He Says/She Says: Customer Complaints


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He Says/She Says: Customer Complaints

In the He Says/She Says series, we discuss financial-ish topics where we agree to disagree.

When I spend my money, I expect to get what I paid for. I think most people do. If I buy a product, I expect it to work. If I order food, I expect it to taste good. If I hire someone’s services (not those kind, sickos), I expect them to do a good job. I’m not looking to be critical. And I’m certainly not looking for opportunities to complain. I promise I’m not one of those people. BUT, when I feel like my hard-earned money is being wasted because the quality isn’t up to snuff, I have no problem making my voice heard.

Joanna and I worked together as servers at a Mexican restaurant soon after getting married. We smartly decided that just moving in with each other and adjusting to that whole transition wasn’t difficult enough, so why not spend every waking minute with each other by getting the same jobs! [If there was a bold or italics to denote sarcasm, it would be applied to that last sentence.] OK, it really wasn’t that bad, but there were definitely days at the restaurant that lead to us getting pretty sick of each other. I’m veering off track. Things aren’t always perfect at restaurants. Almost every day, one problem or another would arise that resulted in restaurant patrons being comped a free meal, dessert, or in the case of the dude that I sorta accidentally spilled an entire pitcher of Sprite on, a free shirt. It was at this job I learned that good businesses are generally happy to make things right for customers that are (or feel) wronged.

I suddenly felt empowered as a customer. I never took advantage of businesses, but I made sure businesses never took advantage of me. And I’ve used any number of means in making my voice heard: emails, tweets, Facebook, phone calls, mariachi band singing-gram. Here are a few examples:

  • Problem: Our luggage sat on the tarmac for two hours during a thunderstorm, ruining a down comforter that was just gifted to us. That wasn’t going to fly (pun intended) with this guy.
    Result: They cut us a $200 check. Darn right.
  • Problem: There was a freaking bedbug (it was on our bed, it was a bug, and it looked like bedbugs on Google image search) in our Vegas hotel.
    Result: Comped our room, offered to pay dry cleaning costs for all of our luggage.
  • Problem:  While we were on vacation, we sat at a restaurant table for 15 minutes before a server asked if we’d been helped. And then a different server told us they’d be right with us. And then a different one. And finally, we were able to order. And then the food came out cold.
    Result: They comped our entire, cold meal. And I peed on their lawn. Not. Who do you think I am?

And there’s a whole lot more where those came from. My success rate is probably 80%. And I make it a point to keep a cool head and never get mad at or berate the person listening to my complaints. Usually, it wasn’t their fault and having been in their shoes, I know they deal with jerks all the time.

“Alright, fine. You complain and you’re a jerk and sometimes you get free stuff from it. So why is this a He Says/She Says? Where’s the ‘she’? WHERE’S THE SHE?!!!!!” you shout in your brain. Well the “she” has a pretty simple view on it all: Joanna would rather let things go. For a couple reasons.

  1. “Because I get hung up on things and stay mad longer than I should, so it’s best not to worry about it” — It’s the complete opposite for me. I won’t calm down until I’ve addressed the problem, not brushed it aside.
  2. “Because I’ve never been an opportunist” — Oh, so now I’m an opportunist. Big bad consumer Johnny trying to steal a free meal/flight/hotel room from the little billion dollar companies.
  3. “Because it’s not worth my time” — Most of the time, it’s the principle of it all. But 30 minutes on hold or drafting an email is usually worth whatever I’m complaining about.

That’s not to say Joanna hasn’t ever complained. In fact, she recently went to get her hair did ombre style (I have no idea what that means, but I hope it’s a cut that looks like a Hispanic man). After her stylist was done, there was no noticeable difference to her hair. Joanna said as much to the stylist who proceeded to bring her manager over. The manager agreed with Joanna and comped the whole visit, which would have been in the ballpark of $130. Proudest husband moment ever. Joanna says she felt bad about it, but we both know she would have felt a lot worse shelling out that kind of money with a crappy cut.

So do you make your dollar’s voice heard when trouble arises? Or would you rather avoid the confrontation, even if the price of non-admission sets you back a few bucks?

