I have always believed in the power of what I call ‘positive complaining’, a blend of polite charm, a dash of humour (if appropriate) and brute honesty. I also believe in going straight to the top.
The main reason for approaching a CEO or MD directly is that it saves time and is more often than not a sure fire way of getting the result you want. Not always, but usually. I’m not knocking customer service departments – some are truly great, but chances are that if you’ve got a problem with a product or service, so has everyone else. As a result, customer service departments are frequently inundated, making the customer feel a tad faceless and even dissatisfied with the response to their complaint. So how do you get the attention of a CEO?
When it comes to complaining, we’re slightly spoilt. There’s the I’d Like To Speak To The Manager, letter writing, email and Twitter, among others. The problem with the 140-character Tweet is that your grievance is limited to, well, 140 characters. I’d Like To Speak To The Manager is fine, but you’ll have no written record of the conversation, making it possibly redundant if you need to take things further. Email can work well, but just imagine how many emails a CEO or an MD is likely to receive, unless you email them late at night. Your email could quite easily get lost in the ether or simply fall prey to the dreaded spam folder.
Call me old-fashioned, but my personal preference is a letter. A typed letter saved on your computer gives you a proper record of the situation. It also means you can enclose any photographs, paperwork and receipts to support your case. Always be polite and for goodness sake, don’t rant; rudeness will not do and ranting is ugly. You want the CEO or MD to judge you as an equal and empathise. That is why I suggest using humour if it’s appropriate. If you can humanise the situation, you can humanise an MD. Also, first impressions count. Create a letterhead for yourself on your computer and while the main body of your letter should be typed (so it’s legible), write the “Dear…” by hand in black ink, to give it a personal touch. Write the address on the envelope in neat, black ink to avoid it looking like an invoice and finish it off by writing “Personal” at the top so that it is delivered directly to the boss.
You might be surprised to hear this, but if done that way, a CEO could even respond personally – Willie Walsh did when he was chairperson at British Airways and I received business class tickets to fly anywhere in Europe. If a CEO or MD does not reply personally, at least your letter will be handed to someone with proper authority.
If all this seems long-winded, simply remember that it will save you precious time in the long run, plus there won’t be any nasty on-hold music to endure, a bonus if ever there was one.
1) A CEO’s contact details are often hidden in the ‘Corporate’ or ‘About Us’ section of a company’s website. Seek out headings such as ‘Our Board’ or the directors’ names at the end of company annual reports. Use these names coupled with the head office address.
2) Remember that a CEO or MD’s personal assistant has power. If your favourite complaining method is via email, a company receptionist might be more likely to hand over a PA’s email address than their boss’s. Find out the name of their boss (see Point 1) and use the same email pattern as theirs. CC the PA to make sure of the email’s arrival.
3) If complaining about a faulty product, don’t be put off if it’s out of warranty. It could be that a particular version of that product has a known fault and can still be replaced free of charge.
4) Be clear about what you want. It sounds obvious, but if you want a refund, say you expect to be fully refunded; you might not be if you don’t ask!
5) Don’t forget to include your contact details when writing a letter. Creating a letterhead not only looks professional, it’s practical too.