19 February 2020
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Put the bat down, Wendy

Have you ever been treated so poorly by a business when you have a genuine complaint that it flicks on your anger switch? The way some businesses treat a complaining customer can really stir anger in an otherwise mild-mannered individual.

If temperatures do start to rise, who’s at fault? Should the business just expect a reaction when they’ve treated a customer’s complaint with indifference? Or should the customer be controlled and prepared and calmly sock it to them rather than threaten to clobber the business, metaphorically speaking of course!

According to a study by Dr Kiju Jung, senior lecturer and marketing professor Donnel Briley at the University of Sydney Business School, consumers who complain politely about faulty goods or services are more likely to get a satisfactory response than those who get angry. 

The Sydney Uni duo said they conducted the research because they wanted to “turn marketing on its head.”

“Marketing is generally about how businesses persuade consumers to love their product; to buy their product.

“The question we wanted answered was: how do consumers effectively persuade companies to give them restitution when they are unhappy.

“We found that parents are right when they say that it’s important to be polite and when you are not, you often don’t get what you are looking for.

“When you are angry you convey all of the wrong type of emotional tones to the recipient. You have to bear in mind that there are humans on the other end of the interaction. The more irritation you direct at a person or their organisation, the less likely they are to see your point of view,” Professor Briley explained.

Dr Jung added that anger rarely works but “sometimes it can be effective if you get really mad in some face-to-face interaction. 

“Store managers may just want to avoid the situation as soon as possible and give you what you want. But going mad usually doesn’t help.”

After analysing more than 200,000 complaints about services and products in the US finance sector, the study found that customers were more likely to get favourable treatment, if they provided lots of detail in support of their complaint.

“Business decisions are usually made based on facts and supporting record.

“The longer the narrative is, the longer the written complain, the more likely it is that you are going to get restitution,” said Dr Jung.

Professor Briley and Dr Jung chose to study customer relations in the financial services sector because of the “pivotal role” it plays in the life of most families.  

“We are talking about mortgages; we are talking about banking; we are talking about large amounts of money that can cause large amounts of financial stress,” said Professor Briley. “A successful complaint that is able to get some sort of financial restitution can be tremendously important to individuals and to families.”

Dr Jung added that around 80% of complaints in the US financial services sector failed to win any form of compensation.

“It is important to treat people the way you would want to be treated,” the researchers concluded. “If you have a complaint, be thorough. Make sure you properly lay out your case in terms of what the problem is but don’t convey anger. You want to retain politeness.”

A contrasting view is held by a seasoned speaker and trainer in the customer service area. Since 1985, at over 2500 conferences and meetings, Martin Grunstein has been presenting and training businesspeople to increase their profitability through improved customer service. While the University of Sydney Business School advised the consumer to be nice, Grunstein has always been a crusader for the business to be nice to its customers. 

“It is obviously true that if you are nicer when complaining and people find you easy to deal with they will try to help you more. BUT as I am a business advocate rather than a consumer advocate, I believe that whether the customer is nice or not, they should still receive quality service in all areas including complaints,” he said.

Grunstein studied Psychology and Marketing at the University of NSW. He spent four years in sales and marketing with Colgate-Palmolive before setting up his own business, consulting to the broad spectrum of businesses on how to provide outstanding customer service.

“There is no law that says customers have to be nice for us to deal with them. If we deal with these people poorly, even if they are unpleasant, the revenge they can exact through word-of-mouth and social media can be very damaging and when people listen to their stories or read their posts, they believe them, even if they are exaggerating or lying.

“If you choose to go into business, not every one you deal with will be “nice”. Accept that, deliver quality service and enjoy the success that come from that,” he concludes. 

If you are at the receiving end of poor treatment by an uncaring business, maybe a better line, to quote Jack Torrance from the Shining once again, could be: “You didn't let me finish my sentence. I said, I'm not gonna hurt ya. I'm just going to bash your brains in.” But perhaps they could send the police to arrest you so best to avoid lines like that and keep calm and prepared, like the good professors in the above study suggest! 

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