How (Not) to Complain

Serena Williams berates a line judge for a questionable call; Kanye West hijacks Taylor Swift's acceptance speech; Joe Wilson accuses President Obama of lying to a joint session of Congress. The worlds of sports, entertainment, and politics seem to be long on self-promotion and especially short on trust and respect.

In contrast, the commercial marketplace runs on trust. Billions of transactions occur daily in which both parties in the exchange end up satisfied. Almost all sellers - from multinational companies to individuals selling on eBay - are concerned about their reputations and realize that many complaints provide valuable insights into how their products or processes can be improved. Customer satisfaction drives repeat business and recommendations.

But it's a two-way street. In the B2B world, sellers depend on trustworthy customers, just as their customers depend on them. Unhappy customers who mistrust and disrespect well-intentioned sellers raise the cost for all parties - and reduce the chance they'll get what they want. Here are five guidelines for customers for effective complaining.

Frame your argument. At first, don't attack, explain. There may have been an honest mistake or misunderstanding. Don't put the seller's representative on the defensive prematurely.

Propose a resolution. It helps the seller resolve your problem if they understand what they might do to satisfy you. For example, do you want a defective product fixed or do you want your money back?

Show respect. Chances are the seller is honestly trying to help you. Convey trust in the seller and you're more likely get a quick resolution and build an enduring relationship.

Keep your cool. If you don't, a seller's representative may reasonably decide to hang up on you, or at least will be less inclined to help you.

Escalate if necessary. There is only so much that most salespeople are authorized to do. If a seller's front-line representative cannot give you satisfaction, go over the representative's head.

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