A lot of us like to gripe, probably because it feels good to vent and get our frustrations out. But when it comes to complaining about a company, it pays to stay calm, focused and on topic — not just give the business a piece of your mind.
In other words, there’s an art to making a complaint about a company — assuming you’re seeking customer satisfaction. Go after the company too hard, and you might be dismissed, and perhaps rightfully so. Complain too softly, and you might not be heard.
So if a business has made a mess of things for you, follow these strategies to get results.
Successfully complaining about a company is kind of like solving a murder mystery or serving food. Just as you don’t want the clues to disappear or the food to go cold, you’re going to have a better chance of getting your complaint resolved if your encounter with the business is fresh in everyone’s minds.
So if something goes wrong, try to bring it up right away. “It’s always better to try to get a problem resolved immediately,” says Jay Skowron, founder of HospitalityDefender.com, a website design and reputation management website, who is based in San Mateo, California.
“The first thing I would advise is not to be hostile or obnoxious, either in person or through email,” Skowron says, adding that if you lose control, “it rarely ends well and is likely to end up on YouTube.”
Skowron points out that owners and managers are human, too. “If they feel attacked, they get defensive, just like you probably would,” he says. “They might just dismiss you for bad behavior. You don’t want that. You want to get them on your side and see your point of view. You don’t want them to decide you’re not the kind of customer they want.”
Complain on Social Media
So you took the reasonable and polite approach and nothing happened? OK, feel free to complain on social media.
That said, if you’re angry and don’t feel clear-headed, and if you did talk to somebody in customer service who simply couldn’t help you, keep in mind that the customer isn’t always right. You don’t want to lay out your story and trash a business and then have customers rushing to their defense when it’s suddenly clear that you were the unreasonable one.
But if you feel you have a case to make, make it — preferably on Twitter, suggests Andrew Selepak, a social media professor at the University of Florida in Gainesville.
Selepak has some interesting thoughts on why other social media sites aren’t as effective.
— Why Facebook isn’t a great place to gripe. On Facebook, “a complaint about a company will only be seen by people a customer knows,” Selepak says. In other words, a business may respond if they see the complaint but they probably won’t out of sheer terror.
— Why you shouldn’t try Instagram, either. Pretty much the same reasoning, plus some more thoughts. “Since many of us have accounts set to private, there is the possibility that people we don’t know may not see our post,” Selepak says.
— TikTok’s out, too. TikTok videos are not shared the same as tweets, Selepak says. Plus, he adds, “The user base still skews young, and most content seen is based on the algorithm and not because users were searching for a topic.”
— Why Twitter is a great place to complain about a business. Visibility is key. “Twitter is the ultimate one-to-many social media platform where content can go viral and be seen by users that are not our followers,” Selepak says.
That makes companies very nervous about business complaints that are posted on Twitter.
Selepak points out that when customers make complaints about a company on Twitter, “not only is there the potential for that complaint to go viral and be seen by millions, but there is also the potential that a negative tweet can remind other users of a negative experience they had with a company and start tweeting their own negative experiences and suddenly a company is trending for all the wrong reasons.”
Because of all that, Selepak says, major companies are acutely aware of the power of Twitter and how a negative tweet can go viral in the worst way for a brand. So if you tweet a complaint on Twitter, Selepak feels that you’ll get a reply from the customer service people pretty quickly.
Complain to Nonprofits or Government Agencies
If complaining about a business on social media doesn’t work out, you will probably want to report the company. Some organizations that may be able to take your complaint include:
— The Better Business Bureau. You can register your complaint with the BBB. It’s a national nonprofit that has been around since 1912 — and really, its main goal is to make consumers feel better about patronizing businesses. So when people have complaints, historically they come to the BBB, which often acts as a mediator when trying to work things out between a complaining customer and a business that may not have measured up.
— The Federal Trade Commission. If you file a complaint, the FTC will investigate it, and it may be able to resolve the issue to your satisfaction. It probably won’t be able to do anything about a rude salesperson, but if you feel you’ve been cheated by a business, tricked or roped into an unfair practice, that’s when you contact the FTC. It recommends lodging a complaint on its website.
— Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Maybe it isn’t a store you have a complaint about. If it’s a bank or an auto lender, the CFPB is a good place to go. On its website, there’s a “submit a complaint” link.
A Last Resort
You could file a lawsuit. This won’t be practical for many people, and it won’t be worth your time and money in most instances to hire an attorney for possibly $200 or more an hour. But it is an option that’s always available to a peeved off customer.
Still, odds are, if you’re loud and make it clear you aren’t going away, and you file a complaint with a government agency like the FTC, the issue will likely be resolved sooner or later. For all the poor customer service experiences out there and all the reasons to file business complaints, you can at least be reassured that if a company has wronged you, there are a lot of tools you can use to make things right.
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Update 08/16/21: This story was published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.