Thursday, August 30, 2007

How to Complain

Partially inspired by Adam's Premium Rate SMS Abuse post, I thought I'd republish a post I made a few months back on a different blog about how to complain. It doesn't fit in completely with the exact situation Adam discusses, but I feel there's a couple of things that are still relevant:

We all have to complain at some point. Some people feel the need to complain more than most, but sometimes something will happen that we have every right to complain about. When that time comes it can often be frustrating even finding the person to complain to, so when you actually get to talk to someone tempers can already be frayed.

I've been working with software for a number of years now, so I've been on the receiving end of a fair few complaints. These have ranged from the perfectly calm, reasonable complaint over something that genuinely is a problem, to an angry, swearing marathon yelled down the phone at you as if you were some troublesome infant. So I thought I would be in a position to share what makes a good complaint that can be resolved quickly.

1. Make sure you actually have a problem

Just because what you have isn't doing what you want it to do, doesn't mean it is not capable of doing it. OK, you might have a problem with the usability of the product, but make sure you make that clear when you complain.

2. Make sure you can reproduce the problem

Inconsistent error reports make it very difficult to track down problems. If you can consistently cause an error by performing a set number of steps, then chances are the people trying to fix your problem will be able to as well. Reproducing the problem in a controlled environment is the first step towards resolving a problem.

3. Be clear about what is wrong

The chances are that the people looking at your problem will have a dozen or so other things to do at the same time. Their time is better served fixing problems than deciphering what problem you are having.

What were you doing before the problem? What version of the software are you using? What data had you entered in? Have you been able to perform these steps before? If yes: has anything changed with your own system since that time? Do you have a customer reference that you can give so I can look at your call history?

If you don't include answers to at least some of these questions in your initial report the people looking at your problem will just have to ask. This takes time, especially if you are difficult to get in touch with. This time could have been spent looking into why your problem was happening, if you had just provided a little more information into what problem you actually have.

4 For God's sake, just be polite!

Chances are that if you have a problem, you're not going to be too happy about it. It's stopping you working in some way, otherwise it wouldn't be a problem.

However angry or upset you are, take a few deep breaths and count to 10 before lifting up the phone and yelling at someone. You'll be more concise when you're calm--people are more likely to help you when you are calm.

Yes the person you speak to is probably being paid to help you, but that doesn't mean they have to like doing it. If you are rude and aggressive the only thing they will want to do is get you off the phone. They will tell you how you can fix the problem quickly, but this might not always solve the root cause of the problem. Yes, they are being paid to help you, but they are not your slaves/pets/children. They are still human beings with feelings that deserve to be respected.

If you're calm and polite and raise an issue, you may get that same quick fix to get you on your way, but you're also more likely to remain in memory. And who knows, maybe they'll pro actively let you know of better ways of solving the problem later. Maybe they'll even thank you for highlighting an error they'd missed.

You don't have to believe in karma to see that what goes around comes around. If you're polite to them, then they will repay that by being polite to you.

5. ...and shut up and listen to them!

This might seem obvious, but too many times people just don't listen to the help they are given. Make sure you don't fall into this category.

You might think you know what is causing the problem, and by all means offer this to them, as long as you are polite about it. But if this doesn't turn out to be the issue, then don't cling to what you think is right! Customer support does actually look into problems! They wouldn't tell you something different if it wasn't true!

Listen to them, and understand what you are told. Don't be too proud to say if you haven't understood. They should be able to tell you again using concepts you're familiar with. If you still can't understand then get them to write it down so you can forward it to someone who might.

You don't want to have to call them again with the same problem do you?

6 Understand that calls are prioritised

Your problem may be bugging you a lot, but if you are able to work around it, then your problem will be put lower in the pile of outstanding calls. No company has the man-power to answer every support call it receives immediately, and critical problems will always be investigated first.

If your problem is that you don't like that you can't change the order of some data in the application you are using, then this will fall behind a call from another company for which the application doesn't work at all.

All customers are important, and all customer support calls deserve to be answered promptly. But understand that not all calls can be solved immediately, so don't get angry and think you've been forgotten. The company that you are dealing with does value your custom and your call, but you have to understand that you are not their only customer, and occasionally other customers' calls need to be dealt with before yours.

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