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10 Top tips for avoiding complaints and managing them

The Complaining Cow’s Ten Top Tips for the Complained Against!

Search well and you can find lots of help in improving your customer service, complaint handling and customer experience, sales etc. But perhaps it’s time you looked at what a seasoned complainer gets most annoyed about, the annoyances you don’t know about and the people you don’t reach when gaining feedback and then what you can do about it?! Perhaps a customer is best placed to advise you on how to improve the customer experience and show who you are missing when you gain feedback and how you can improve your sales.

1) Dealing with customers on the telephone

If someone rings to complain then they may well be irate and/or rude. I advise people never to ‘phone, only to write, unless absolutely necessary. This is because it is easy to get really angry, forget your points and be rude. You have the right not to deal with someone if they are being rude. I say this as an experienced complainer. Try to calm the caller down but be assertive. Recognise that they have a problem they wish to discuss but state that you will only listen if they please calm down so that you can help. You cannot help until the emotion has been dealt with. Staff should always be polite and apologise where necessary. You win people round that way. But it must be genuine, we can all tell when it’s just being said to shut us up!

Customer Service: 5 ways to get rave reviews & referrals a few tweaks to your customer service can help you reduce risk to reputation, finances and impact on customers and increase sales.

2) Empower your staff

Nothing frustrates the complainer more than having to repeat their complaint. Train your staff well. Ensure that they are equipped with the right knowledge and tools to deal with complaints both at face to face contact with customers and in the Customer Service department.

If your staff are working face to face train them to gauge when someone wants to talk and when they don’t. Absolute pet hate of many customers! Think about which staff will use their initiative and when they should be encouraged to do so. Also what they will do with “Rules”.

Where are your customer service skills? How do you improve them?


“Have a nice Day” NO thank you

So often my complaints have been about staff not knowing the answer or giving misinformation. Obviously at times you will have new staff! Make sure that there are always more knowledgeable people easily to hand. This is a common problem!

The best quality you can ever look for when recruiting is common sense! Everything else comes from good training and looking after your staff well. Looked after staff look after customers.

3) Always ask for clarity/more information so that it is easier to resolve the problem

Having written countless complaints for lots of people where they have previously failed to gain redress, I have seen time and time again that people have not given enough information – it’s badly written or things just aren’t clear. Don’t deal with a complaint as quickly as possible. Go back and ask for more information and/or clarity if necessary. It could well be that there is some really useful feedback for you if you are open and prepared to find out more.

Often companies try and deal with the initial complaint and make more problems for themselves because they have assumed something incorrectly. If in doubt, ask a colleague then ask the customer, never ever assume. You’ll see examples of how this piece of advice should have been followed in some of my more protracted complaints!

4) Social media

Twitter and other Social media streams may be good to communicate with customers but give the staff the tools to be able to do the job properly. Good training and good management support with efficient and effective systems and processes to follow and test them. I’ve used Twitter to try and resolve a complaint and the staff tweeting didn’t investigate properly and made the matter worse.

Remember the power of social media. Even ignoring one tweet can lose you business.

Why CEOs should have a presence on social media

5) Improve your internal and external communication

You’ll see throughout my consumer blog posts, that one big common factor when making the biggest and/or longest complaints is the poor communication between departments. So often, once the CEO’s office has been contacted it is found that one department didn’t pass on a piece of information to another. Set up adequate systems and test them appropriately.

Identify, explore and reduce the risks associated with your correspondence with vulnerable customers

Calling all CEOs: please read emails from your customers and learn about your own business

Free download Customer Service 5 ways to get rave reviews & referrals a few tweaks to your customer service can help you reduce the risk to your company’s reputation, finances and impact on customers and increase sales.

