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Do you remember the last time you bought a product that didn't live up to your expectations, or were dissatisfied with the service someone gave you?  If you're like me, you complained.

There's a right way and a wrong way to complain, and you can learn to become a good complainer -- one who gets satisfaction.

We hope that you never have any reason to complain about our service to you.  We work hard to give you our best quality and attention to detail.  Should anything ever slip by us, however, we actually welcome you to tell us about it, as quickly as possible.  We pledge to you that we will take action immediately to resolve the situation and correct any problems.

Chris & Amy Baggott,
Sanders Cleaners

Sometimes, no matter how careful you are, things go wrong.  It might be your fault, in which case you live and learn.  On the other hand, it might be someone else's fault.  Though your impulse might be to launch into a tirade to express your frustration, there's a right way to complain that gets what you truly want -- results.

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No Complaints Coupon!

Your clothes take a beating in the summer when you get overheated, and probably need more frequent cleaning to prevent fiber damage or color loss from perspiration.  Celebrate the middle of summer by taking 15% off a drycleaning order of $20 or more.  (Include a copy of this e-mail with your order.  Offer expires Aug. 3, 2002.  Cannot be combined with other offers.)

Winning at Whining

You've undoubtedly had a complaint go awry and walked away from the process dissatisfied with the result.  Here are some tips on how to complain in a way that gets the results you want.

Focus on Results

Your new suit comes apart at the seams the second time you wear it... right in the middle of a major presentation at work.  You're steamed, and you want some action!

But before you head off to do battle, establish firmly in your own mind what you want and need to achieve to feel you've been taken care of.  (And no, having the seamstress on the production line fired isn't the result you're looking for.)  In this case, yes, you were embarrassed in your meeting.  But, knowing you, you turned the situation around in a humorous way to your own advantage.  The real problem is that you now have a useless suit.  Therefore, the result you are seeking is repair or replacement of the suit.

Gather the Facts

Whether it's a suit gone crazy or a lawn mower that can't even cut cake, you need to put all the pertinent facts down on paper.  When did you buy it?  Do you have the receipt?  Exactly what happened?  What steps have you taken to remedy the situation?  With what result?

In the case of a garment failure, you need to know who to complain to.  In the scenario of the tear-away suit, you can take the suit back to the store where you bought it -- if that's possible.  But maybe you bought the suit on that last trip to visit your Aunt Bessie... and she lives clear across the country.

The manufacturer is ultimately responsible in this kind of case, and so you need to know who that is.  Look at the label (you don't take those out, do you?  For shame!  You're giving up a lot of valuable information if you do.)  By law, any garment sold in the U.S. must have the legal name and address of the manufacturer on a label affixed to the garment.  Since that could take up the whole label, a system was put in place through the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to allow companies to request a Registration Identification Number (RN number) that takes the place of all those words.  It's about 5 digits long.  You can get the full name and address of any garment company from the FTC's website just by inputting the RN number.  (In Canada, it's called a CA number, and since a lot of trade goes back and forth across the border, you may have clothes with those numbers.)

Just put in the 5-digit number you have on your label, and the site will provide you with the legal name and full address of the manufacturer.  Only one RN or CA number is issued to a company; they use it in every garment they make.

Distance Yourself from the Emotion

Complaining is a stressful thing to do.  It's adversarial, and most of us don't like to get into that kind of situation.  Because of that, it's easy to cross the line from factual to emotional very quickly.  If you have to, try to think of the problem as something that happened to your neighbor or an acquaintance.  This should help you stay cool.  Stick to the facts, and don't let emotion color them.

For example:

FACTUAL:  I bought this suit on June 3rd this year, wore it once in June and then once in July.  While wearing it in July, the seams came apart.

EMOTIONAL:  I was totally embarrassed to discover my suit unraveling right before the most important clients I've ever had!  This is a useless piece of garbage that you are selling for a king's ransom.

While the statements in the emotional version may be very true, the manner they are express in will not further your case but will put the person on the receiving end on the defensive.

Put Yourself in the Other Person's Shoes

It's easy to get so caught up in the heat of the moment that you become irate, loud, possibly even abusive to the person you are complaining to -- whether by phone, in person, or in writing.  Go back to the first rule:  What's your goal in all this?  That's right, results!

If you had to listen to someone shout at you, use profanity, threaten legal action or any one of the many other ways that poor complainers express themselves, you wouldn't exactly be excited about helping them achieve their goals.  In fact, you might just decide to get back at them by dragging your feet, doing as little as possible, and quoting inflexible company policy at them instead.

  • If you are complaining in person, watch for visual cues that you've begun to stray over that emotional boundary, and back off.  Regroup and lower your voice.  Go back to being factual. 
  • If you're complaining on the telephone, try to summon up the face of someone you like and picture them on the other end of the line. 
  • If you're writing out your complaint, have someone who is not involved in the dispute read it to help you tone down anything that might hurt your case in the long run.

Learn from Your Mistakes

You're not going to get it right every time -- but you can learn something each time.  Watch when other people complain, too.  Who gets their way, and how happy were all parties when they walked away?  If you see a superstar complainer (not the loud mouthed guy who just about blows a neck vein, but the one who rationally discusses the situation and walks away with his refund or replacement in hand) study how he or she does it.  You will need the skill, sooner or later.

Factoid

According to Textile Industry Affairs, 83% of consumers read care labels before making a purchasing decision, and 59% of them consider care instructions the most important information on a garment after size.

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