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When people cease to complain, they cease to think: Napoleon
I fear for the English then.
As a general rule of thumb, we love to gripe, grumble and whinge but we rarely complain in a formal sense.
As social anthropologist Kate Fox observes in Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour:
English customers may moan indignantly to their companions, push the offending food to the side of their plate and pull disgusted faces at each other, but when the waiter asks if everything is all right they smile politely, avoiding eye contact, and mutter, ‘Yes, fine, thanks'
Typically, for businesses, the evils of the 'silent complaint' usually manifest themselves as lost future trade or a damaging rant on social media. And suing a customer for defamation is usually not a realistic option.
So how can traders fight against the tyranny of the invisible moan?
Counter-intuitively, there is plenty of research to show that encouraging complaints is actually good for business (see, for example, this recent article from Forbes in the States).
So, here are some tips and pointers to draw out complaints and, importantly, stay on the right side of the law:
Other non-legal tips include:
The good news is that there is plenty of good practice out there.
Take retailer Lakeland which was recently ranked by Which? as one of the best UK brands for customer service.
It doesn't shy away from engaging its customers:
Picture © Lakeland.co.uk
What's more, it even—shock horror!—has terms and conditions that sound like they were written by a human:
The only condition we place on the use of this website - whether you buy, browse, find out about our stores or just keep up to date with what's happening in the world of creative kitchenware - is that you enjoy it!
It doesn't surprise me that it scored so well with consumers.
So, follow some of the tips above and, all being well, and if you are really, really lucky as a business, you might upgrade from the 'silent' to 'apologetic complaint' and then you really know that you are on to something:
‘Sorry to be a pain, I wouldn't normally say anything, but, er, we ordered a laptop the other week and this, um, well, sort of looks like a toaster’
So what do you think?
Is, for example, ADR the future, despite its low take up?
Or should customer complaints be dealt with reactively and quietly?
Do let us have your thoughts below.
The eighth edition of Butterworths Commercial and Consumer Law Handbook is out in October. It contains an invaluable collection of UK statutory material and EC materials. The title is fully up-to-date with all the latest commercial and consumer law changes , including full coverage of the Consumer Rights Act 2015, making it an essential reference source for practitioners involved with this area of the law.
New to this edition:
For more details, click here.
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