How to complain—And win!

By Mike DuBose

Everyone has experienced rude or bad customer service, defective products, long telephone-wait-times, and staff or contractors who “overpromise and underdeliver!” When you call for help, some astonishing examples of customer-service frustrations are: Contacting the DMV and hearing 50+ times, from recorded, unenthusiastic tones, “It’s a great day in South Carolina!” Another is while being on hour-long-telephone queues, you’re excessively informed every 45 seconds how important you are and reps will be connecting shortly! Or, being instructed by computers to provide your telephone number, promising you won’t lose your place in line and someone will promptly return the call—never to hear back! Worse, after waiting forever on calls, you’re suddenly disconnected and have to re-start the infuriating process.

Unfortunately, it seems like “quality customer service” is declining while “complaints and dissatisfaction” are growing. Recent studies determined two-thirds of American families purchased poor products or services in the last 12-months compared with 56% the previous year. Most companies are eliminating methods to connect with their customer base to save money. Decision-makers often fail to see value in positively engaging with their consumers, solely focusing on short-term profits. They mistakenly contract vital customer-services to lower-cost foreign agents who speak poor English following inflexible policy manuals and having limited authority to resolve problems. Websites used to clearly display “CONTACT US” utilizing multiple approaches (postal mail, e-mail, text, chat)—not anymore! After struggling to locate that “golden hidden button,” we’re then guided to more aggravating barriers such as “Frequently Asked Questions” when simply searching for humans. Many who reach out to businesses engage with rigid-programmed computers. Most individuals begin their communications with patience only to end up yelling key words like “Agent, Representative, Operator, and Human.” Respondents are often peppered with endless questions by insensitive-technology which resists human-connections. Occasionally, you can trick artificial intelligence and other times, brace yourselves for painful encounters!!

Remember when “Made in the USA” products were dependable, like washers/dryers, lasting for 20+ years? Now, fast-forward—The business-sector realized vast amounts of monies could be saved by manufacturing products overseas. But today’s purchases are more complicated, made with inferior components, and have multiple ways to fail, especially when loaded with sensitive electronics.

In his best seller, “Good to Great,” Jim Collins determined that one of the secrets to creating successful businesses and excellent customer satisfaction is to thoroughly screen and hire talented employees who fit the business purpose, values, and culture; then, place them in positions they enjoy. With the October 2023 unemployment rate at 3.8%, employers are struggling to hire, train, and retain talented, friendly, experienced staff who are customer-driven. In my recent CEO interviews, some mentioned “We’re desperately just looking for bodies…anyone…to fill vacant jobs!” Thus, many staff exposed to consumers aren’t suited for jobs that require patience, compassion, knowledge, and problem-solving-skills.

Harvard University Business School revealed that many companies have determined “It’s sufficient merely to satisfy customers; as long as they respond with 4 out of 5 ratings, company-client relationships are strong. Afterall, this is the real world, where products and services are rarely perfect and people are hard to please. Second, investments required to change customers from being ‘satisfied’ to ‘completely satisfied’ won’t provide attractive financial returns and therefore probably isn’t a wise use of resources.” In other words, being fairly good is their goal! But leadership fails to realize that competitors are carefully studying them to develop ways to lure their consumers by exceeding consumers’ expectations.

Looking back on our companies’ history, leaders desired to build great companies over 30-years. They promoted excellence, teamwork, and the importance of exceptional customer relations. Systems were created to make it easy for clients to confidentially provide positive and negative feedback. We weren’t obsessed with perfection but sought all clients’ outstanding “5” ratings. This approach was integrated throughout our culture of pleasing customers and when failure occurred, everyone promptly addressed their issues. It was a slow, but steady process that took years to implement. Mistakes and failures were viewed as valuable learning opportunities to refine our services and products. This fine-tuning-strategy turned into positive games that passionate staff wanted to win!

If all companies and employees valued clients from these perspectives, businesses have significant chances of blossoming, resulting in happy, returning consumers who tell others about their positive experiences! Whereas unhappy families and business customers will take their buying power elsewhere. Studies have determined that people who experienced bad situations will share their disappointments with 13 others by word-of-mouth. Revengeful, angry individuals will attack companies on infectious social media and on-line reviews that rapidly spread—the explosive fuel that disables or destroys organizations’ reputations.

The Bottom Line: It’s refreshing to experience excellent customer service by connecting with representatives who treat you like a special and valuable client! We recently wrote to our favorite travel partners, Delta Airlines and Viking Cruise Lines, about isolated concerns. As loyal consumers, the companies assigned experienced reps who said, “You have legitimate issues and we’re going to make this right.” Delta provided SkyMiles for future flights and Viking Cruises awarded credits for cruises. Thus, unfortunate experiences on a recent trip turned into happy outcomes! Even the best businesses make mistakes or fail. The key to retaining consumers is how organizations productively solve problems when notified.

According to university research, customers make an average of three contacts with businesses to resolve problems and most give up. The 2020 National Customer Rage Study reported “A whopping 58% of respondents who complained got nothing—zero, zilch. So, it’s not surprising that 65% of those with problems experienced consumer rage!”

In our next series, we’ll share how to successfully develop potentially winning consumer complaints! Stay tuned!

Visit Mike’s nonprofit website to receive his monthly articles or Daily Thoughts and for free access to his books, including “The Art of Building Great Businesses.” The website includes 100+ published articles he has written on business, travel, and personal topics, in addition to health research with Surb Guram, MD. Write him at

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