Complaining for the better
by Peter Tan. Posted on September 13, 2014, Saturday
THE first complaint letter I ever wrote was to a large foreign bank.
I had gone to the Immigration Department with my cousin to collect my passport. We then went over to the bank to sort out a newly-implemented Internet banking procedure for my account.
The only way to get into the banking hall was up a short flight of steps. I waited outside in my wheelchair while my cousin went in with the documents.
He explained my predicament to a customer service officer and informed her that I was just outside.
Instead of coming out to help me with the transaction like what I experienced with other banks, the officer told him to either get me into the banking hall to complete the process personally or write a letter authorising him to represent me and act on my behalf.
When my cousin requested that she explain the procedure to me personally, she told him that she could not leave her counter to talk to me.
It was only after my cousin demanded to see the branch manager that another customer service officer came out to serve me.
I was still upset when I got home. What I went through was ridiculous. I wrote a long letter to the bank’s headquarters to complain about the arrogance of the officer.
Three managers from the bank visited me at home subsequently with a fruit basket to offer apologies for the ‘slip-up’ in service and that the bank was looking to address the problem of accessibility in the near future.
I told the managers the visit and apologies would have been unnecessary had the staff in question been courteous and helpful.
Since then, the encouraging outcome spurred me to write many more letters to complain about issues of inaccessibility in public premises and the poor customer service I had the misfortune to experience. They include airlines, large corporations, local authorities, and government ministries and departments.
Complaining works, to a certain extent. A small number garnered positive responses and were resolved to my satisfaction, especially major corporations that accepted them as feedback for improvement and also to nip potential bad publicity in the bud.
For every complaint that I lodged, three others never got any reply. I either dropped it if it was a minor issue or followed up with an enquiry on the status of the complaint if the problem involved wider implications to the community.
I have escalated some of my complaints all the way to the top of the organisation and the government which will suddenly garner instant actions to resolve the matters concerned.
Knowing people in high place can be a boon but I try to minimise using these contacts to the minimum. I prefer the matter to be resolved through the proper channels in the hierarchy.
The mass media has also successfully helped with stickier issues in piling pressure for speedier resolutions.
Other than writing letters, I have also published them on my blog as a record for all to see. I was especially critical of public infrastructure by the government and government-linked companies, believing they should lead by example in providing facilities and services of an acceptable standard.
It got to a point where I was not enjoying my time out any more. There was always something wrong somewhere and I was the self-appointed
police pointing out the errors.
It was then that I realised the relentless pursuits for faults was the cause of my misery and frustration.
There was never a rose without the prick. I was missing out on the good by nit-picking only on the bad.
I began writing letters, emails and blog posts to compliment establishments whenever a staff went out of the way to serve me or when I came across excellent facilities for disabled people in their premises.
Going out became less stressful. I became more tolerant of the deficiencies, accepting the fact that there will always be problems no matter what. Effecting change need not be a nerve-wracking endeavour.
I still complain though but giving credit where credit is due is another form of providing feedback to let the establishments and their dedicated staff know that their efforts are appreciated and as encouragement to continue with the good practices.
Over the years, I have developed a standard tone and format when writing a letter to complain or compliment.
Be polite. Never shoot off a complaint in anger. Words once said cannot be retracted. Cool down before penning your thoughts.
Include all relevant information like place, time and names of persons involved. That will make investigating the case easier.
Focus on the issue. Do not get personal.
Where possible, provide reasonable and practical solutions.
Follow up with a compliment after problem is resolved. If there is no reply for an issue that you feel is important, follow up with a polite enquiry and then to the higher ups in the management if there is still no response.
The culture of complaint is important. So is the culture of praising a job well done. We should keep these two practices alive, not only for issues that affect us personally but for those that can improve society as a whole for the better.
Comments can reach the writer via firstname.lastname@example.org.