When I think of a typical British person, it’s someone who visits a restaurant with poor food and slow service, feels bitterly annoyed, and yet says nothing except a tight ‘thank you’ as they pay the bill.
This way of behaving has never been quite ‘me’. I’m open and honest, I wear my heart on my sleeve, and I want things to be the best they can be. If I feel like I’m getting a lousy experience for an inflated price, I have the urge to say something. I’d always rather give polite, constructive criticism, face to face, than go away and bitch on Trip Advisor.
However, over the years, I’ve had to learn that sometimes that’s not appropriate. A boyfriend once treated me to a lovely weekend away in a guesthouse in Stratford Upon Avon. The shower didn’t work, so I complained when it was time to pay.
In my family this would be completely normal. My dad is famous for complaining for 45 minutes because a breakfast menu said ‘eggs’ and he got one egg. However, in this instance I should not have complained. I should have realised the priority was not improving the hotel facilities, but enjoying my ex-boyfriend’s thoughtfulness and allowing him to see it making me happy.
There are lots of reasons not to complain. For one thing, it’s important to be realistic. Although television forces a glossy version of life upon us, if we walk around expecting our food to look like it’s on Masterchef, and our accommodation to replicate Grand Designs, we will certainly be disappointed. We’ll also drive the chefs/estate agents who are trying to give us this (for a modest sum of money) into an early grave!
Our haircut may be hugely important to us. We may feel that for what we’re paying, we deserve to float out of the salon, magically transformed into a Pantene advert goddess…however, the hairdresser receiving a £10 cut of the bill might not feel quite as strongly.
Even though we all know how intensely annoying bad service from telecoms and car insurance companies can be, I do think it’s plain wrong to take our frustrations out on call centre workers. They’re often paid minimum wage, and given little training or power, and the way some people speak to them is frankly disgusting. They are not Teflon coated.
I know a few people who work in customer service, and many of them say that when customers complain, they often completely understand and want to do more to make it better…but company rules do not allow them to do this. Therefore I think the first step to good complaining is to be clear in your head what would be fair and what would make it better, and make sure you ask to speak to someone sufficiently senior to be able to do this for you.
The second step in good complaining is to weigh up whether it is worth your time and energy. I recently bought a dress online, which needed to be returned after 14 days. Day 10 saw me packaging the dress up in a jiffy bag. It also saw me falling down a flight of stairs, rupturing a ligament in my ankle and chipping the bone.
As a result of all the drama, the dress wasn’t returned until Day 16. Although it was only two days late, in perfect condition, and I explained what had happened (I had to ask a friend to take it back for me as I was on crutches), this large high street chain store refused to give me a refund.
After five indignant emails, I finally found success. I feel this was worth it…but only just. Perfectionism can get in the way of fun and frolics, and who really wants to spend their weekends attempting to improve another company’s customer service?!
Finally, one of the best ways to complain is actually to treasure good service. When something isn’t right, just move on. But when you find a restaurant that serves you fresher food, a holiday company that offers great value, a hairdressers who doesn’t over charge- cherish them. Compliment them and give glowing online reviews. Perhaps a lot of this stuff is second nature to most people, but after being raised in a legal household, I think I’m only just getting the hang of it. The Art of Good Complaining is often knowing when to let it go!