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Chief Letters of Complaint Officer

6 December 2021
Image from https://gohealthytips.blogspot.com/

There are few things that I appreciate more in life than writing a complaint letter. It’s not that I’m looking for opportunities to write them, not at all, it’s just that the opportunities where they are required just keep on arising and when the rage of injustice is bubbling within, the only thing that seems to quell the anger and move the mind from madness to proactive positivity, is constructing an (award-winning) letter in response.

I was triggered to write this blog after reading tweets from Assistant Professor at St John’s University of Law, NY Kate Klonick who posted her 5 page (2021 so 5 frame screenshot) complaint about her car rental saga over Thanksgiving weekend.  You can read the letter here.  When her ordeal had nearly come to an end (at considerable expense) and she was finally given a rental car to drive to her family for the holiday, her partner asked her whether she wanted to drive.  She replied,

“No,” .. “I have a complaint to write.”

I feel you Kate.

The letter writes itself in your mind even whilst the terrible experience is occurring. It is no surprise to me that she’d whip her laptop out and start furiously typing as her partner began the long drive, desperate to begin to cleanse the ordeal from her brain, making sense of what happened and reaching out into the ether to hope that someone understands and says that they are sorry.  I wouldn’t have been able to enjoy Thanksgiving with THE LETTER ping-ponging about my head – the act of pressing send more powerful than a finger striking a return key, more like the slam of a “LET RIGHT BE DONE and I shall now kindly go about the rest of my day, NO THANKS TO YOU OR YOUR ORGANISATION SIR/MADAM”.

Kate’s letter of complaint is particularly interesting to me because she writes it as someone who understands the law.  I write letters of complaint as someone who understands improvement and service experience, which is an excellent place from which to write a letter of complaint, but not quite from the same place as someone who is able to assert when and where contracts have been violated.  I can say things like ‘that’s breaking the law!’ but as in the case of this weekend when I challenged 5 young women who were on the Tube in a global Omicron pandemic MASKLESS, I’m not entirely sure what the law actually states? Pretty sure Sadiq Khan said you have to wear one anyway. (I got 3 and a half of them to put their masks on. The most confident one who argued back didn’t of course and her friend who sat next to her put one over her mouth only. And that was on loosely so as not to smudge lipstick. Sigh.)

There were so many problems with Kate Klonick’s experience that I don’t even know where to start so I’ll just skip to the end.  A telling sign of systemic organisational sickness is when companies make it really difficult to make a complaint.  As they did in this case when she finally found the page to make a complaint, the entered form triggered a 404 internal server error. Easy to keep complaints down if you’re not able to make them.

In fact, and I’ve not tested out this hypothesis, perhaps a good acid test before making a significant purchase with a company would be to see whether their website easily lets you know how you can make a complaint if you need to, and doesn’t just lead you to a broken web link. Of course it’s also quite important to not only be able to send your complaint, someone has to meaningfully respond to it too.  As someone with a clinical need to construct letters of complaint after a terrible experience, it’s actually quite surprising how many companies make it exceptionally difficult to formally complain. I mean, I get it on one level, let’s not prioritise complaints over our core business, but on the other hand, they are an inevitable reality of most organisational systems. You might as well treat them as a process in themselves, a really important process that can make dissatisfied customers even more loyal than they would have been without the problem occurring in the first place.

Indeed, complaints are such powerful catalysts of change for organisations. They are pure ‘customer voice’. They tell you where improvement is needed and dealing with them so that the same situation doesn’t happen for other customers can lead to a seismic shift in customer experience.

You might also avoid someone sharing the terrible experience across 13k retweets and 53.5K likes on Twitter, The Washington Post, Bloomberg, the New York Times … …