The Art of Complaining: Get Results, Not More Frustration

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If you’re going to the trouble of telling a business what went wrong with your experience, you should do so with a purpose—namely, to convince the company to make amends in some tangible, meaningful way. Mere venting, while somewhat therapeutic, won’t necessarily get you anywhere, especially if you’re dealing with someone who doesn’t have the authority to fix the situation. So how do you complain and get actual results?

The NY Times’ Haggler column just asked its readers that same question. What’s tricky is that while you should have a goal in mind for your complaints—some money back or discounts on future business with the company, as examples—the wisest approach seems to be that you should lay out your case, explain what happened and how upset you are, but then step back and allow the business’s agent to take the lead from there. In other words, hold back in stating what it is you want, and be entirely passive aggressive in the negotiation process, as these tips state:

BE PASSIVE AGGRESSIVE, PART 1 Generally speaking, the Haggler disapproves of passive aggressive behavior, but the one place it might belong is in a consumer confrontation. A friend of the Haggler’s … never lies or exaggerates. He states the facts, calmly. When the manager inevitably asks, “Well, what can we do to make this right?” he shrugs and says “I don’t know,” then restates the facts and their effect on him and his family.

Round and round it goes until the manager finally makes a settlement offer, which very often exceeds what this friend would have had the nerve to request…

BE PASSIVE AGGRESSIVE, PART 2 Several readers note that when you’re talking to a phone rep, time is on your side for two reasons. The first is that phone reps are often timed and expected to churn through a certain number of calls per hour. The second is that nearly all are prohibited from hanging up on you. So the longer you’re willing to stay on the phone and repeat that you are not satisfied, and do not want to end the call, the better your chances of getting what you want.

ASK THIS SIMPLE QUESTION More than a few readers said that when stymied by phone reps, they simply ask, “What would you do if you were in my situation?” “Amazingly, they’ll often pass along an effective tip about how to get the desired result,” writes Frank Scalpone of Antioch, Calif.

For more tips on complaints that get results, including websites where you can lodge complaints, check out Number 9 on this list.