I recently discovered that I’d been paying more than I should have on one of my utility bills. There was no chance of getting the overpayment back but I phoned the provider to change my tariff and discuss the situation with someone.

The first person I spoke to was obviously junior, let’s call her Sally.  Sally expressed empathy for my situation, seemed genuinely remorseful and managed to get me a little bit off my new deal, which I very much appreciated.

I mentioned to Sally that I’d like to speak to someone else about the situation, she transferred me to her boss, let’s call him Dave.

Dave made 3 big mistakes.

  • Dave explained away – when I explained my situation to him he would always start with ‘Obviously we always take customer feedback on board, BUT…’ and that ‘but’ negated anything he said before. FRUSTRATED!
  • Dave spoke over me – I tried to explain my point and how I felt about it but Dave just clattered in there and talked over me. More than once, in fact. He also continued to explain why it was my fault and not theirs.  MORE FRUSTRATED!
  • Dave’s tone became patronising – he mentioned (rather smugly, I felt) that sometimes people just need to vent and again implied that it was my fault I was in this situation. He also made a remark that was borderline sexist, which I let go.  ANGRY.

Instead of making me feel better about his company, like Sally had started to do, Dave had made me feel even more negative towards them.  Coolly furious, I made it clear that I was incredibly unhappy and he was in fact making things worse and I wanted to take this further.  A little put out, he said he would get someone higher up the chain to call me, let’s call her Janet.

To begin with Janet asked me to explain the situation and then she was completely quiet and waited about 3 seconds after I finished speaking before she started.  She then expressed genuine regret that I had such a dreadful experience, levelled with me and made me a gesture of goodwill towards future bills.   She made me feel valued, listened to my complaints and referenced them within her apologies.

Ultimately it came down to one thing:


So, the moral of this story is: NEVER explain away a complaint from your customers.  It will alienate them whilst making them think negatively of you and your brand.

Instead listen, ask questions to get detail, and make them feel valued.  Don’t be Dave.