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54 Comments

  • Reply Jane Savers @ Solving The Money Puzzle May 22, 2013 at 7:24 am

    I don’t like to complain at restaurants very often because I am worried about what might happen to my food. I worked at a pizza place when I was in school so I know.

    • Reply Elvin @ Journey To Millions May 22, 2013 at 10:45 am

      I worry that too that’s why I also keep my cool at restaurants.

    • Reply Joanna May 24, 2013 at 12:51 am

      Yikes. Yeah, neither of us has ever sent food back to be remade. But complaining and getting a gift certificate for a later visit seems like a safe bet!

  • Reply Roo // NEON FRESH May 22, 2013 at 8:03 am

    I choked on my tea at “I have no idea what that means, but I hope it’s a cut that looks like a Hispanic man.”

    I’d like to be comped this cup of tea, please.

    I will ask for rights to be wronged (I paid good money, y’all!), but I also make sure to lavish someone or a company with compliments if they did something very right. I’ll email the owner or Tweet the brand with a big THANK YOU and express my undying love and devotion.

    • Reply Joanna May 24, 2013 at 1:03 am

      I knew Johnny was up to no good when he asked me how to spell “ombre.”

      Love your idea of complimenting companies when they have really good customer service. That’s something I’d like to start doing more of!

  • Reply Michelle May 22, 2013 at 8:14 am

    I have no problem with complaining as long as I know 100% that I’m right. W on the other hand likes to avoid confrontations or leaves it to me because he knows I’m not ashamed :)

    • Reply Joanna May 24, 2013 at 1:05 am

      Glad you two balance each other out. I think it’s nice to have at least one person who doesn’t mind speaking their mind!

  • Reply Mrs. Pop @ Planting Our Pennies May 22, 2013 at 8:20 am

    Johnny, I had to look up ombre style hair and I’m still not sure I get what it is. Me = hair clueless, apparently.

    Neither of us is crazy about complaining, but I’m more inclined to make a point of something that’s wrong with the situation and ask for a discount. But on the other hand, when service is really good, we definitely tip and reward well. So there’s that.

    • Reply Joanna May 24, 2013 at 1:07 am

      Ombre’s one of those things that we’ll look back on and wonder what the heck we were doing, I’m sure. But it’s fun for now. :)

      I think it’s much better to err on the side of rewarding when service is good than being inclined to complain. I know some people who find something to complain about at every meal, and it gets kind of ridiculous!

  • Reply Rob May 22, 2013 at 8:55 am

    Being a (usually) typical mild-mannered Canuk dude I tend to not complain much, unless it’s pretty obvious that things have been screwed up royally (like charcoal burnt tough steak served, etc. etc.). Then one of the following things will happen: I’ll either get a new “top grade” food order asap free – or – the tip will be reduced significantly – or (and most likely) – I’ll take my future business elsewhere and let them know the reason why. As a rule I don’t tend to sweat the small stuff very often. That said, however, if the “capital punishment offense” involves a significant breach in expected services or billing screw ups then I’ll email/phone/hound them into submission, but politely of course! :-)

    • Reply Joanna May 24, 2013 at 1:14 am

      No one likes a complainer, so I think you’ve got the right attitude, Rob. On the other hand, there are situations when things should be done, so it’s good you say something in those moments. Johnny and I help balance each other out in knowing which moments deserve a complaint. And I agree — always politely (no matter how annoyed I may actually be)!

  • Reply debtperception May 22, 2013 at 8:58 am

    If complaining saves me money, heck yes I’ll make my voice heard! I haven’t had too many instances where companies mess things up for me but sometimes even just asking questions or giving praise to excellent customer service will save you money. I skimmed $20 off my internet bill just by asking why the price had increased. My father sent me this raspberry condiment in a jar about two years ago and I just got around to opening it this week. I emailed the company just to ask if it was supposed to be brown (it’s not) and they’re sending me another jar! I’ve gotten other free items by writing in to companies about how much I love their products or the service I received. Most places (unless you’re Amy’s Baking Company on Kitchen Nightmares) actually care about their customers and will go above and beyond to keep them coming back.

    • Reply Joanna May 24, 2013 at 1:16 am

      Those are all great examples. It’s cool to hear about your first-hand experiences with companies caring. Your stories show that you don’t have to get angry to get a company’s attention. That’s the thing, when companies do screw up, they almost always want to do whatever they can to make it up to you.