6) Set up meaningful log systems

Log your letters, phone calls and emails regarding complaints. Ensure adequate records and systems are kept of categories of complaints so that you can monitor and improve on all areas including those you didn’t know about! Keep records of which ones you have had to pay out the most/frequency/amount. Keep records of how the complaint came in, whether it was escalated with sections for why etc. as this in itself gives rise to another complaint. You will be able to see what types of complaints are fewest but costing you the most and the complaints which are the most frequent so that you can address appropriately. Ensure your system is filled out with every complaint that comes in. Set up regular predetermined dates to address each category and revisit for patterns/changes. Obviously you will need to keep records of what has been done to address issues to date. You will need to have very large systems if you have several stores of course!

7) Feedback tools warnings

Don’t use gimmicks for gaining feedback. Utterly pointless. One store I sometimes shop in has put in one of those interactive screens where you tap on the answer. Some people will just keep pressing a negative button skewing your figures and children just press it to get the sounds. It’s also insulting to your customers. You can’t possibly use that feedback and we know it.

You can use Mystery Shoppers but be aware of the many limitations. The Complaining Cow is a Mystery Shopper! I registered with many years ago but I did very little, mainly because the pay is poor and I was only doing it for a bit of fun and pocket money! But I can tell you that very few test their shoppers before they go out on assignments and anyone can apply with any standard of education. I’m sure Mystery Shopping companies will tell you that anyone can apply but not everyone is accepted! This may be true but the rates for jobs do not equate to anything near even a low level manager’s salary so you’ll see my point. Also, what’s the point of sending someone to buy a pot of margarine and take it back? It’s not real. Use a real scenario, the real family shop. What’s the point of asking a Mystery Shopper to undertake a flight when what you really want to see is what a family who really fly with you thinks? It’s the same with meals and take-aways. The differences in experience are vast. There are numerous ways of doing this!  See The Complaining Cow Confidential, Tailored Mystery Shops.

When you are using feedback forms, complaint letters/phone calls/emails you are actually only reaching a limited type of customer. Think about it. People who are prone to wanting to give their opinions are like me! How are you are going to reach the people who aren’t assertive, don’t give their opinions willingly etc? These people’s views are just as important and, dare I say it, possibly more important than mine! That’s because these are the people who will not use your store again and will not tell you why. You don’t know what you don’t know!

A friend of mine often tells me to hold back if I don’t like something in a shop. She is non confrontational and too lazy or doesn’t have the time to write a letter of complaint or write with suggestions on any feedback forms! However, she does walk out of shops, they DO lose her custom but they don’t know who they lost or why. For example, Marks and Spencer haven’t been doing too well lately. One of the things they may have done to address this is pack more clothes in. Perhaps an “Expert” told them that they needed to put more “stuff” in the stores to sell more. No-one asked the customers though did they?

My friend who used to regularly spend hundreds of pounds in M & S now hates shopping there. Why? You used to be able to see through and over rails and move about easily. Now, it’s common to barge into people looking at the next rail and you can’t see where you need to go if in a rush. Twice we have left early because the place annoyed us and the last time we heard a mother say to her daughter “Let’s get out of this place it’s too crowded.” So, they lost 3 customers in as many minutes. Do you think the powers that be in Marks and Spencer know?

Remember, if you ask a customer if their expectations were exceeded and they say “yes” that they might have had a really bad experience before so anything is better! Choose your questions carefully to get you the information need not the information you want to hear.

8) Gain feedback creatively

Look for creative ways of getting feedback, even risky ways. Just because you use feedback forms, Twitter, Facebook and direct feedback through complaints etc. doesn’t mean that you are getting the most useful or best information. Yes use tried and tested methods but if you want to gain over your competitors why not do something different? Try inviting a group of people who have recently complained about your service to tell you what they think of your store/service/organisation! This will be risky, you are going to meet/deal with people who used up your time and annoyed you and you may get given a mile long list but these are the people who complain, these are the people who have no problem telling you how you could improve, these are the voices of the people who use you. Surely you need to hear them? Ask someone from outside your organisation to facilitate the session to ensure that you really get the information you need.

