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Does It Pay to Complain About Bad Products or Services?

December 17th, 2008 by Bob Bly

I always feel awkward when I have a bad meal in a restaurant and the server asks, “How’s everything?”

I get the feeling that the question is no more sincere than the telemarketer who asks “How are you today?”

It’s just polite talk. They don’t really want or care about the answer.

I never complain, but on a couple of occasions, we were out to dinner with other couples who did complain.

The first time, when our friend SH said his steak wasn’t good, the manager argued: “Our steaks are great. How dare you insult my food!”

“Then why did you ask me in the first place?” SH answered.

The other time, my friend DY told the manager, “The food was good, but the service was glacial (meaning slow).”

Instead of apologizing, the manager angrily said to all of us, “Please don’t come back here again!”

And again I wondered, “If he didn’t want to hear the real answer, why did he ask in the first place?”

Do YOU regularly ask your customers or clients whether they are satisfied with your products and services?

If you do, and they complain, do you really listen? Do you respond politely and helpfully, and offer to make things right?

Or like the restaurant manager who told us never to come back, do you instantly get angry and resentful? And is your anger obvious to your customer?

A few suggestions for handling dissatisfied customers:

** Give them a refund — even if they didn’t ask for it, even if the guarantee has expired.
** Apologize. Express regret that their experience wasn’t excellent.
** Ask them what they didn’t like.
** Give them a small free gift as compensation.


This entry was posted on Wednesday, December 17th, 2008 at 11:48 am and is filed under General. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

53 responses about “Does It Pay to Complain About Bad Products or Services?”

  1. Andrei said:

    simple, give them a refund, if you give them a refund, you only losing one customer, if you dont pay, u going to lose alot more from the bad reviews and spread of bad review about your product and company

  2. Note Taking Nerd said:

    What’s tougher is when you’ve gotten less than satisfactory service to something like your computer or car.

    I’m always leery about this because if you get some who doesn’t genuinely like their customers like the 2 managers Bob mentioned above you’re asking for serious trouble.

    I don’t have a clue of all the subtle intricacies that make my computer or car run. Most people don’t.

    This makes us vulnerable to A-holes is these businesses.

    If I didn’t have a long standing relationship with someone fixing either my computer or car I would test someone’s response to my complaint and they got their feelings hurt and started defending themselves like a 9 year old…

    I’d politely excuse myself and chalk it up as a loss.

    Then I’d seek help elsewhere. There’s no way I’m gonna put my life or data in danger over $700 bucks.

    Who knows what these emotionally unstable, resentful people might do to adeptly jury rig or sabotage my stuff.

    This goes the same with food for me if I’m dining anywhere where I’m paying less than premium prices for what I’m eating.

    Ruth Chris, Flemings, and the Chart House take pride in serving you the finest and I’ve found that they graciously handle any concern I’ve had.

    They never try to make me feel bad for having a unique palette.

    They just make it right.

    This is the way I wish every business treated me.

    Note Taking Nerd #2

  3. dianacacy said:

    On managing the cafe shop, we always replaced their drink or food for free if they didn’t like what they ordered. Most appreciated that. Maybe a few preferred to just have their money back. We were all about service, so this seemed natural to us, and the community loved us for it.

    On running a gutter business, very few complaints came through. Perhaps the occasional case where they misunderstood what feature they were getting and wanted it done differently, like the corners. We redid the work without extra cost then. A lot of the times we were redoing shoddy jobs another company did. Talking and listening to the people helped then – and fully explaining the choices they had. Only time we had to say no was with a copper gutter job – we warned them it would discolor. We cleaned it back to copper once, but held firm after that and they had to accept it because they were fairly warned ahead of time.

    On the writing – no one has complained beyond the prearranged revision agreements yet. But I would definitely give a refund on work not completed or redo the assignment under the right circumstances. I’ve learned to be firm and easy-going/flexible at the same time over the years.

    As for complaining at restaurants, it’s been a mix of good and bad experiences. Often it’s easy to see when they are truly interested in whether you like it or not. They are more attentive. Trick I’ve learned…act like you’re taking notes on the meal. They’ll be a lot more attentive to you, thinking you’re writing a review for them. LOL Found that out one day when I was making notes for a salesletter for a customer during lunch. Gotta write those ideas down before they disappear!

  4. S.P. Gass said:

    Absolutely, it pays to complain. When you’re nice and accepting of problems, no one will ever do anything for you. If you complain like a jerk and threaten to cancel, you’ll get offered lower rates and other goodies.

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  6. Joanna Bartlett-Gustina said:

    I’m not a big complainer. I’ve only sent one meal back to the kitchen ever — and that’s because my beef was green. I ordered something else, they apologized and gave me a few dollars off my meal. I didn’t push it that it should have been comped entirely. But we won’t eat there again.

