Complain when dissatisfied but give praise if it's deserved

Sylvia Porter

April 24, 1991|By Sylvia Porter | Sylvia Porter,1991 Los Angeles Times Syndicate Times Mirror Square Los Angeles, Calif. 90053

When you're treated rudely or unfairly by a company or one of its employees, you should complain.

After all, it makes sense: If you're not pleased with the goods or services provided, it is in your best interest to let those responsible -- or their bosses -- know about it. You may end up with an apology or perhaps something more tangible when the situation is put right.

But here's something that you probably never think of doing that is just as much in your interest: Writing notes of praise when it is due.

Here's an example: A friend recently was expecting a package containing some urgently needed items. A trip would have to be postponed without them.

On the morning they were scheduled to be delivered, the recipient was on the telephone when the doorbell rang. My friend got off the phone quickly, but the deliverer was gone and had left a notice of attempted delivery.

The situation looked grim. Calling the office of the delivery service, my friend was told that the deliverers are under stringent time constraints, down to seconds, determining how long they could, for example, wait for someone to answer the door.

"The efficiency experts have done studies," said the supervisor. "They've decided how many steps our people should take in a minute, how long it takes for someone to answer the door, everything. The pressure on our delivery people is very high."

Still, if my friend wanted to stop by the office, a 15-minute drive away, after the trucks returned that night, the package could be picked up. This was an inconvenience, but there was little choice.

Late that afternoon, there was a knock on the door. It was a deliverer from the company.

"I had lunch with the fellow who stopped here this morning, and he said he hadn't been able to leave this package," said the delivery man. "I said I'd be stopping near here, so I'd take it and try again."

It would be nice if everyone paid that amount of attention to doing a good job, to putting the customer first and to making the companylook good. That, unfortunately, is not always the case. My friend mailed a note to the company praising the driver who had gone the extra distance to turn an annoyed customer into a happy one.

More and more businesses count on you to let them know how they're doing. From restaurants to grocery stores to franchise retailers, the remarks of customers play an important part in determining what to change and what not to change.

How often have you eaten at a restaurant and seen the customer comment forms? How often have you filled them out? You should, andhonestly, each time you encounter one. If an employee has been especially friendly or helpful, say so. If the business has put in a little extra effort because you are in a hurry or some other kind of special circumstance, say so.

"Those forms are very important to us," says a spokeswoman for a national restaurant chain. "They aren't a way for customers to let off steam -- they're a living part of the way we do business."

An employee who is consistently praised will be that much nTC farther along when promotion or raise time comes around. And even a pat on the back for a job well done can have a great effect on an entry-level employee, who faces long and sometimes unusual hours for little money. In industries where job cutbacks often take place, a folder full of letters from satisfied customers can spell the difference for a conscientious employee between continued employment and a layoff.

What's more, by praising an employee or a company practice, you do something to assure that he, she or it is still there for you the next time you want to do business.

Beyond that, it lays the groundwork if, sometime in the future, you have a problem with the company. You have shown that you praise those things you like. Your complaint will be taken more seriously. It will be evident that you aren't anhabitual complainer.

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