Monday, August 9, 2010

Travel Tip #006: The Squeeky Wheel

As you may or may not have noticed as a reader of this blog, I'm not much of a complainer. I know my life is pretty great- I'm not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, and I tend to look for the silver lining, since I know I'm having my cake and eating it, too (and a lot of other corny idioms and rainbows and unicorns). However, I have learned that in certain circumstances, a little complaining can be a positive thing, especially when it is warranted.
I happen to love to travel, which is a good thing, since it feels like JM and I find ourselves on an airplane, in a car, or on a train just about every week these days. In the summer we are like nomadic gypsies, rambling our way from wedding to wedding, with barely a stopover at home to water the plants (RIP, boxwoods). But, every once in a while, while traveling, you encounter a situation where the service or amenities are less than what was promised, and in that case, I think the best thing you can do is to air your grievances. In the last couple of years, I have lodged complaints about an airplane that was stiflingly hot, one where the tray table, reading light, and earphone jack at my seat were all broken, and at restaurants where I waited an hour past my reservation to be seated, or was double-billed. Just last week, at the Bellagio in Las Vegas, our shower drained very slowly, and it took two days for a handyman to come fix it. Did I complain? You betcha!
In all of these cases, the companies were extremely gracious in accepting the complaint, and I was rewarded in the form of travel vouchers, refunds, and in the case of the Bellagio, an $85 "inconvenience credit." But before you start going around on a complaint rampage, bellyaching about every little thing, here are a few tips for how to properly, and profitably, lodge a complaint.

1. Go To The Right Person: You will only frustrate and embarrass yourself and everyone around you if you raise a stink to a flight attendant or a waitress at a restaurant. Those people rarely have the power to redress your issue, and while you are tying them up with your rant, you are causing them to neglect all of the other customers. Instead, quietly and politely ask to speak with the restaurant or hotel manager. Or in the case of airlines or retailers, wait until you are at home, and place a call or send an email to the complaints department. I have found that when they are expressed at the right time and place, companies are not only receptive to complaints, they welcome them, and are grateful to be made aware of the problem.
2. Don't Lose Your Temper: The minute you show yourself to be angry, the person you are speaking to will get defensive, and you will have lost. Not only that, but if you allow yourself to get riled up and pissed off, it will make a bad situation worse. Don't make a scene and spoil a vacation over a little problem. Try to keep your voice soft, your language clean, and your tone professional and polite. I always say, "You'll catch more flies with honey than with vinegar." (You didn't think I was out of corny idioms, did you?)
3. Make It Logical, Not Personal: When you lodge your complaint, make sure you describe and itemize the actual problems that caused you to be inconvenienced. "I believe there was an error on our bill" will yield far more positive results than "That jerk waiter is trying to swindle me".  You will come off a lot better to your dining or travel companions, too, who might start wishing they could disappear if you throw back your chair and start yelling.
4. Put It In Writing: If your complaint is not handled to your satisfaction at the time of the problem, go home and write a letter or an email to the proper party. Often, companies will take a written complaint more seriously than a spoken one.
5. Be Respectful and Reasonable: You can't fault a hotel for your room lights going out during a tropical storm.  But you should definitely mention it if your lights go out due to a blown fuse and the hotel takes an unreasonable time to respond. Have some restraint about what you complain about, and your issues will be taken more seriously. And, sometimes, when it seems like more trouble than it's worth, just force yourself to overlook the problems and have a good time in spite of them. If you go around whining about every little thing, you will spoil all the fun of us silver-lining folks.


BRed said...

Though throwing back your chair and yelling did yield several hundred dollars in reduced bill at Adolph's.

Lily said...

Haha! @BRed- that was a test to see if you read my blog! You passed.