It pays to complain politely: research

Consumers who are polite when they complain about goods or services are more likely to receive a satisfactory response than those who get angry, according to a ground-breaking study by researchers at the University of Sydney Business School.

The study, which analysed more than 200,000 complaints about services and products in the US finance sector, also found that customers were more likely to be treated favourably if they provided a large amount of detail in support of their complaint.

Dr Kiju Jung, a senior lecturer at the Business School, and marketing professor Donnel Briley conducted the research because they say they wanted to “turn marketing on its head.”

“Marketing is generally about how businesses persuade consumers to love their product; to buy their product,” explained Professor Briley. “The question we wanted answered was 'How do consumers effectively persuade companies to give them restitution when they are unhappy?'

“We found that parents are right when they say that it’s important to be polite and when you are not, you often don’t get what you are looking for,” Professor Briley said.

“When you are angry you convey all of the wrong type of emotional tones to the recipient. You have to bear in mind that there are humans on the other end of the interaction. The more irritation you direct at a person or their organisation, the less likely they are to see your point of view,” he said.

Dr Jung added that anger might work in face-to-face situations but only occasionally.

“Sometimes it can be effective if you get really mad in some face-to-face interaction,” Dr Jung said.

“Store managers may just want to avoid the situation as soon as possible and give you what you want. But going mad usually doesn’t help.”

The researchers also found that complaints accompanied by large amounts of supporting detail were more likely to succeed.

“Business decisions are usually made based on facts and supporting record,” said Dr Jung. “The longer the narrative is, the longer the written complaint, the more likely it is that you are going to get restitution.”

Dr Jung added that around 80 per cent of complaints in the US financial services sector failed to win any form of compensation.

“It is important to treat people the way you would want to be treated,” the researchers concluded. “If you have a complaint, be thorough. Make sure you properly lay out your case in terms of what the problem is but don’t convey anger. You want to retain politeness.”

Are you calm when making complaints or do you become a hot-head when things are not working? What do you think is the more effective way to make a complaint?



Definitely remaining calm gets results. Asking to speak to the person in charge is a tactic I use frequently and when I am asked "can you tell me what your complaint is about"...I just say "then I shall have to repeat it all over again when I get to speak to the person in charge and I haven't got the energy, so please put me through to him or her." Works every time!

Agree Sophie - losing your temper or worse, bad language,  gets you precisely zero. 















"researchers at the University of Sydney Business School........analysed more than 200,000 complaints about services and products in the US finance sector"

Wouldn't it have been more useful for researchers in Australia to study the complaints made by Australians in Australia? 

USA results of studies have little or no relation to life and living in Australia as the countries are very different in the way things are done.

They probably have out sourced overseas phone complaint systems too. 

We are very like America.

And becoming more like America unfortunately.

"a ground-breaking study" - is that stretching the story a little too far? 

It doesn't take too much brain power to know this. If you want to win a battle like this you must research first, get your facts right, prepare your strategy, talk to the manager or person in charge, don't make it a personal attack. Simple.

I'd add to your list, know what you want (a refund, replacement, compensation, change in 'policy', retribution, public humiliation of someone other than you, heads on stakes on Sydney Harbour Bridge....) 

I would agree with you up to a point.

The complaints department are also very good at cyclic referals. They are good at sending you on to a dial tone or never ending music.

They are good at politely saying they have fixed your problem and they haven't at all.

Complaints departments are trained at not allowing you return of service no matter how polite you are. Centrelink, in particular, is actually quite cruel and on several occasions I have been concerned for the mental well being of the client needing to call them. Not even to receive welfare benefits - just to amend their errors!

Guaranteed if you reach frustration point and get angry they can shut down the never ending polite conversation.

My best advise is to have a diary and make a note of the date/time, the person's name on the phone and the action taken and let them know you are writing it down. 

I am always polite on complaining, it is with amazing the results, I often email first and most respond with apologises and often with a replacement or voucher or it is about goods bought online. I guess it depends on what the complaint is but I always try to remember that the person is only doing a job and not the owner of the company.


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