Guide customers with humour!

I haven’t seen children and young people mentioned on any customer service website or advice website! Are you a family friendly organisation? Ask the children and young people! They generally don’t write letters of complaint (although mine is encouraged to and he’s only 4years old!) they don’t tend to fill out feedback forms and younger ones aren’t using Social Media. But again, their views are important, they are aiding their parents/carers in deciding where to shop etc. Is that another untapped resource that you have been ignoring in gaining your feedback? How are you going to get their views? Creatively! (Not using your existing staff because different skills are needed. You wouldn’t ask your customer care team to undertake youth or playwork would you?!) How you do this needs to be planned carefully and appropriately, with due care and attention to legal issues, experience and knowledge of the people undertaking this work for you.

Know Your Customer

9) Reward customers for their feedback

Reward your customers for their feedback. You are doing that when you send goodwill gestures to those who complain to you. (So you should, as they have taken the time and trouble to bring the matter to your attention and if you use the feedback well it will save you far more in the long run). You pay your senior managers a high wage and you may even pay for consultants but the best people to tell you how you can improve are your customers so reward them for telling you and they will remain loyal.

Remember the general adage “Happy customers tell 3 of their friends, unhappy ones tell 10”. However, with the development of Review sites, Internet Forums and Social Media the figures are now much bigger!!! How far you go in making amends can make a huge difference. If you remain unconvinced read my Blog! How many people am I telling about service?!

10) Thank your customers!

Always respond to customers. Thank them for their feedback. It doesn’t matter how big or small your organisation, that customer, however frustrating/persistent s/he may have been, could have given you the best piece of information to improve your sales! It could have been the one thing that numerous customers are annoyed about. There are many ways you can and should do this too!!

A little positive thinking about complaints and feedback can improve your customer service and sales enormously and if you need more help with creativity and a different angle look here!


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Bonus tip!

Alternative Dispute Resolution

Look to become a member of an Alternative Dispute Resolution Scheme. 5 myths about Ombudsman providers busted. Being a member of a scheme can be really beneficial to businesses and it gives consumers faith that there is support if something goes wrong with a purchase. There are some issues with choosing the right scheme Ombudsman systems needs urgent shake-up, says Parliamentary Group  and see Ombudsman Omnishambles and More Ombudsman Omnishambles. These reports look at the approval and ongoing monitoring of ADR providers which will help you choose an appropriate one.

The Complaining Cow – free support for businesses

It takes 5 times as much to gain a new customer to retain one. So work on turning your customers into superfans who do much of the heavy lifting for you!

Join the Facebook Group Increase Sales through Customer Service: Compassion, Care and  Integrity  A private group where you can give and get support, advice and share good practice on how to improve customer service.

Free download Customer Service 5 ways to get rave reviews & referrals a few tweaks to your customer service can help you reduce the risk to your company’s reputation, finances and impact on customers and increase sales.

Customer Service how to turn customers into superfans raving about your products/services

The Complaining Cow Services

To see how The Complaining Cow can help you improve your customer service and increase sales by turning customers into suprfans who do the heavy lifting of marketing for you. Reduce risk to reputation, finances and impact on vulnerable customers. See Services.

Increase sales through exceeding expectations




Business Latest News

Vote with your feet does boycotting work?

This article first appeared in Moneywise November 2018. Moneywise was wound up so I have reproduced my article here.

To boycott or not to boycott? That is the question

What do you do if you still receive bad service, even after you have complained? As a consumer journalist I keep going until my Consumer Rights are met! But even if you do, what if you feel really strongly or don’t like the ethics of a company? Perhaps refuse to buy goods or to take part in the activity to convey condemnation, boycott.

arms holding placards


Why do people boycott?

