Written by Ian Landsman on Sep 6, 2016 in

When & How to Complain About Bad Customer Service

As a company that builds customer service software, we're sensitive to bad customer feedback. Of course, as consumers we’ve had our share of bad customer service experiences. All of us have found ourselves disappointed about something we’ve purchased at one time or another, whether it’s been a product, service, meal, haircut, or otherwise.

Knowing when it is appropriate to make a complaint can be difficult. There may be plenty of times where the solution you want isn’t being presented, and you absolutely want to tear your hair out (unless a bad hair cut took it).

It can be even more unclear when you should or shouldn’t complain about the customer service you were provided.

Fact: Just because they didn’t give you the solution you wanted doesn’t mean it’s bad customer service.

So, what does make customer service complaint-worthy? And how do you complain about it in a way most likely to get you a satisfying resolution? Let’s cover some of the top times it’s reasonable to complain, and then we’ll cover what to do.

Acceptable Reasons to Complain About Customer Service

1. The support person was dismissive of your problem.

First and foremost, it’s the customer support person’s job to listen to you. If you are being cut off and interrupted, you aren’t being heard. If details you’ve shared are being ignored, you have every right to feel frustrated. If the customer service person seems to indicate that your worries aren’t a big deal to them, this belittling of your concerns isn’t helpful to solving the problem you’re dealing with.

These are perfectly valid reasons to consider complaining, as well as reasons to express frustrations in follow-up feedback.

2. The representative blamed it on you, and offered no help.

Certainly, some problems are due to user error. It happens. You don’t know how to use the service to its fullest capabilities, and you’re disappointed, have questions, or think you made the wrong purchase.

Even if it is user error, the customer service person is there to help you understand the service. They should be showing you the best ways to use it, or fix the problem you have – even if the problem is self-created. Even if you’ve damaged what you’ve purchased in some way.

If a customer service person has decided not to help you, or been unfriendly and caused you to feel embarrassed about what’s happened, that is unacceptable.

3. The customer service team was unreachable, or communication was otherwise consistent.

A company might have incredibly knowledgeable service people, but if they can’t be reached, they’re of no help to anyone.

It is reasonable to expect that customer service questions get answered quickly.

“On average… 60% of consumers expect brands to respond to their customer service requests [via Twitter] within an hour. In reality, brand response times average 1 hour and 24 minutes.” (Twitter)

Note that response times may vary based on the format with which you inquire.

  • Live chat inquiries should be addressed immediately
  • It’s reasonable to expect social media requests to be addressed within minutes or hours
  • Contact form submissions may take 24-48 hours to hear back from, depending on the volume on inquiries the company receives

Can’t even find how to contact them? That’s certainly frustrating you don’t need. How to contact customer service to ask questions is information that should not be obscured.

4. The customer support person did not follow through with their offers or proposed solutions.

You may have had a great call with a customer service person who promised a satisfying solution, but if that promise isn’t kept, you have every right to be upset. If the communications and solutions you encounter working with the brand are inconsistent, that can be confusing and unsettling.

Situations such as these lead to more time spent contacting the company, having conversations about your situation, and enduring downtime from using the product or service you’ve purchased.

5. The product’s offerings have been misrepresented in marketing and ongoing service conversations about its features.

This one crosses a few territories. Certainly, it’s not necessarily the customer service persons’ fault that the marketing team was overzealous with its selling points (and taking those frustrations out on the customer service person isn’t the solution).

But, it is the customer service person’s job to be honest with you and make sure you have what you need to get your work done. If the information being shared with you is inaccurate, that is not adequate customer service.

How to Complain in an Effective Manner

There are certainly many more valid reasons to complain when customer service proves unsatisfactory. Upset with a recent situation?

Communicate your dissatisfaction so that company leadership may become aware.

You may choose to do so publicly (say, on social media) or privately. Publicly posting your experience may make the company act with more urgency so that other potential customers don’t walk away. However, do remember that marketing teams typically manage the social media channels, so your message still must be passed along to the right people.

Meanwhile, posing your frustrations in a private manner – to upper management, to the owner or another lead at the company – can also lead to a satisfactory resolution and apology. The company may appreciate you not alerting the public to any misstep their team has made, and you may be able to quickly move on with your day, without dealing with any other people in public engaging in your complaint.

Either way, look to communicate with someone other than the customer service person with whom you’ve previously been in contact with. Upper management will take your complaint seriously and may have the authority to offer solutions their other team members cannot.

Voice all complaints in a professional manner.

We love Shep Hyken’s blog post, “How To Receive Customer Service.

“The moral of the story is that as a customer, you can’t get what you want by being unreasonable. If there is a problem, a level headed approach with reasonable suggestions will always win over confrontational arguments, negative attitudes and insulting remarks.” You certainly may feel like you want to yell. Curse words are on the tip of your tongue. This issue has cost you money, wasted time, and maybe their customer service person has even insulted your intelligence.

You certainly may feel like you want to yell. Curse words are on the tip of your tongue. This issue has cost you money, wasted time, and maybe their customer service person has even insulted your intelligence.

But when you need to voice a complaint, you will sound more credible and rationale when you keep a level head, hard as it may be.

Keep documentation.

Phone calls are harder to document, but save transcripts of live chats. Keep track of email correspondence. Screenshot bugs that you’ve experienced, if software is not performing correctly. These pieces will be important when discussing a complaint.

Your Complaints are a Company’s Learning Experience

You’re allowed to complain, and sometimes, you’ll need to. It certainly doesn’t make you a bad person to do so.

Your complaints can also help teach the company about how they can better serve customers in the future. They don’t want their customers to complain. Mistakes happen. Bad customer interactions happen. Good companies who value customer service want to make sure mistakes are avoided in the future.

By hearing your complaints, companies can make improvements such as:

  • Better training protocols and better equip their employees to answer your questions
  • Increased screening of potential hires to find personalities best suited for customer interaction
  • Changing policies, procedures, and product specifications to make sure adequate solutions are devised for common complaints
  • … and much more.

Complaints happen. Your complaint as the customer can help provide solutions for you and lessons for the company, if handled properly by everyone involved.

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About the author

Ian Landsman of UserScape

Ian is the founder of HelpSpot and also podcasts at Bootstrapped.fm.

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