  • Reply Emory May 22, 2013 at 9:29 am

    I grew up with parents who weren’t afraid to complain about poor service and/or poor quality at restaurants and other places of business. Being a non-confrontational personality I found this mortifying. There has only been one time in my life where I felt the need to complain and it was because our waitress blatantly ignored me in order to serve my husband and spent the whole evening pretending like I was not at the table. And granted, this was Applebee’s. But still. I am much more likely to comment on poor customer service than on a product I don’t find satisfactory. I suppose this is because if someone is blatantly rude to me I have a much easier time overlooking my embarrassment at pointing out their shortcomings.

    • Reply Joanna May 24, 2013 at 1:23 am

      I would have been so annoyed in that situation! You had every right to complain. And I agree… once I realize someone is just being downright rotten, I’m suddenly much more open to complaining! :)

  • Reply Danny C May 22, 2013 at 9:37 am

    I think a step by step “how to complain successfully” tutorial is in order. 80% is killing it! We’ll be expecting downloadable e-mail templates, prompt scripts, video dramatizations, the works.

    • Reply Joanna May 24, 2013 at 1:26 am

      Haha, don’t encourage Johnny! Although, he probably does have some pretty good tips. He does always seems to get his way, and I’ve yet to see him lose his cool. But don’t tell him I said that. :)

  • Reply Miranda May 22, 2013 at 9:48 am

    I mostly agree with Johnny on this one. There are exceptions for me though. If it’s an inconvenience for me to have a small problem fixed, I won’t say anything. For example, I’m not going all the way back into a crowded Starbucks because I got to the car and my coffee tastes a little off…Or sometimes I just get lazy about it. I’m the worst at returning items to stores. But, I do have some insight to offer when it comes to customer complaints. Managers WANT to know if you are upset. Right away. My husband is a GM of a corporate owned restaurant chain and it’s infuriating to him when a customer sits silently in the restaurant having a bad experience and never speaks up about it, then goes home and writes a complaint on the website, which goes to his boss, which comes back to him in the form of a butt-chewing or not-so-fun email. If the customer had asked to speak to the manager about say, their cold food, they would have received a new fresh plate, a free dessert, and coupons for a free meal for two on their next visit, and most or all of the meal comped. They would have left with a smile on their face and a lot of free food. Whereas, if they write to the corporate office about it, all they are sent is the coupon for free dinner for two. Complaining in the actual store= better experience= happy customer= happy manager= happy owner. So it does the company no harm to comp a few items. They are happy to do it. Unless, of course, you are dealing with a crappy company, but they wouldn’t deserve your business anyway. There are some customers who go about it the wrong way and are total jerks. My husband once had a man throw a to-go bag full of hot food at him because they forgot the extra gravy he had requested and he had to walk back into the store. My husband kept his calm and still comped some of the meal for him. Clearly he is a very patient man. =)

    • Reply Joanna May 24, 2013 at 1:31 am

      That makes me feel a lot better about complaining, actually! It’s good to know that managers want to hear the truth from you.

      I’m sure your husband is a saint dealing with unruly customers. Just from the few years I worked as a server, I can only begin to imagine the stories he has to tell!

  • Reply Emily May 22, 2013 at 9:48 am

    Having worked in customer service my entire life, I have very passionate views about complaining about things. Number one, I never complain to the “little man.” It is not the cashier at McDonald’s fault that the cost of your burger went up, or that a policy has changed. I hate being berated by customers for things I cannot change. However, if I truly feel I have been wronged I will politely ask to speak to someone above “the little man” to see if I can remedy the situation.

    I just always try to remember that this person is working with the public, one of the most difficult and frustrating jobs, and it is really important to me to not cause them to go home to their families and complain about that terrible customer they had to help today!

    • Reply Joanna May 24, 2013 at 1:33 am

      Agreed, Emily! There is no point in ever ruining someone’s day just because they happen to work at the business that wronged you in some way. Such a great reminder!

  • Reply Jodi T. May 22, 2013 at 9:56 am

    I’m kind of a mix between each of your approaches. The funny thing is my husband would not address anything EVER when we first got together.

    -The wrong food comes out? “Don’t say anything, just eat.”
    -There’s a hair in it? “Just take it out.”