Companies would do well to heed customers’ voices when they say they won’t return to a company due to poor service or their ethics. Many of us loathe Amazon, questioning its tax affairs, believing it is the killer of small business, treats its staff appallingly and unless complaining about something simple like faulty goods or a delivery, their customer service is shocking. Whilst there are often calls to boycott the likes of Amazon, Starbucks or Google, in reality it is almost impossible to do so and Amazon knows this, making it difficult for those of us with things to sell and want what is frequently the cheapest price.

Even if individuals do boycott Amazon does it make a difference? Probably not, in fact, definitely not. Sometimes though it’s just unrealistic to start movements to make a difference. Sometimes it’s about spreading the word, hitting them in the pocket or simply for a sense of justice.

When a few money bloggers were asked if they boycotted, the responses were interesting.

Hollie from Thriftymum says “There’s an independent handbag shop in my village (Strouds of Cottingham) where I had a “Pretty Woman moment”. I’d gone in and was browsing. When asked what I was looking for I explained I was after a tan leather satchel. The assistant pointed at a few in the window (neither tan nor leather). Then I spotted THE bag in a glass cabinet that formed part of the checkout. I asked if I could see it and she stood up, walked in front of it, thus blocking it from my sight(!) and said “Oh you won’t want that, it’s REAL leather so very expensive.” I bought the bag to prove I could afford it and loved it but I vowed never to go back due to the rudeness.”

Victoria Sully from LyliaRose recognises that she made little impact on New Look when she boycotted them for a year for their poor customer service after querying a voucher code. However, she felt that at least she had made a stand!

Elle Finlay, who writes the blog E.L. Feelsgood Vintage, is amongst those who boycott Starbucks and Google.She goes one further refusing to use “Google” as a verb for good measure too!

Sometimes it is a little harder to keep to your principles even when you try, showing the difficulty with boycotting.  Perry Wilson who writes the blog Stupidisthenorm boycotted Sports Direct because of Mike Ashley’s behaviour towards Newcastle United.  But a few months later he caved in when he needed a cheap pair of socks. “Money over principles”, he sighs.  He adds that a year on he is comfortable with himself but that the socks disintegrated 6 months later!

I doubt he is alone in putting money saving before principles.

Others keep to their principles when choosing to boycott. When Sky tried to increase the subscription for Joseph Seager of Thriftychap, he took action. He had been with Sky for eight years and his brother-in-law for three and was getting a better deal. Not sitting right with Joseph he cancelled and didn’t budge when Sky offered him 70%, discount a couple of days before the cut off either. He says he doesn’t miss the channels either!

How can you boycott?

But occasionally you hear of people playing a blinder. A few months on BBC Radio Scotland someone ‘phoned in regarding boycotting. It’s certainly time consuming but the satisfaction he must have felt surely would have been phenomenal!

This chap had a run in with the supermarket he used regularly due to their poor service. For the next six months he went to another supermarket and every time he went he kept the receipt. After the six months he totalled up all the receipts (you could just add the total to a spreadsheet each time you go so this would take a few seconds if you fancy copying this brilliance!) and wrote to the first supermarket’s CEO with copies of the receipts and the total of the loss to the business. Now that is how to do a boycott!

People often like to join a campaign of boycotting, feeling that it makes more of a difference when a large number of people join forces in supporting a particular cause. Undertaken on a large scale it is possible to hit a business’ bottom line or reputation.

But people are also prepared to take an individual stand too. Often this boils down to good old customer service, so companies would do well to heed this! Companies will never know what customers they are losing!

Do boycotts work?

Whether boycotts work depends on the desired outcome. Is it to raise awareness of an issue? Is it to hit a company’s sales figures? Is it to damage reputation?

One of the first reported boycotts in England goes back to 1971. When Parliament rejected the abolition of slavery, William Fox published an anti-sugar pamphlet selling 70,000 copies in four months. (Profits from sugar used in tea and cakes funded the Slave Trade). By 1972 400,000 British people were boycotting slave-grown sugar. It wasn’t until 1807 that Parliament outlawed the Slave Trade, but sales of sugar dropped by between a third and a half.

