Every time we had our hair cut as a child, we’d nod politely when the hairdresser asked if we liked it. But back home we’d storm into the bathroom, look in the mirror through teary eyes and wonder why the hell we’d been given a pudding bowl (again) when we asked for a Pam from Dallas.
Little has changed. As a nation we’re not known for our complaining skills. So how do you kick up a fuss (while still being polite) over a bad barnet, a disappointing restaurant experience or a shoddy dress?
“It sounds obvious but you need to know exactly what your complaint is. Too often people pick up the phone in anger or rattle off a tersely-worded email without thinking their argument through,” says consumer-rights champion Dean Dunham. “Know what your expectations of the product or service were, know why you’re complaining about it, know your rights and anticipate what solution you’d like to come to.”
“In most cases, an email or letter is far more powerful than a verbal complaint because there’s a record of it. Don’t be tempted to type pages and pages. Stick to the point and you’ll get a better response,” says Dunham.
It’s worth noting that Twitter has become a platform for voicing our frustrations directly to providers of everything from late trains to bad mobile-phone network coverage. But is social networking the best way to complain? Dunham isn’t so sure.
“Don’t use Twitter as a first port of call. If you want a resolution to your complaint it’s best to write to or email the company directly. That said, if you’re not getting anywhere with your complaint, Twitter is effective for getting a message out to lots of people and for putting the pressure on – no company wants their name plastered all over Twitter in a negative light,” he says.
If you’ve had a bad restaurant experience, Jen Aries, co-owner and front of house at The Crooked Well in south London, reckons a bit of charm goes a long way. “Be calm and polite and don’t make unreasonable demands. After all, it’s human nature that if we’re told we ‘should’ do something we’ll want to do the opposite,” she says. “And I’d much rather a customer voices any grievances during the meal. At any good restaurant waiting staff will ask at least once whether everything is alright. That’s your cue to say something.”
And what about the dreaded unhappy-with-hairdo scenario? “It’s best to say something straight away while you’re still in the hairdresser’s chair. Remember, they’re your stylist, not your best friend. Explain why you don’t like it and that you’d like your hair redone. It’s perfectly OK to ask for a different stylist,” advises hair stylist Karine Jackson. “But if you’re too embarrassed to say something in the salon, phone or email them as soon as you can. A good salon will bend over backwards to get you back in and show you what they’re made of.”