    DROVE. ME. CRAZY. I think eventually (after seeing me complain as needed) he realized he was being silly and has actually started saying something if service was bad/ wrong… I believe if I’m gonna spend the money on something, it should be right (and hairless).

    • Reply Joanna May 24, 2013 at 1:38 am

      That’s what I love about marriage… we end up rubbing off on each other! :)

      Johnny’s helped me see the right way of handling such situations, too. Even though I still don’t love it, I’m much more open to doing it than I used to be!

  • Reply Pam E-P May 22, 2013 at 10:01 am

    Hombre=Hispanic man.
    Ombre=color that gets lighter to darker. Essentially Joanna wanted her hair lighter at the roots, gradually getting darker by the time you get to the tips of her hair.

    I complain and am pretty good at getting a satisfactory resolution, mainly because I don’t get emotional. If you are calm and logical (and right), businesses generally want to make it right.

    • Reply Joanna May 24, 2013 at 1:41 am

      You explained it a lot better than when I tried to! :)

      And you’re right, Pam! I used to be terrible with getting emotional, which is why I never used to complain. Johnny’s helped me see the light with keeping a cool head and staying logical about it all.

  • Reply Rachel May 22, 2013 at 10:12 am

    “and then I peed on their lawn”- I died! haha My boyfriend is definitely not a complainer when it comes to customer service, he says he doesn’t have the heart/guts to do it. I, however, have bigger balls (metaphorically of course) than him, so I’m usually the one to complain. I only ever do it if it’s a big deal though- like a bedbug or gross food

    • Reply Joanna May 24, 2013 at 2:01 am

      It’s good you guys offset each other! Too much of not complaining and you get taken advantage of. Too much complaining and you’re just an ornery duo. And, Rachel, despite your metaphorical balls, I have a feeling that when you do complain, you’re very fair and nice about it. :)

  • Reply Chris May 22, 2013 at 10:49 am

    I can be quite the Richard Nixon at times. I reward great service with lavish tips and excessive compliments but if you wrong me I will make it known! Just kidding. I’m pretty passive, and I can let a lot of things slide. I will say something occasionally if it’s blatantly obvious that they are ignoring me. Or if they have a super bad attitude. I haven’t ever tried the hotel room bit though. I guess I’ve been fortunate with my run ins with bed bugs. I’m with Johnny. Get your moneys worth at least.

    • Reply Johnny May 24, 2013 at 2:01 am

      What’s sad is I can’t remember the last time I had great service. Maybe it’s the places we frequent (Cracker Barrel anyone?), but I swear I’m not that hard to please. But I’ll make it a point to do as Chris does lay down the lavish tips and compliments.

  • Reply Grayson @ Debt Roundup May 22, 2013 at 11:16 am

    Just another example of how I am like you and how my wife is like Joanna. I will make sure I am heard if they don’t do what I have paid for. My wife will just let it go. My success rate is pretty high, around 95%, but sometimes I can get a little out of control. I have to sit back and regain control before I lose it. My wife will just chalk it up as a loss and move on. I just can’t do that.

    • Reply Johnny May 24, 2013 at 1:41 am

      At some point, whatever you’re arguing about no longer matters and all you care about is being right. It’s usually at that point where I realize it really really really ins’t worth it, and I’ll just make sure I right the situation by refusing to give them business again. And possibly writing a strongly worded Yelp review. :)

  • Reply Heidi May 22, 2013 at 12:03 pm

    There’s such a fine line here! I usually tend to keep quiet because I feel bad being a pain, but then I just get mad and stew on it instead of making it right and feeling better.

    • Reply Johnny May 24, 2013 at 1:37 am

      See?! You can kill two birds with one polite complaint. You walk away not making anyone feel bad AND you feel good about the outcome and righting their wrong.

  • Reply Diane May 22, 2013 at 12:16 pm

    Gotta go with Johnny on this one… I will complain, politely but insistently, if there is an obvious problem that should be corrected. I’m not looking to make a buck, just to get what I paid for~ or in some cases, to not pay for what I DIDN’T get!

    If it’s a minor problem that can be corrected, I’ll ask for that. If the meal & service is a total disaster, which happens sometimes, I will ask to speak to a manager and expect compensation. If that doesn’t happen, you can bet I won’t be going back and I will let other people know about it.

