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The art of super complaining

There are two types of people – complainers and non-complainers. In our world of customer experience we worry about both. We worry how many people are dissatisfied with our products or services but don't tell us and vote with their feet. We also worry about the super complainers as they can put the fear of God into a company.

One of our friends is a super complainer. When he has time to spare at an airport he relieves his boredom by wandering down to the British Airways desk and voicing a complaint. As he says, "there is nearly always something you can complain about to British Airways".

Just last week he told us a story about a run-in with his energy supplier. The company wanted to install a smart meter in his house. They set up an appointment and failed to turn up. It happened a second time. The third time they failed to show it was red rag to a super complaining bull and he lowered his head. He started with the complaints department but they, in his words, proved to be ineffective. They simply wanted to set up another appointment date.

Our super complaining friend told the complaints department that they would no longer use their framework because self-evidently it was ineffective. He had a better idea – they would work to his. His process involved cancelling any consideration of installing a smart meter and he would require recompense for the time he had wasted waiting around for the no shows. At £100 an hour (his claimed employment rate) it meant they owed him £1200. Furthermore, he insisted on meeting the CEO of the company. He said that he would present himself at their offices next Tuesday and would meet the CEO some time that day at any time he would be available. In readiness for the meeting he was going to add a further £400 to the £1200 incurred through needlessly waiting in.

Listening to this story we were agog with his chutzpa. We know that the last thing anyone wants in a complaints department or indeed any other part of the company is for a dispute to escalate up to the head honchos. This sort of exposure doesn't usually do career prospects a great deal of good. Our friend knew that he wouldn't get a meeting with the CEO and he knew he wouldn't get the £1600 that he was threatening. What he did enjoy was creating discomfort to the company that had shown no regard for messing him about. He also believes he is doing something to help other customers. He sees himself as a Robin Hood of complainers whose mission is to champion the consumer in the belief that complaints departments and ombudsmen don't really work.

We will never know what effect the complaint had because our friend had no intention of turning up at the company's headquarters as he knew he would be rebuffed. His satisfaction was thinking about the ruffled feathers that he had created in the organisation. This type of super complaining is a real art. He has practised it for years and the business success he has achieved in his own right has given him the confidence to have a go at the inefficiencies and neglect of large organisations.

Not long ago he had a problem with a new Porsche. The car had a gearbox problem that the dealer seemed incapable of fixing. He found the name of the managing director of Porsche UK and contacted him directly. He told the CEO that he was going to have his Porsche driven into the sea, an event that would be witnessed by a news reporter who he felt sure would get nationwide exposure. It worked. Our friend got a new Porsche.

We don't know what to think of stories like this. In one respect they make our toes curl because these are threats we couldn't make ourselves. However, we do like a David and Goliath story, especially when we hear that David is successful. The message to us in the world of customer experience must surely be to do our very best to provide products and services that never attract the attention of these consummate complainers. There may not be many around but when they do engage, it's best not to be at the other end of their ire.


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