This summer, I had a lot to complain about. Actually, the opposite is true: I have so much to be thankful for! But in all my travels, I had some great and some not-so-great experiences at various hotels, gas stations, and restaurants.
As a kind of experiment, I wrote a letter of complaint whenever I had an issue worth addressing. Most smart companies will respond to a well-written letter of complaint. It can help their service, let your voice be heard, and sometimes result in a coupon or even free meal. Here are some tips from my experiences.
Seek a Solution Before You Complain.
In traveling to Virginia with my Mom, we stayed in a hotel with a room big enough to hold a high school prom but also had a few bugs and a spotty A/C. Add to that children who ran up and down the halls knocking on doors at midnight. There was also an issue of needing a luggage cart when we arrived (two women plus a baby’s worth of stuff), but no carts and no offers of help from the staff, even when we asked.
Whenever you can avoid writing and solve an issue in person, do it. Often you will find that a business with good customer service will respond and handle everything. In our case, I spoke to two different employees about our range of issues. Both seemed generally disinterested in our feedback or in helping. I was courteous with both and hoped they might comp our breakfast, switch our room, or at least help us find a luggage cart. Nada. In this case, rather than a letter, I took to Twitter. (For how this all played out, keep reading!)
If you had a lot of issues, focus in on the top few or just one that really matters and falls under the jurisdiction of the company. In the hotel example, I didn’t complain about the children running up and down the hall at midnight. That kind of behavior is out of the hotel’s control and should have been under the jurisdiction of the parents of said troublemakers. I handled that one myself–going out in the hall and yelling (all the while remembering my own hotel hijinks back in the day). You don’t want to write an encyclopedia: focus on what really matters.
As in most life situations, a little courtesy goes a long way. Just as railing at someone behind a store counter may not be the best option, neither is writing a vitriolic letter of complaint. There may be a time and place for justified anger, but mostly with service issues, you are likely to get a better response when you are polite and can express your concern without seeming overly emotional. If you can demonstrate that you are rational, respectable, and a smart consumer, you are much more likely to receive a positive response. Dial back your crazy and channel Emily Post. While you’re at it, use correct grammar, punctuation, and spelling.
Use the Channels They Provide for Response.
One of my big frustrations while traveling this summer was the lack of changing stations. We have a minivan, so there is room, but it’s nice when you have an infant that might pee/poop on you to have a changing station, not a backseat. Even some of the newer, nicer-looking fast-food places or gas stations were lacking these. Big disappointment. But with consistency, Loves Truck Stop had clean bathrooms AND a changing station. On the way out of one, I spotted yellow comment cards with postage attached, already addressed.
I wrote a nice note about how much I appreciated their bathrooms being clean and being outfitted with a changing station. Next time we passed a mailbox, I mailed the card. (When you’re considering customer service and feedback, it is always a good idea to keep the positive in mind as well!) Though I did not hear back from Love’s, I do know that using the channels a company provides can be the quickest road to response.
Use Social Media.
Believe it or not, Twitter might be the quickest way to illicit a response. Back to the hotel incident, I tweeted to the company after receiving a poor response in person. Within the hour, the company tweeted back.
This led to an email, which led to my parents getting some major points added to their account with Holiday Inn Express (they are members of the IHG Rewards Club). While you should hope that someone might respond in person at a front desk, often using something like Twitter will get the attention of someone at the corporate office. Smart companies monitor Twitter and will respond in a timely manner.
Don’t Just Ask for Stuff.
While getting those points added to my parents’ account felt like a validation, this should not be all about the rewards. A smart company will offer some kind of compensation or incentive if you have a valid complaint about service, but asking for something just seems like, well, asking for something. Mooching, if you will. There are times where you might suggest a specific course of action that would take care of your complaint, but writing just to ask for a free meal can undermine the validity of your complaint and make you seem like a freeloader.
At the beginning of my trip, I had the unfortunate experience of getting a hair in my breakfast sandwich from a fast food restaurant. (Brief pause for hyperventilating or dry-heaving.) It was gross. I promptly sent an email via the chain’s website. Within days, the company had called me back, said that they had already talked to the store, asked foll0w-up questions, and then offered me free stuff. Though a hair in my breakfast is gross, free food is free food. I may not ask for it, but I do think something like this deserves it. (Am I the only one who would continue frequenting a place where I got a hair in my food??)
A well-worded letter of complaint or feedback is win-win: it helps a company to do better and it can often help resolve an issue, or at least give you some kind of trade-off to make up for the issue. It can also give you an idea what brands you might want to remain loyal to and what brands you might want to avoid.
Case in point: After writing a letter to U-haul a few years back, their response made me a loyal customer of anyone BUT U-haul. Because of a mix-up on their end, we had extensive furniture damage and other headaches with our move. Their response to my letter? A gift certificate to their storage facility in a different city than the one where we were living. How a company responds to customer complaints says a lot about where their priorities lie.
Have you had any successful letters of complaint? Tweets that companies responded to promptly? I’d love to hear your stories!