Baby Milk Action UK is a well-known established campaign. It works as part of a global network aiming to stop misleading marketing by the baby-feeding industry. It has worked for a number of years encouraging people to boycott Nestlé, arguing that Nestlé puts profits before health in the baby food sector. The campaign aims to give executives a financial reason to act on criticisms of its baby food marketing practices and has prompted Nestlé to modify its behaviour over the years. This demonstrates that boycotting can effect change. Emily Rowley from ThriftyFox joined the Nestlé boycott, as she felt it was important, even though she misses Smarties!

A spokesperson for Baby Milk Action said:

“In the past Nestlé refused to accept the validity of the World Health Assembly marketing requirements for these products – now it claims to do so While Nestlé marketing policies still fall short, the campaign has generally stopped Nestlé advertising infant formula (for use from birth) to parents and giving out free samples to mothers.”  

Supporters of the campaign established the Tap Water Awards which were given to Edinburgh Festival Fringe performers between 2001 and 2006, in a campaign of opposition to the high profile Perrier Awards (Perrier is owned by Nestle). In 2006 Perrier withdrew from sponsoring the awards.

However, Dr Kristian Niemietz, a member of the research team at the right-wing think-tank the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) says:

“One observation is that the responsiveness of big companies to boycotts (as well as social media witchhunts) shows something that’s obvious to us, but that should be counterintuitive for anti-capitalists (and most of the time, people calling for a boycott are anti-capitalist): Companies, especially large ones, are really concerned about their image. If you’re a free-marketeer, you’ll think, ‘Well, of course they are. They depend on their reputation and the goodwill of their customers.’ But if you’re an anti-capitalist, you believe that big corporations run the world, and that they can just do whatever they like without caring about anyone. By using boycotts, left-wing groups are therefore, in a sense, invalidating their own worldview.

For a boycott to work the target has got to be high profile and visible. A quick search of #boycott on Twitter shows people boycotting all over the place! But frequently it is a sole person encouraging others to join in their own personal cause! Most just get lost in the Twitter noise. As for Facebook, you name it there’s probably a page or group to boycott it! Finding one that has achieved its aims is more difficult although an aim of raising awareness is hard to evaluate.

Lush campaign picThe 2018 Lush SpyCops campaign regarding undercover police drew a lot of attention. Many people supported the campaign and others publicly stated their intention to boycott. Although it’s unknown if the directors anticipated the coverage, many people joined the #flushlush campaign. However, many of these were people who didn’t buy Lush products anyway and others showed their support. According to Brandwatch Lush sales went up by 13% over this period.

Dr Niemietz does however, give boycotters some credit. Although rarely sympathising with boycotter’s aims he sums up boycotting saying “It’s generally a good thing that companies are so responsive to public demands, and sensitive about their image. It shows that the consumer, not big corporations, runs the show.”

Poor Service

If you are thinking of boycotting a company because of the way they are handling your complaint about goods or services you may just need help worth complaining effectively. See Top 20 Tips for complaining effectively

Cover of How to Complain updated 2019 large cow logo


For more help, advice, tips, information and templates buy the How to Complain: The Essential Consumer Guide to Getting Refunds, Redress and Results!



The Complaining Cow – free support for businesses

It takes 5 times as much to gain a new customer to retain one. So work on turning your customers into superfans who do much of the heavy lifting for you!

Join the Facebook Group Increase Sales through Customer Service: Compassion, Care and  Integrity  A private group where you can give and get support, advice and share good practice on how to improve customer service.

Free download Customer Service 5 ways to get rave reviews & referrals a few tweaks to your customer service can help you reduce the risk to your company’s reputation, finances and impact on customers and increase sales.

Customer Service how to turn customers into superfans raving about your products/services

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To see how The Complaining Cow can help you prevent and handle complaint see Services.