Flip Your Complaints To Get Them Heard

Flip Your Complaints To Get Them Heard

Author and entrepreneur Seth Godin has a handy suggestion for making complaints — to customer support, bosses or anyone, really — that will actually get heard and acted upon. The secret? Reverse your starting preface, and leave out the word “but”.

Photo by cote.

It’s easy to start off a complaint about your phone or your job by presenting your situation as an angry fact: “I’ve been a customer for X years, and this is ridiculous!” Seth suggests that starting your complaint with a positive assessment of where you’re at, followed by a little opening for improvement, will fare much better:

“In this economy, I’m lucky to have this job, and it’s almost perfect. It would be even better if…”


“I love owning this device, it lets me manage my life and contacts, and the one thing that would make it even better is…”

The important capping point is to never use the word “But” to make the transition between your satisfaction and your one niggling issue.

If customer service calls, in particular, are where you’re getting your high blood pressure these days, try a little reciprocity or being a “better customer”, in addition to some positive-thinking judo, to get your way.

Amplifying complaints [Seth’s Blog]


  • I tend to disagree with this approach. After years of being a ‘better customer’ due to having been in a customer service role and knowing how I’d prefer people to handle things, it became blatantly apparent that when you’re nice then you’re pushed to the side and forgotten about. Often times they’ll think ‘oh well he’s not really all that angry about it so I can sit on it for a while’.
    One such example: I had been with my mobile phone carrier for years and they’d always looked after me when it came time to upgrade. After one recent quick phone call from them to re-sign my contract, I received a model of phone (as they supply new phones with new contracts) that was financially and technically worse than what they advertised with the contract. I originally was the nice guy and stated that it was probably just a simple mistake and that I hadn’t received the advertised phone. Each time they would argue against me but then say that they would have the new model sent out. After six attempts of being the nice guy, it wasn’t until I said ‘This is ridiculous, I am taking my complaint to the TIO if you can’t sort this out’ that I finally got a result.
    People will ignore your complaint until you are forceful (not necessarily angry or aggresive) about your complaint. This tends to be the case in non face-to-face complaints. Whereas often times the nice guy approach will work face-to-face provided the provider/supplier/worker can obtain a result during your visit, otherwise you will most probably be forgotten about again. I’ll admit, don’t go in guns blazing, but don’t be surprised if the nice approach doesn’t work the first time and you end up having to say ‘I’ve been nice about this up until my third attempt so — BAM’.

  • I agree, Michael. Being nice on the phone gets your deal stuck at the bottom of the pile.

    One of my worst experiences was getting a payrise added to my salary a couple years back. After a month of being underpaid my problem was important enough to move from email support to phone support, where I got 3 calls over 3 weeks, each from a different rep. I’m normally quite pleasant on the phone, and all three sounded keen as to help as much as they could. By the 4th I still hadn’t been back-paid, so I bitched and moaned so much that the 4th rep actually tried to lodge a complaint against me (tart), but I had managed to get my back-pay paid to me the next day, so I didn’t get stung by tax on payday!

Show more comments

Log in to comment on this story!