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Tell them what you want!

Sounds easy, but people struggle with this concept when it comes to commercial conflict. Why? For some it may be confidence, for others apathy or maybe an inability to articulate the message in a compelling way.

In fairness, the progress of technology has in some ways enabled companies to ‘hide’ from disgruntled customers through bots, online forms and automated phone red tape. Social media can though be a powerful tool for those disgruntled individuals who have time and lots of connections or followers.

It won’t always help when you need to resolve an immediate conflict. The BBC reports that British Airways passengers are calling the airline ‘woeful’ this week after a second weekend of delays, cancellations and lost bags.

Pre-pandemic, I was on a British Airways (BA) flight from London Heathrow to Basle for work. Due to a baggage handling dispute, many bags (including mine) got lost. It took three hours of waiting in a queue to report the issue – I then had to run round Basle to replace the various wires, connectors and microphones needed for my training course the next day (BA had agreed to pay for the purchases). Although I’m not the most enthusiastic of shoppers, I completed the mission, delivered the course and got back to the airport on Thursday for my return flight.

At this point, I decided to ‘practice what I preach’ and I approached the BA helpdesk. Now at this point I had two choices – I could complain for half an hour which would probably make me feel better but ultimately I wouldn’t have any other benefit, or alternatively, I could tell them what I wanted.

I chose the latter option – I explained what had happened and the subsequent aggravation and inconvenience (keep it short or people will stop listening). I then politely asked for three things:

  • Access to the Swiss Air lounge (there was no BA lounge at Basle)

  • Luggage priority

  • A business class seat

I was given all three. The first two were reasonably easy for BA to agree to. As for the third, it was Thursday afternoon – I was confident that business class wouldn’t have been full (if it had been Friday afternoon, it would probably have been a different story).

In summary, when making a complaint, follow these three rules:

1. Be specific People are generally bad at guessing, seize the initiative and tell them what you want. It also means they shouldn’t have to think too hard.

2. Be realistic Specifically about what you want – the punishment has to fit the crime.

3. Make it easy for people to say ‘yes’. Be creative - ask for things which cost them little but have value to you – other items might include air miles, vouchers, and who knows for a big terminal, maybe a buggy ride to the gate!

So remember, if you don’t ask, you probably won’t get!

Sam Macbeth, 28th February 2022

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