Complaining for a living
Ever been trapped in on-hold phone purgatory when trying to make a complaint? Entrepreneur Jo Ucukalo banked on enough people wanting to avoid it to start her own business in 2009, Handle My Complaint, which for a fee deals with people’s grievances. Her company also provides free info online for consumers who want to do it themselves and advises businesses on how to better service their customers. Here she explains how to get companies to actually listen to your concerns.
So how did you get into the complaint settling business?
I was very good at handling my own complaints and friends and family started saying, “Could you give me some advice?” They then started referring their friends, family and colleagues. So from there I thought hang on, the market is coming to me – this must be a viable business. It started out with just me working from home – sometimes in mypyjamas! – and from there we’ve grown. Now we’re a team of six and we’ve handled over 4000 complaints.
You weren’t always in this field...
I trained as a civil engineer and from there I went into a management position with a shipping and logistics company. Then I became a flight attendant which taught me the subtleties of communication. A lot of the time people aren’t clear in what the issue is and what they are hoping to achieve, so you need to interpret the situation.
What sort of complaints do you handle?
We’re getting a lot of car repair complaints right now, we also have beauty treatments gone wrong, we’ve got a $5000 wedding dress that was destroyed by the dry cleaner, we have plenty of times when people buy things online and it doesn’t get delivered. So it’s anything and everything.
And what’s been the biggest refund you’ve gotten?
We saved a couple $84,000 on their home loan.
Not bad! Is there an art to complaining well?
Absolutely. The biggest tip is to try to take the emotion out of your complaint. Stick to the facts. As soon as you suspect there may be a problem record the date, who you spoke with and what was discussed or promised. Keep those records and that will help with the complaint down the track. Always be polite, it really helps. And try to talk to a decision maker. Sometimes the first person you speak to can’t actually give you any results.
Are there common mistakes people make when complaining?
Often you can save time by writing your complaint in an email or fax, rather than ringing up because that’s when you have to reintroduce yourself and you might not get to the right person. It doesn’t need to be superbly crafted, just write this is what my complaint is about and here’s what I want. The biggest thing is to tell the company what you want because that does half the job for them.
What are the tactics bad businesses use to put us off complaining?
Often you’ll lodge an issue and they’ll come back with very closed communication. Typically it will be when they’ll write to you and say “We’ve investigated” or “Thanks for your feedback” and sign it off as if the matter has been finalised. And what I’d like to say to people out there is that doesn’t mean the matter’s finalised. If you’re not happy with the result you can go back and ask for it to be reviewed up the chain of command. Don’t be deterred if you’ve received that sort of correspondence.
What should you do if you order something online and it doesn’t arrive?
You should always try to contact the company, but if you’ve tried a couple of times with no response you can do a chargeback through your credit card, that’s the easiest way to solve that if it’s not too long ago. Usually there’s a three month window.
The term “whinger” is obviously considered derogatory in Aussie culture – do you think that complaining is “un-Australian”?
Quite the contrary, I think complaining is very Australian. The thing is we pay a lot for what we buy and we do have high expectations of what’s out there. Australians actually complain a lot [in the Australian Government’s Australian Consumer Survey 2011, 74 per cent of consumer respondents who experienced a problem in the past two years took some form of action to try to resolve it]. But I’ve got a saying about the difference between a whinge and a complaint, “A whinge is just airing a grievance, a complaint is that you actually want a defined outcome.”
How do people react when you tell them what your job is?
Everyone wants to talk about their complaints. It’s really great that it’s so relatable; when I was telling people “I’m an engineer” often there was dead silence on the other end. But everybody’s got a complaint – there’s always a new story of something crazy!
Your business is founded on such a simple idea – do you have a lot of people saying “I wish I’d thought of that?”
Yes. And a lot of people write in and say, “Can I please work for your organisation? It’s my dream job!”