staff member apologised and offered to replace the item. Sometime later the customer's partner returned to the business and made quite a scene, ripping into the staff member and making several threatening claims including reporting the business to the Health Department. This all took place in front of other customers. Since then, the Health Department visited the business as they are required to do when a complaint is received, they examined the issue and deemed that no wrong doing had occurred by the business. Without saying exactly what the customer's complaint was, and to maintain the privacy of my friend's business, it could be likened in seriousness to buying a BBQ chicken only to find that when you got it home, both wings were missing and you felt someone had removed them for questionable reasons.

My business friend's dilemma was this: Although he had no problem with the customer making the complaint, in fact it was very valid in his view, he did however, feel both the customer and their partner had gone right over the top, the way they treated his staff member was inappropriate and to some extent, bordered on a form of harassment or unacceptable abuse. The whole episode was quite ugly for his staff and other customers but his main concern was for his staff, and it's for that reason he asked my advice, as he did other business friends. He strongly felt that staff who work in customer service positions, particular younger staff, should not have to put up with abuse like this. He felt, as a society, if we let customers believe it's OK to complain in this excessive manner, some people will be hesitant to take on customer service jobs like those in his business.

My advice to him was, that although this incident was possibly something where the Police could be notified, I felt this may only make the whole matter worse. It's been my experience that people who conduct themselves like these people did, are the exception rather than the rule and in the scheme of things, it's better to put the incident behind you and move on. We then talked about how he could support and encourage the staff member involved in the incident, and I also said I'd write this story to try and encourage our readers to think about the bigger picture when making a complaint, about anything. I'd also said I'd suggest a strategy for people, for when they have a complaint, to think about before they set off to rip someone's head off.

It's worth mentioning that businesses often put their staff through Conflict Resolution training courses to help them deal with complaints, but sadly I don't know of courses for customers that teach them how to complain appropriately.

My basic strategy for making a complaint is very simple.

1.  Count to 10. In other words, let the dust settle a bit before firing off.

2.  Determine to be civil, courteous, respectful and fair in the way you conduct yourself. No matter what you may think, if you go in angry, screaming and/or kicking, you won't win any friends or sympathy. Remind yourself about the incident mentioned above and how those people's actions impacted on the staff member and other customers. Very ugly!

3.  Ask yourself "What is the outcome I'm after from my complaint?" This is very important because it will guide you in the way you go about complaining. For example, if it's a product you've bought, ask yourself, do I want to get the item replaced, do I want to just get it fixed, do I not want it at all and simply want my money back? If it's some form of service that you need either over a counter or over the phone, consider what you could say or should say to get what you need in the quickest time, and with the least hassle? Keep the do unto others rule in the back of your mind, and ask yourself 'how would I respond if treated this way'?

4. Where possible, present your complaint to the business owner or a senior person who has the authority to deal with it. Such people, if they are fair dinkum, will want to know about any such complaints because a good business owner/manager will want ensure it doesn't happen again and can often turn what is a bad experience at first into a great experience if handled right. The way a business owner deals with genuine problems or complaints, can speak volumes about them and their business in a good or bad way.

5. Be aware that not all complaints get resolved as we'd like but before any serious or heavy handed tactics are undertaken, exhaust every fair, reasonable and creative thinking avenue first. It's pretty much always helped me get the outcome I'm after, and especially when I'm in the right.

At the end of the day, this has been a story about human nature and sad to say, sometimes, even the best of us can fly off the handle without thinking. I hope the telling of my friend's experience will in some way have a positive effect on those who read it, and that it helps all of us treat each other better, and not just when we're complaining.