In research that will probably shock nobody, consumers who are polite when they complain about goods or services are more likely to receive a satisfactory response than those who get angry.
The study by researchers at the University of Sydney Business School analysed more than 200,000 complaints about services and products in the US finance sector, also found that customers were more likely to be treated favourably if they provided a large amount of detail in support of their complaint.
Dr Kiju Jung, a senior lecturer at the Business School’s and marketing professor Donnel Briley, and conducted the research because they say they wanted to “turn marketing on its head.”
“Marketing is generally about how businesses persuade consumers to love their product; to buy their product,” explained Professor Briley. “The question we wanted answered was, how do consumers effectively persuade companies to give them restitution when they are unhappy.”
“We found that parents are right when they say that it’s important to be polite and when you are not, you often don’t get what you are looking for,” Professor Briley said.
“When you are angry you convey all of the wrong type of emotional tones to the recipient. You have to bear in mind that there are humans on the other end of the interaction. The more irritation you direct at a person or their organisation, the less likely they are to see your point of view,” he said.
Dr Jung added that anger might work in face to face situations but only occasionally.
“Sometimes it can be effective if you get really mad in some face to face interaction,” Dr Jung said. “Store managers may just want to avoid the situation as soon as possible and give you what you want. But going mad usually doesn’t help.”
The researchers also found that complaints accompanied by large amounts of supporting detail were more likely to succeed.
“Business decisions are usually made based on facts and supporting record,” said Dr Jung. “The longer the narrative is, the longer the written complain, the more likely it is that you are going to get restitution.”
Professor Briley and Dr Jung chose to study customer relations in the financial services sector because of the “pivotal role” it plays in the life of most families.
“We are talking about mortgages; we are talking about banking; we are talking about large amounts of money that can cause large amounts of financial stress,” said Professor Briley. “A successful complaint that is able to get some sort of financial restitution can be tremendously important to individuals and to families.”
Dr Jung added that around 80 per cent of complaints in the US financial services sector failed to win any form of compensation.
“It is important to treat people the way you would want to be treated,” the researchers concluded. “If you have a complaint, be thorough. Make sure you properly lay out your case in terms of what the problem is but don’t convey anger. You want to retain politeness.”