You are not a wallet: complaining considered helpful

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My previous car dealership gave me a survey where everything was ranked 1-5 (Completely Unsatisfied to Completely Satisfied), and then begged me to give them all 5s, because anything less would be considered a failing grade.

That’s not the kind of business I want to do business with. I want to do business with a company that wants to hear how they can be better, not one that expects that every time will be perfect, because it never will be.


Sometimes it’s not their fault.


Be careful with the where and who of complaints, they don’t work in a lot of retail settings where often what you accomplish is giving someone who’s underpaid and has little ability to do anything about it a hard time. Often what you get is squeaky wheel syndrome, where only people who complain about a problematic policy get relief and everyone more timid has to either swallow it or risk embarrassing themselves complaining about a policy that’s never going to change in a million years.


This was my last employer (not literally of course), and why I die a little inside when someone fills out a survey and goes, “A five means perfect, and no one is perfect.” To bean counters who substitute it for employee and management feedback, that’s so 100% not what it means. Every customer-service survey you ever take will be a binary good/bad button disguised as a scale.

Complaints about not getting free stuff are the most obnoxious. I’m sorry, but what? I’m not talking about having clean bathrooms or other “free” amenities that one can and should expect, I’m talking about literally not receiving something for free that the store otherwise sells.

“You’re not going to give me free boxes because you make a profit by selling boxes! How dare you! I’m never shopping here again!”


This post and all the associated comments suck.


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You need competition for complaints to work. If there’s no competition, what incentive does a company have to improve? (I’m talking about YOU, Verizon.) If it’s too big a company, even with competition, they’ll probably ignore you. And, if it’s a rare purchase, complaints really don’t work. My wife was in a wedding out of town, and went to a nearby bridal shop to get the outfit the bride wanted. They treated us like crap.

I bought a new car in 1989. It had an early cpu in it to control emissions etc. On two or three occasions (moderately long trips) the “Engine Service” light went on after we got there, but only temporarily. After the car sat for a while, it went out. The 3rd or 4th time this happened, car went dead. Out of warranty, naturally. Had to have it towed in the town we were visiting. The CPU was bad, and had to be replaced, for over $1000 (in about 2000). I wrote to the CEO of the company, to complain and ask for some kind of compensation, seeing as the CPU cost was ridiculous, we had to rent a car, and stay an extra day or two in a hotel. We no longer drove the car on long trips because it was unreliable.

A minion replied but gave no satisfaction. It was “against policy.” Needless to say I’ve never bought another one of that brand.


[quote=“KXKVI, post:7, topic:79307, full:true”]
You need competition for complaints to work. If there’s no competition, what incentive does a company have to improve? [/quote]

Believe it or not, there are plenty of companies out there that just don’t know what they’re doing wrong. For example, if the few people who like a clunky UI give an app five stars, and the majority of people who don’t get it at all just stay away, then you have a company that’s operating off of bad information. Everyone they know tells them they’re great, but they never grow and they don’t know why.

Aside from this selection bias, companies also just don’t have time to do everything. Resources are limited. You know what a really good way of prioritizing work is? Look at the number of people who complain. If your gripe is not worth complaining about and ten other gripes are, they’re going to pour their resources into the ten things that people bothered to claim was scaring them off. And if you have more gripes than you can ever possibly get to, the one with the most gripes is a good place to start.

No one ever sets out to give you a raw deal. But in the real world, information is limited, resources are limited, and no one is going to be perfect. The single best thing you can do is alert someone. Maybe it doesn’t work: maybe your gripe really is a rarely-occurring, expensive to fix, or just plain difficult task that only you are complaining about. But just opting out of the process altogether is certainly not going to give you the results you want.


I get the point, but I have decided that I am not responsible for helping corporations to improve. Everybody leaps all over themselves at the opportunity to express their opinions, but I ask why? Are you paying me for my opinion? Do I become a better human being?

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[sarcasm] But then how will the Great And Holy Free Market be able to make its Inerrant And Perfect Decisions if all interactions are not restricted to these two options, plus lawsuits? It’s in violation of the Holy Creed set down by the Prophets Rothbard and Heinlein! [/sarcasm]

Sarcasm aside, yes, this, very much this entire point. Or, to sarcastically summarize: “if what you are doing has gotten no complaints, then you aren’t listening. And that means you can’t be any better.”


No, but you may get better stuff out of it, if they listen.


Don’t you just love the subjunctive mood?


For what it’s worth, it works. As an engineer, I’m used to filing bugs. Sometimes they get fixed sometimes not. Now that everything has a computerized component, most issues I have ultimately run back to another engineer somewhere. Assuming there is a customer-facing bug/feedback portal, you can usually get a well-described bug fixed at some point.

Most recently, in Acrobat Reader Adobe made a bizarre decision to open the Tools/Comment sidebar on the right-hand side by default with every opened document. After the fifth document and the wasted clicks closing it, I found their feedback and left a complaint. To my surprise, a month later someone at Adobe sent me an email to inform me that my complaint was now controllable with a preference in the latest version on.

I was going to use their product anyway, because the free readers suck at the bizarre combinations of drawing tools and East Asian language font requirements that seem to get thrown my way. I kept using it even though it pissed me off. But no one aspires to making a tool that pisses people off, so I figured it would get fixed at some point. Especially if enough people complained. I didn’t do it to help them. I did it so they knew had what they needed to stop pissing me off.


Companies are really bad at listening to feedback even when they do get it and the feedback is clearly communicated. I think it’s hard to stop what you’re doing and really listen to what someone else is saying.

Especially if you’re pretty far removed from the day to day, client-facing stuff. And all that feedback from the front line gets softened (or deleted) on its way to the top so when someone does make it through to a higher level of management they’re not really expecting it. “Who’s this crank and what’s the fastest way to get rid of them?”

I’ve been fortunate enough to get opportunities throughout my career to be in positions where instead of filtering the frustrations out, I can distill them into something that folks will want to act on.

On the complaining end, though, it really helps to convey the issue clearly. Starting with a short, two sentence explanation of the key issue. And then a longer explanation with the assumption that the person who can fix your issue has no idea about anything. I know the strategy sounds belittling but without that, it’ll probably be ignored.


Good points. Sometimes I don’t opt out. But I think some large businesses have gotten to the point where customers are just a necessary evil (along with employees), and if they could get rid of them without affecting the bottom line, they would.


What brand of car was it? Perhaps other people would like to avoid them as well.

It was a Volvo 240. But that was 1989, and the company has since changed hands, I think.

I know. Can a company get all high scores? Sure. But when companies scare their employees so much that the employees beg their customers to give high scores, it isn’t going to help them in the long run.

I think a lot of car companies/dealership use this survey because the salespeople at the dealer we’ve used for our last three cars asked us to rate them with all fives for our last two cars. For us, it was super easy and this is why we’re repeat customers. However, I do resent the fact that they’ve hired a marketing company that tells dealers that this metric is more about a pass/fail rather than honest feedback about where they may improve.

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oh look, cory is wanking about copyright again. seems like everything comes back to that for him.

i disagree, voting with your wallet can solve the problem. if companies are losing business, maybe they’ll figure out that their businesses suck, and that’s a message that reaches the top without giving the low-paid non-responsible drones a hard time.

but back to losing the rights to your media - the obvious solution would be to pirate it. no restrictions whatsoever, and again, if media companies were losing a lot of money to piracy, they’d figure out a better business model.