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When you complain, looking for insight [updated]

ETA Thanks everyone for your responses! Lots of perspectives to consider, some I had suspected and some I hadn’t.

(I actually don’t work with any restaurants btw, it’s just an experience I chose because it’s an easy, relatable analogy for a lot of people.)

One of the 23ryuo39 things I do with my time is act as a social media “listener”—heh—for hire. I don’t describe this as my job often because it’s A) not exactly what I want to be doing or what I’m focusing on, career-wise, and B) emotionally taxing with basically no upside. I do it almost entirely because if I didn’t, the people I do it for would make poor choices and I’m sitting at my computer almost all day anyway.


Thanks to this side gig I interact with a number of complaints. I’m pretty fantastic at handling them for the most part, but lately I’ve struggled with follow up for some of them.

One of the problems with online complaint culture—Facebook reviews, Yelp, etc.—is that it’s a One And Done system where someone complains, the business can respond if they want, and that’s it. That works well maybe 80% of the time but it’s very dependent on the quality of the complaint (and to some degree, what users expect from complaining)... at least, insofar as actually improving the customer experience going forward is concerned.

Let me put this in more concrete terms with an example: Say you complain about your visit to a restaurant. The server is bad and you won’t be returning, you write.

Do you, as the complainer in this scenario, actually want a follow-up on that? In an ideal world, what happens next? Does the restaurant go out of business? Is the rude server sent back to bussing? Is the rude server fired? And if any of these things happen, do you want to know? Do you want the restaurant to follow up with you, and ask exactly who served you, and what they did, so it can be better? Let’s assume for the sake of keeping the example on track that the server here hasn’t done anything horrific like being racist or sexist, just poor service.


I ask because I’ve had some experiences lately where I’ve tried, on the behalf of the business, to follow up and both offer customers a token and fix the problem(s). It usually involves asking them to contact the business further, so the problems can be identified exactly and so they can privately receive whatever.

The same people who will take the time to post the same review five places online won’t respond to a single, polite note asking if they’d be so kind as to follow up. Of course, they don’t owe a business who gave them shoddy service a single, solitary moment of their time. But it seems counterintuitive to me... if I complain about something, generally I want it either fixed or gone. Why not take advantage of that? Especially if the business is more than willing to listen and act on its customers’ feedback.


Looking for different perspectives, I don’t think there’s a right and wrong on this one (yet).

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