Thursday, 4 March 2010

Constructive Complaining

If you have read this blog more than once, you have probably figured out for yourself that I am quite proficient at moaning. Especially about my beloved London and it’s weird and wonderful cocktail of inhabitants. It is true, I like a good moan and London gives me plenty of opportunity. But since I turned 30 I think this moaning has taken a different guise. Constructive complaining. Let me explain.
A few months ago I had reason to complain to my local council (see “I Know Who I Blame” for a bit of back-story). I first made my complaint in December and was told I would receive a response within 10 days. A fortnight later I called again and left a voice message asking why I had not had a response about my complaint. A few days later I received a letter thanking me for contacting the council via email (!) and that I would receive a response within ten days.
Christmas came and went. I received a letter telling me that my case had been heard in court (despite being informed the court summons had been cancelled due to an agreement for me to pay my arrears by direct debit – long story) and a liability order had been implemented.
I wrote a snotty email.
A few days later I received a letter detailing my contact with the council, but not actually answering my complaint. I phoned the person who had written to me and was told she had been tasked with investigating the situation but not actually dealing with my complaint. I asked her if she could look at the email and respond to my questions.
Eventually, she admitted that mistakes had been made. The council admitted that I had been ill-advised at several points throughout my dealings with them over my council tax and that it was unfortunate my case had been heard in the court where I work despite me being advised this would not happen. She asked what I wanted to happen. I said I wanted an apology.
About a week later I received an email. Attached was a letter apologising for the inconvenience their mistakes had caused me. And offered me compensation of £25.
My new found hobby doesn’t stop there. A few weeks ago I went to a Blues bar for a friends’ birthday. My friend told me to get there before 8pm to prevent me having to pay. I got there shortly after 7.
“That’s ten pounds please.”
“What? My friend has booked the bar upstairs and told me it was free before 8.”
“That’s not what the manager told me.”
Slightly bewildered and a little pissed off I went up to the party, ten pounds poorer. My friend greeted me with a beer. I told him about the door fee and warned him his other guests might not be best pleased. Confused, he looked at the bar’s programme. Quite clearly it stated that entry was free before 8.
Fired up I went downstairs and showed the programme to the doorman. He shook his head.
“Sorry, I was told by the manager to charge £10 after 7.”
“But it’s here in black and white.”
“I’m just doing my job.”
“Well, can I speak to the manager?”
As I waited for him to return with the man in charge, a handful of other revellers arrived.
“That’s ten pounds please.”
“But the website says it’s free before 8.”
“Yeah my friend told me that too.”
Naturally I had to intervene and told them about my plight. Before long I had a throng of about half a dozen complainants on my side. When the door man returned and saw our protest his face fell.
“I can’t find the manager.”
“So what are you going to do about it?” I was feeling a bit cocky with a huddle of supporters behind me.
“Yeah, what are you going to do?” someone piped up behind me.
The doorman sighed. “Well, I guess I have to let you in for free.”
Elated, I held out my hand for my reimbursement and headed up to the bar for a well-earned Whiskey Sour.
The next day I was at the British Film Institute with some friends. I enthused about my new-found hobby with real passion. Then, digging into our posh dried beany bar snacks, I came across a shard of plastic.
I was in my element. “Let me handle this ladies.
Excuse me! I found this piece of plastic in our food.” I gave the bar man a knowing look. “I could have eaten it.”
The bar man took the cup of dehydrated pulses apologetically.
“I wonder what we will get for free for that one.” I was almost giddy with anticipation.
A few minutes later the barman returned. With a fresh cup of beans. No freebie or reimbursement, just more beans. I was a little disappointed.
But don’t despair reader. I am not going to give up my right to complain. Only two days ago I filled in a complaint form after being stranded just outside Stevenage on an over-crowded train for over four hours (it made page 9 of the Evening Standard on Monday if you are interested). And today...I got my letter of apology from the council. Along with a check for 25 pounds.
You see; constructive complaining pays. Give it a go. Who knows what you might get out of it.

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