The Talk

What to do when good complaints go bad

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"Excuse me, concierge, could you stop my girlfriend from snoring?"

If your job entails working with the public at all, you’ve encountered a complaint or two.

It comes with the business. No matter how good your product or service, someone isn’t going to like it or may just enjoy being a thorn in your professional side.

And anyone who has spent a significant amount of time in a customer-service centered industry knows the axiom “the customer is always right” isn’t right at all.

In fact, sometimes the customer is just ridiculous.

The Huffington Post just ran an article about a survey of hospitality professionals this week in which they shared stories about the “dumbest” complaints they’ve received.

One customer complained that he didn’t have an ocean view from his room – in London, England. Another tried to hold the hotel responsible for his girlfriend’s loud snoring – demanding a refund for his loss of sleep.

But you don’t have to be a hotel desk clerk to hear some doozies.

In my radio days, I had an older man call to complain that everybody on the radio was “mumbling,” and wondered “why couldn’t we talk clearer?”

Back in his day, radio announces were easier to understand, he explained.

I didn’t have the heart to tell him he probably needed a hearing aid if everyone was suddenly mumbling. I apologized and promised I’d ask everyone to “speak up.”

The restaurant industry is ripe for odd complaints. A local Italian restaurant owner told me a customer once complained that the chicken tasted “too much like chicken.” A woman who used to work as a waitress said a customer once complained that her blue cheese dressing looked “moldy.”

Yes. It would.

Sometimes you want to help the people, but they can only help themselves, like the health care professional who told me a woman once came into his emergency room complaining of severe stomach pains.

She was munching on a bag of pork rinds during the intake. I wonder if that had anything to do with it?

No one is immune. An estate planner said he was once rebuffed over a will with a client insisting: “I’m sure he wanted me as his beneficiary.”

Well, not according to the signed document.

Think being super nice or going the extra mile will save you from complaints?

A woman who worked in a pizza shop said a customer already complained that there was “too much” pepperoni on his pepperoni pizza.

And, a sweet smile might take you far, unless the customer is easily annoyed by friendly people.

“I had a customer tell me I was too nice,” said a retail store clerk. “He said my niceness was annoying to him.”

There is plenty of advice out there on how to deal with complaints.

Here are two:

Six steps for dealing with customer complaints

Ten tips for dealing with customer complaints

Basically, you want to make sure the complainer feels like he or she is being heard, recognize that the person is unhappy and ask what would make him or her happy.

But, sometimes you just have to give a flat out “no.” Such as the manager of a cabinet store who had a contractor expecting a full refund after the contractor ordered the wrong size custom cabinets.

But what if the question is so ridiculous you don’t really know what to do?

A theater set designer said he once overheard an actor complain to the seamstress that he “couldn’t act in these pants!”

In a situation like that, do your best, and – at the very least – try to keep a straight face.

Stacy Wescoe

Stacy Wescoe

Writer and online editor Stacy Wescoe covers technology and trends plus keeps you up to date on what coworkers and competitors are talking about around the water cooler and on social media. Reach her at stacyw@lvb.com or 610-807-9619, ext. 104. Follow her on Twitter at @morestacy and on Facebook and circle her on Google+.

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