    I’m not embarrassed or upset to do this, because it only happens if there’s a clear reason and I’m always polite about it.

    • Reply Johnny May 24, 2013 at 1:33 am

      “I’m not looking to make a buck, just to get what I paid for~ or in some cases, to not pay for what I DIDN’T get!”

      Amen. And as you mention at the end, there’s nothing to be embarrassed about if you handle yourself calmly and politely.

  • Reply Jake Erickson May 22, 2013 at 12:16 pm

    I get annoyed really easily when it comes to customer service, but I rarely do anything about it. My wife doesn’t really get annoyed at all so we normally don’t say anything unless we’re really upset. I agree with you though, it’s the principle of it all. If I were a restaurant owner I’d want to know why you didn’t like your meal, which is why I should work on speaking up.

    • Reply Johnny May 24, 2013 at 1:32 am

      Good point. I think customers are doing businesses a disservice if they don’t speak their mind. And you can’t expect a business to turn things around if they don’t know a problem exists.

  • Reply Lauren May 22, 2013 at 1:39 pm

    I’m half and half. I have terrible luck when going out to eat, most of the time there is something majorly wrong with my order. They whisk it away comp it and ask if I’d like anything else. Usually, I’m too perturbed or grossed out to say yes.

    There are other times, where I’ve been in their shoes, so I don’t get in their way when something has gone awry!

    This is a tough question!

    • Reply Johnny May 24, 2013 at 1:30 am

      I haven’t had a ton of restaurant issues, but when there have been problems (and they’ve been worth complaining about), usually the last thing I want to do is sit there and eat something else. So I’ll usually take the comped bill and peace out quietly.

  • Reply Emily @ evolvingPF May 22, 2013 at 1:44 pm

    I’m with Johnny and my husband is with Joanna. It kinda of drives me up the wall how non-assertive he is he is with strangers. Thankfully we don’t get screwed over very often.

    • Reply Johnny May 24, 2013 at 1:28 am

      Admittedly, Joanna’s better with being friendly with strangers, so she wins the nice stranger battle.

  • Reply Stefanie May 22, 2013 at 2:14 pm

    I’m the big guns in my family. ::GRUNTS::

    I have a big personality, so it’s easier for me to be the person to bring up a complaint if we feel like there is an issue, but I also do everything I can to praise good service. That’s just not my husband’s thing.

    I have used social media in the past to reach a business or brand if there is an issue, but I really don’t like to do it (unless you’re American Airlines, geez). Once was when I had issues with a dealership we had just purchased a car from and I couldn’t get a sales or service person to return my many phone calls. Only a few minutes later and they called me personally on the phone and made it right. It wouldn’t have been a big deal had it not been ignored for days/weeks.

    The second was when Home Depot and UPS misplaced half of an order. It was like they weren’t communicating with each other. I tweeted out of frustration about it and Home Depot reached out to me and fixed the problem.

    Like I said, I really don’t like to do that. Mostly because not everyone who sees your frustration actually sees that it was corrected.

    I’ve worked retail and restaurants before. Sometimes there are bad apples that slip past the hiring process and sometimes managers don’t know, and they won’t, unless you speak up. I’m always nice about it, and I actually do turn down offers for compensation if I feel it’s not really necessary. Sometimes all that is needed is a simple, “I’m sorry.”

    One more thing to add to this really long comment, I LOVE to call back stores and restaurants to praise employees. As a manager I know that they can get inundated with complaints, it’s nice to hear something good every now and then.

    • Reply Johnny May 24, 2013 at 1:27 am

      I laughed at the American Airlines comment because I’ve definitely had issues with them. But I agree with almost everything you said. Tweet complaints sparingly, and tell a manager if necessary.

      And honestly, I’ve never called a business/restaurant back for good service. BUT I’m going to now because I know it mean a lot to the manager and employee. Time to pay it forward.

  • Reply anna May 22, 2013 at 3:38 pm

    I pick my battles, but for the ones above are very justifiable, especially the bed bugs – gross! I worked at restaurants, too, and know what an arse-job it can be, so I over tip in most cases when the servers are really great. If I complain, I don’t expect anything out of it, though it’s always nice when a discount or comp takes place. I mostly just want to be heard since I think staying silent is a disservice to them (unless they just really don’t care).

