16 May 2012
Based on unscientific data, the number of complaints in Central Virginia is rising. By my guesstimates, approximately 1,000,000,000%.
In addition to the usual complainers taking their rants to the next level (posting long essays on Facebook, monologuing in response to the question, “How are you?”), more amateurs are joining the kvetching chorus.
A number of factors are contributing to this rise in grievances: Taxes, unemployment, housing, schools, college tuition, utility bills, the lack of funds, the lack of winter (more bugs!), the media, and the quality of leadership at all levels of the government.
If we got a dollar for every time someone made a Thomas Jefferson reference (“What would Jefferson say if he saw this … or “Thomas Jefferson once said … “ and the yet-to-catch-on-but-soon to-be-popular, “Big T.J. saw what?!”) we might able to afford the solution to many of these problems.
The bigger problem, however, is not the economy. It’s that many people these days don’t know how to complain. Nor do they know who to complain to and when to do it.
If you are concerned that I’m talking about you, try this test: Go the rest of the day without complaining. If you say, “This test stinks! Forget this,” after five minutes because you’ve already complained twice, then yes, it’s you. If you complain once or twice during the course of a full day, you’re normal. If you go an entire day without a single gripe, you’re good. Really good. As in, you make Mother Teresa look bad.
For the record, I am not “really good.” Or even just “good.” I’m in the “getting better” category.
You could say that I’m complaining about complainers. But you would be wrong. I’m simply identifying an issue and doing something about it: by providing information on how to effectively complain in order to increase the chances of a positive outcome.
This is what I’m talking about when I say that I’m “getting better.”
For example, this is a bad complaint:
“I went to that local restaurant the other day. The food was terrible and the portions were too small.”
This complaint’s even worse if you failed to share it with the manager shortly after your meal arrived at your table but said it to all your friends and neighbors. Always give the restaurant a chance to address a complaint while you’re there.
Same goes for any business: If you think you’re getting bad service or a poor product, the time to speak is when you’re receiving it or shortly thereafter to the people who can fix it. And make the complaint to a manager or someone with authority. Remember, elected government officials are public servants: Don’t like the proposed tax changes or the proposed budget? Contact your representative before the vote.
Whenever you complain, be concise and make it clear what action you want taken to address an issue, according to Complaints Board, a popular consumer complaints website that offers useful tips and tricks.
Above all else: Stay. Calm. Like Aunt Maud used to say, “No one wants to deal with a screaming Ninny.” Who would you rather help, someone being kind or polite to you or the guy yelling insults?
If your unemotional, direct complaint to the person-in-charge fails to get results, the Complaints Board recommends contacting a consumer advocacy group or the state Attorney General’s Office. Posting an online complaint at the company’s site, a blog, or your Facebook page sometimes generates enough negative publicity to prompt positive actions from businesses. If the situation requires drastic action, consider taking your complaint to small claims court or contacting the Federal Trade Commission, which will launch a fraud investigation into a business if it receives enough complaints about a business.
My editor’s favorite option: Write a letter to the local paper.