Jasper Griegson's Tip of the Week

Jasper Griegson is the official complainer, a professional complainer whose reputation is to get problems resolved by politeness, humour and stubbornness to ensure he gets what he wants. These are Jasper's weekly tips, collected for you in one handy spot.  Visit the complainer website here

The Complainer

1. Tip of the Week: commit your complaint to paper

If you have a complaint that cannot be resolved on the spot do not lose your temper, bang your fist on the counter and then shout in a ranting fashion at the lowly shop assistant. Revenge is a dish best served cold and you will be far better composing a carefully worded email which sets out your problem clearly and concisely. A good complainer’s objective is not to get mad but to get even and the best way of doing this is in writing. The pen is more powerful than the sword.

2. Tip of the Week: keep a copy

Whenever you write a letter or email of complaint, always keep a copy, Resolver will do this for you automatically. 

You will need this as a reminder to yourself of precisely what happened and when (especially if the facts are complicated) and as a record of the date on which you first registered your dissatisfaction in writing.

3. Tip of the Week: prevention is better than the cure

It is always advisable to buy goods and services from reputable companies. For starters, you are less likely to encounter a problem worthy of complaint – cowboys invariably mean trouble. Furthermore, if something does go wrong, you are far more likely to obtain a decent response from a company with a good reputation to protect. If a bargain sounds too good to be true, the general rule of thumb is that it is precisely that: too good to be true. Avoid it.

4. Never be afraid to express yourself.

Many people are frightened of complaining for fear of causing an unnecessary fuss. This is a very British attitude and it means that scores of consumers who have very genuine grievances  never manage to air them. 

For the price of a stamp, you are free to write to anyone you like, however senior he or she may be. Do not be afraid to put pen to paper. And if you make your complaint via Resolver email, it costs even less than a letter.

5. Always be careful of the small print when buying goods or services.

A few minutes spent reading the terms and conditions of any contract or purchase can save months of agony afterwards, particularly if you are spending a large sum of money.

The small print will often be found on the back of any documentation which you may be required to sign and will appear under the heading 'Terms and Conditions' or perhaps 'Conditions of Sale'. Fortunately, most reputable companies will often use plain English – you should not necessarily assume that the small print is incomprehensible even if it is generally boring. 

Which companies generate more small print than is good for you? Be especially wary of insurance policies, holidays, mobile phone contracts, financial or investment contracts and leasing agreements.

6. The best reason for complaining? It's good for you

In the course of an average week we are all bombarded by a multitude of minor irritants. Those who complain about them effectively deal with any problems and feel better for having done so. 

Those who do not know how to complain bottle up their anger and become embittered. This ineffectual approach to the world is unfortunate, because it ignores the fact that complaining is a cathartic exercise – it releases what would otherwise be pent-up frustration. It is worth repeating the watchword of all good complainers: don’t get mad, get even.

7. Give credit where it's due

A good complainer is a humble complainer. If a company performs over and above the call of duty, there is nothing wrong in firing off a complimentary email.

I have been accused by some people of being a miserable, materialistic, grumpy old git. And that’s just from my close friends and family. But the truth is that this criticism is wholly unjustified. I do give credit where it is due and I encourage others to do the same.

The reason I am misunderstood is that I dare to complain in circumstances where most others would not bother.

8. It is worth complaining because there are a large number of companies who, when they get it wrong, will admit that they got it wrong

Some people believe that there is no point in complaining because (a) no one at the organisation gives a damn and (b) a complaint will always be met with nothing more than a polite dismissive apology. This is not true. Obviously a complaint by me warrants very special attention but your complaint will also be listened to as well if the company concerned is reputable and you follow my guidelines. That said, it often surprises even me how seriously some companies take a complaint.

Last summer British Airways had the misfortune to serve my daughter Nina with a plate of completely mouldy grapes. I sent the offending fruit to the Chairman of the company. British Airways were so concerned to ensure that I understood the lengths to which they go to check quality that they invited Nina (and her sister Zoe) to conduct a tour of British Airways’ catering Centre at Heathrow (operated by its contractor Gate Gourmet). 

Escorted by Eddie Edwards (BA’s Senior Catering Executive) the girls carried out a detailed health and safety inspection and concluded that in the course of preparing millions and millions of meals only the most determined of rogue grapes is likely get through. Computers, space-age automation and dedicated staff do their best to ensure that all the food is kept fresh and that the passengers are kept happy. 

More importantly however, from my perspective, British Airways are big enough to admit that they are not perfect and that sometimes, anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. It was perhaps unlucky for them that of all the kids in the whole world to serve rotten food to, it had to be my daughter (or should I say – my apprentice!). In any event, they righted the wrong big time and for this I award British Airways five points for customer care.

9. Don't be afraid of large companies

It is a conditioned reflex with most people to believe that letters written on important-looking notepaper or information generated by computers must be right. Not so. You should believe no one and accept nothing. 

A few years ago, my bank wrote to me explaining that, due to an error, they had incorrectly credited my account with £100. Although this proved to be true, I decided to deal with them as they would normally deal with me. I sent them a cheque for £90 and explained in a covering letter that I had deducted £10 in respect of my administrative charges. I heard nothing more.

10. Get it off your chest

The mere act of writing an email gets the complaint off your chest. Complaining purges your soul by dispelling the evil spirits which, if left unchecked, will gnaw away at your mental well-being. 

By not complaining you store up a guilt complex about what you should have done and you will be reminded at an opportune moment (if your spouse doesn’t do it for you) that it really isn’t good enough to sit on your backside doing nothing. 

11. By taking up the cudgels, you take destiny into your own hands

Whether you complain on the spot or via email (I strongly advocate the latter), expletives should always be avoided. Swearing is indulged in by witless whingers whose brawn tends to far outstrip the capacity of their brains.

It is quite wrong to assume that an employee of Marks & Spencer or Dixons will respond better just because the account of your grievance has been embroidered with colourful references to human anatomy. A stream of invective will generally produce the very opposite of a positive reply. The cunning complainer prefers to express his or her complaint by using plain and essentially polite language.

12. If you feel that something is wrong then complain, because reputable companies can be quite nice

A wealth of consumer protection legislation exists in the UK for the benefit of anyone buying goods and services. Big companies are only too aware of these laws, whereas the detail at least remains a mystery to most consumers. There is no reason to worry about this. If something is wrong, common sense will tell you that it is wrong. 

There is no reason to not complain just because you are unsure about your legal rights. On the contrary, you will often find that reputable companies will compensate you to an extent that far outstrips the legal obligation to do so. Why? Because they value loyal customers and are constantly striving to improve the quality of their products.

13. Presentation is everything

A beautifully clear, typed and well-presented letter of complaint is infinitely preferable to a shabby handwritten one.

Make sure any complaint emails or letters are clearly and thoughtfully presented. Typewritten or manuscript correspondence is often taken less seriously (especially if it is illegible!).

For those of you lucky enough to have access to a charming and sympathetic secretary, ask very nicely for his or her help and you may get some useful guidance in achieving a really professional touch to your masterpiece. According to my secretary, a chilled Kit-Kat or a Creme Egg is the going rate for assistance of this kind!

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