Customers and marital partners have much in common when it comes to their complaints. As I explain in my book The Squeaky Wheel, the same psychological forces get triggered in our minds when we have a complaint, regardless of whether it’s directed at a company or at our loved ones. In both situations we get so intimidated by the gauntlet of conversations and arguments that await us that we often choose to do nothing (which has real world as well as psychological consequences; we don’t resolve the matter and we feel frustrated and helpless about it as well). When we do choose to speak up, both consumers and people in relationships share a journey that can have eerie similarities.
Following is a side by side (more like row by row) comparison of conversations involving a consumer complaint (about a toaster oven that keeps malfunctioning) and a marital complaint (about a husband that keeps forgetting to clean the garage).
Stating the Complaint:
Customer [to the representative]: I purchased the toaster oven because it has an automatic timer but the timer simply doesn’t do what it’s supposed to. Every time it looks like it’s working, it starts whining and stops.
Representative: I’m sorry you’re having trouble with…the toaster oven. That must be frustrating for you.
Wife [to her husband]: You promised to clean the garage months ago but you simply don’t do what you’re supposed to. Every time you look like you’re working, you start whining and stop.
Husband: I’m sorry you’re having trouble with…the garage. That must be frustrating for you.
Explaining the Problem:
Representative: So, you’re upset because the toaster over just stops working?
Customer: Of course I am! Sometimes I give it a gentle smack and it starts working again, but that only lasts for a few minutes.
Husband: So you’re upset because I just stop working?
Wife: Of course I am! Sometimes I give you a gentle smack and you start working again, but that only lasts for a few minutes.
Expressing Our Feelings:
Customer: I get so angry I can’t help yelling. It’s infuriating to watch it shut down, sit there and do nothing. It’s useless! Just useless!!
Representative: I’m sorry but I’m going to have to ask you to lower your voice.
Customer: Don’t tell me to lower my voice…hello…? Did you just hang up on me? Hello!!
Wife: I get so angry I can’t help yelling. It’s infuriating to watch you shut down, sit there and do nothing. You’re useless! Just useless!!
Husband: I’m sorry but I’m going to have to ask you to lower your voice.
Wife: Don’t tell me to lower my voice…hello…? Did you just walk away from me? Hello!!
Of course, there are ways to avoid these kinds of outcomes by learning effective complaint skills (and for those on the customer service side of things) effective complaint management skills. Thankfully, The Squeaky Wheel is now in paperback (and eBook), which means that for about $10 the secrets of our complaining psychology can be at your fingertips. You could learn how to complain effectively to companies, colleagues, friends, and loved ones…or you could just clean the garage yourself…
Copyright 2012 Guy Winch
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