So It’s Time to Complain

Northwest Airlines ticket counter.
Image via Wikipedia

You’ve just suffered a horrible customer service experience with an airline. They’ve canceled a flight, lost your luggage, etc. You’ve decided you need satisfaction. Here are some simple tips for approaching the problem.

  • Be Aware of Your Tone – While the squeaky wheel may get the grease, the wheel risks being disposed of in favor of another wheel, or as one airline CEO commented, “For every passenger who refuses to fly us again, there are two who will at the price I’m willing to charge.” Most of the time, acting this way will ensure no airline employee feels motivated to help you. The rest of the time, they will give you want just to get rid of you.
  • If you vow never to fly them again, why should they want to do anything for you? – Never vow not to patronize a business. Always phrase your complaint in the following terms: “I have been happy with your service in the past, and I believe this is atypical, and these are the steps it would take to restore my confidence in you.” You may feel that a company generally is horrible, but why let them know that?
  • Define what you think they can do to please you – Compensation can require a bit of haggling. We recommend you consider how reasonable your request will seem in proportion to what happened and pick a starting point. You can aim for the moon and ask for a lot if you wish, but it is usually safer to think what an airline might realistically give you.
  • Follow Up – An airline is a big corporation. They expect you to make decisions immediately, yet they take a lot of time to respond. You should follow up, but give them time to respond to your query. Airlines receive a lot of complaints, and in the interest of fairness, they usually answer them in the order received. If you believe your complaint is in need of expediting, you had best contact them to follow up. But space your followup calls, as calling too much can hurt you.
  • Ramp Up – As time goes by, become more aggressive, but never move away from being polite. Passive-aggressive behavior is also not helpful. Explain to those you are speaking to that you are frustrated and why. Don’t take it out on them. They are just doing their jobs.
  • Empower Them – Empower customer service reps. Ask them for advice. Ask them what to do, and if you feel things are moving nowhere, making them feel as if they can help you may make them think of a new solution. Try to avoid phrases like, “I know it isn’t your fault your company is horrible.”

What we’re recommending here is the solid middle road of complaints. You can get aggressive more rapidly, or you can be more passive, and as we said, that may work. Or it may backfire? But do you want to live in a society where every problem turns that way immediately? We admire people who go toward the heart of a matter and come out guns ablazing. We just think you should escalate to that level, not begin at it.

What do you think?