    • Reply Johnny May 24, 2013 at 1:22 am

      It seems like I could always tell when I was serving a former waiter. And since Joanna and I are part of that club now, we always tip at least 20% unless there’s been some serious issues with the meal. And even then, we try to give them the benefit of the doubt since we remember the nights when nothing seemed to be going right, too.

  • Reply jrm May 22, 2013 at 6:12 pm

    I have managed a lot of subcontractors for my career. Working with them has taught me how to praise good work (and I do) and firmly but professionally resolve bad work. I have worked retail and worked in restaurants and agree with a lot of t houghts above about picking battles and not taking it out on the little guy.

    One time I returned a car (the financing was still in the process) because the warranty they sold me was so ridiculous. When I spoke with the finance manager about it he said “I don’t reallycare you bought a Chevrolet you’ll need t.” (It was a Honda dealer). After a fewdays of talks they corrected everything.

    • Reply Johnny May 24, 2013 at 1:15 am

      That’s pretty awesome that you took back a car! I’d love to walk into a dealer with a receipt and ask them where the Returns department is located. I can’t imagine they’d be too happy. Our dealer tried selling us our used car with terrible back tires. So I pulled out a penny and showed the manager how bad the tires were and he threw in a new pair. If I hadn’t brought it up, they’d have sent us off the lot with really dangerous tires.

  • Reply Maya Symone May 22, 2013 at 8:10 pm

    I try not to complain at restaurants (especially if my food hasn’t come yet) or gas stations, but everything else is fair game. Luckily, I haven’t had any bad experiences in a while.
    I also pick my battles, so sometimes I would complain and another time I will let it slide, it all depends on my mood and how long I had to wait for whatever it is.

    • Reply Johnny May 24, 2013 at 1:10 am

      That’s a good point about picking battles. I’ve definitely been in moods where I’m willing to let things go. And even if I do complain, I always try to make sure that it doesn’t ruin our mood, either. Complaining does not equal being rude/belligerent/entitled.

  • Reply Tina May 22, 2013 at 8:30 pm

    I’m more likely to make my voice heard than B. As a customer, I’m paying for a good/service. If it’s sub standard, I want it rectified. Like Joanna, B doesn’t think it’s worth his time to complain but he sure doesn’t have problems enjoying the fruits of my labor!

    • Reply Johnny May 24, 2013 at 1:06 am

      Joanna is the same way. And I’m almost positive she’s ever tried to stop me. So long she can stay out of it and get our money’s worth, she’s happy to sit tight.

  • Reply Becky @ RunFunDone May 22, 2013 at 8:48 pm

    I’ll complain sometimes, but I only do it within reason, and I don’t kill the messenger. I’ve been a waitress, and I know what it was like when I was blamed for things that were not my fault.

    Recently, I volunteered at a charity race, and had to endure customer complaints as I worked check-in. It was super obnoxious! I was a VOLUNTEER at a CHARITY and had to deal with angry customers! That experience has made me even more sensitive to only making legitimate complaints!

    • Reply Johnny May 24, 2013 at 1:04 am

      That’s really sad. There’s just no place for being rude to the messenger. There were a number of occasions as a waiter when a parent would chew me out. I always felt really bad for their kids who had to sit in embarrassment while their mom/dad pouted. And if it happened in a public setting like a restaurant, you know they probably acted like jerks at home, too.

  • Reply Ann January 20, 2014 at 11:41 pm

    I know this is an older post, but just wanted to chime in. I worked as a waitress in a popular local restuarant. We were told to make sure the customer leaves happy. If there was a problem, do what you have to to make them happy. I had a couple get engaged and I gave them free dessert. If I forgot to hang the order on a steak (oops), I’d offer them free mushrooms or onions with the steak. If a customer ordered coffee at the beginning of the meal, I’d put it on the ticket. If they just had a small cup at the end of the meal, I wouldn’t put it on there. Make the customer happy.

    You might lose a little in the short run, but you gain a lot in the long run. So yeah, nothing wrong with kindly asking to have things fixed, but also good on the resturants part to notice when things aren’t going right and try to make them right.

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