How to Complain About Bad Service Without Being Rude

How to Complain About Bad Service Without Being Rude
Photo: Alp Aksoy, Shutterstock

Have you ever gotten a bad meal at a restaurant, then proceeded to eat it anyway? Have you ever told a stylist you love your new highlights, even while you’re mentally figuring out whether you can afford an immediate colour correction at another salon? You may think you’re just being polite in these situations, but you’re actually not; it’s no good for any service professional to think they’ve done great work if they haven’t. You walk away dissatisfied and likely to spend more cash elsewhere, while they, the trained expert, may continue to give poor service to their future clients. Lose-lose.

There is a tactful way to say you’re dissatisfied and would either like a redo or a refund, though. You don’t have to be an arsehole about it, but you should get something you like in exchange for your money.

Why speak up about bad service?

A professional or expert who really cares about their craft wants feedback — even if it’s not necessarily positive. Hearing about your experiences will give them insight into what they do well and what they can do better.

“With my clients — who I adore — I personally take the first step and let them know that if they ever want to make any tweaks, to always let me know,” said Kelsey Wheeler, a hairstylist in New York. “It’s important to me as a colorist that everyone loves their results. If I were the client, I’d want to be able to be honest, so as the colorist, transparency is always welcomed and appreciated.”

That approach was seconded by said Dr. Alexis Parcells, a board-certified plastic surgeon: “For all first-time patients, I highly encourage them to check in with me or the team at the two-week mark for both Botox and filler,” she said, explaining that opening those lines of communication “makes it more approachable for the client or patient to express concerns or dissatisfaction.”

Andrew Young, a restaurant owner in New England, agreed, adding, “If someone on my line is undercooking something, I need to know. They don’t need to let me know if they don’t like something they ordered, but I need to know if quality isn’t being controlled.”

How can you phrase your complaint effectively — and nicely?

Obviously, don’t fly into a rage or be demanding. Remember everyone is human and the professionals offering you services are trying, even if they happen to fall short from time to time. Take a moment to compose yourself if you’re upset, and don’t forget that you’ve probably made a few mistakes at your job, too.

Take your complaint up with the person responsible, whether it’s a cosmetic practitioner, chef, or other involved professional. Be specific about the issue, too, and don’t feel the need to use overly flowery language or be too effusive in praising the parts you did like.

“I’d want to know that there was actually something wrong with the dish,” said Young, giving the example of undercooked chicken. “If it’s a busy time, I want someone to just get to the point. I want to fix the mistake and move past it. I’d rather someone speak up but be clear about what the issue is than be unhappy and give a bad review without giving us a chance to make it right.”

Parcells noted that if you are afraid or even angry and don’t want to bring your concerns to the professional who did your service, “you should probably find someone else who you trust and can have an open dialogue with.” She pointed out, too, that these days, many practices and businesses have text portals, email addresses, or other technological avenues to communication that can help you bring concerns directly to the professionals responsible without having to have an awkward face-to-face meeting. Take some time to type out a detailed, respectful message — but only once you’ve cooled down.

Young also added that there is a difference between someone not liking something and a genuine mistake being made, but that even if a customer is just being picky, he’d rather know.

“The nicer the better. If they’re really nice, I’ll probably fix it even if it’s on them because I want good customer experience. If they’re a dick, that’s on them,” he said.

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