    Now, if I learn that a customer isn’t happy for whatever reason, or that my own customer relations skills need improvement, I take it as positive criticism and do something about it. I much prefer a client who brings up something they don’t like — I can DO something about that to make them happy and keep the relationship. Sometimes it even gives us a better working relationship as I understand more about their expectations.

    That said, of course my aim is not to have things come up in the first place!

  7. Bob Bly said:

    I am a wimp and get treated as such. Once when I bit into a hamburger at a chain restaurant, there was metal in it (the metal wire in which they package the meat during shipping). When I pointed this out to the waiter, he said “sorry” and that was it. They didn’t even offer to take money off, much less give me the meal for free. And I thought if I asked for it, they’d think I was pulling a con.

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  9. Ken Norkin - freelance copywriter said:

    One night this summer service was exceptionally slow and bad at one of my favorite Tex-Mex restaurants (a small DC-Baltimore area chain). Seems that a kids-eat-free Tuesday night promo was succeeding beyond their expectations (we were just my wife and I ). We had long waits to place our drink order, for the drinks to arrive, to place our meal order, and for our meals to arrive — which didn’t arrive at the same time, so one was cold before the other ever showed up.

    We caught the attention of someone who turned out to be a manager who had been called from one of their other loactions (with other reinforcements) to help deal with the unexpected large turnout.

    We told her we were looking at one cold dinner and still waiting for our other. She immediately cleared our table, put in a new order for both of us, brought us more drinks, kept track of when our food was up, brought it to us promptly and then cut our bill in half.

    Will we go back? After the way they bent over backwards to correct this bad experience, you bet. But not on kids eat free night.

  10. Steve Rainwater said:

    Hi Bob,

    I live in the world tourist mecca, where there is a troubling dynamic which makes the job difficult for the service provider in many cases. Culture and integrity are “a-changing” in our fine country (I can’t speak for the entire world, just for the ones from the entire world that visit where I live). If you are in the services business, just because you get a complaint, may not mean your service / product needs attention; it may just indicate your customer is trying to get something for free; or better yet, set the scenario for the letter from their attorney which will follow shortly…”after all, Seaworld, Disney and Charley’s Steakhouse all have deep pockets, so why shouldn’t they underwrite a little of my vacation cost.”

    Pardon my cynical views, but my kids, friends and neighbors all work in these industries, and I hear some almost unbelievable stories.

    As a professional service provider, coming from the consulting industry and now working as a copywriter, I find that most satisfaction issues can be taken care of in a way where everyone wins. But for the providers of dining, hospitality and the like (and I think this applies to retail also) it seems like much more of a challange, and something they deal with in large volumes, which are possible reasons for many of the less than considerate responses. This can’t be easy to navigate and I try to remember this when I deal with anyone in these fields.

    My wife and I aren’t big complainers, and I have previously also been the wimp you mentioned, Bob, but because levels of service ARE slipping in many places while prices rise, I am trying to learn to put forth an objection to bad service when necessary.

    I also do not hesitate to compliment good service. Last night in a local Mexican place we asked to move to a different table location after we were already seated, then requested something that was not on the menu (it was actually a combination of two menu items – we have just discovered this place and started to frequent it). All was provided for us with the utmost of care and friendliness. When our server took our cash payment he politely bid us good evening. However, he returned about two minutes later (presumably after he had seen his tip) reminded us of his name, and told us that on our next visit we should be sure and request one of his tables. And I will…


  11. Troy Bingham - Lead Response Manager said:

    Give them whatever it takes to have them come back. Who cares if todays meal is free, it is the next meal that should be free. otherwise you may never have the chance to win them as a customer again.

  12. Morgan said:

    I agree with you, Bob. If you don’t want to know what your customer thought of the product or service, then don’t ask the question.

  13. Jodi said:

    It does pay to complain. A few months ago, I got a note from my doctor saying he was “firing” my insurance plan. Lots of people must have complained, because last week a got a second note saying that he’d negotiated with the company and was now back on the plan. Plus, he apologized for the stress he caused.

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  15. Kenn said:

    A customer called last week complaining that her invoice was too hard to find in the envelope and, therefore, refused to pay.


    Deadbeats use complaints as classic projection to cover themselves.

    End of story?

    Collection agency reported BIF – Balance in full.

  16. Mary Lee Barton said:

    In the College of Business at Chico State, we teach students how to write and respond to complaint messages and adjustment requests. As I tell my students, good managers WANT to know if you’re so unhappy you’ll not patronize their business again. Plus, there are polite ways of stating a complaint–and polite ways of refusing unreasonable requests. It’s all about knowing your audience and adapting your message to them so that your goal is met.

  17. Ryan said:

    One of my peeves is when customers, at a Mcdonalds near my home, sit for hours nursing their coffee refills forcing me to take the stairs to find a seat. And even then there may be people up there eating food from a take out chinese food outlet from next door. Their policy is never enforced and I’ve complained several times. I doesn’t help.

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  19. Kevin said:

    I think you have an interest in the client if all of his suits and how he is satisfied

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