Love Don't Cost a Thing

I have a secret talent for writing complaint letters. Part of me is very proud of this talent, and a small part of me feels a little ashamed of it.

Once, in my 20s, I wrote the most stellar complaint letter to a bank about what I thought was a silly policy they had which prevented me from picking up a new credit card. The letter got me a personal apology and 50,000 bonus frequent flyer points. Did I deserve them? Probably not. It was a minor inconvenience to me, but I felt the need to complain and I partly blame my first few jobs for that. You see, at 15, I worked at Hungry Jacks (where, at the time, the customer service training was impeccable… yes, true story). Later I worked in a number of different hospitality and retail jobs, and whether it was a department store, a dodgy Gold Coast night club or a five-star international hotel, they all drilled one thing into me…. “the customer is always right”.

The Customer is Always Right

It’s a phrase you will have heard a lot if you ever worked in retail or hospitality. Some attribute it to Harry Gordon Selfridge, the American businessman and founder of UK department store Selfridges. Others say American retailers John Wanamaker and Marshall Field also touted versions of it. Of course, it’s not meant to be literal, because the reality is the customer is often very wrong (oh, the stories I could tell). The phrase though, is meant to emphasise an attitude that the customer should always feel like they have had the best service and experience possible, and that’s based on their viewpoint or perception (not yours).

From a marketing and business point-of-view, I think this golden rule is the most important you can teach your staff. And in this age of digital, where “word-of-mouth” takes on a whole new meaning it’s more important than ever. BUT, on the flip-side, I think this attitude has also led us to be a generation of complainers.


I think this attitude has also led us to be a generation of complainers.


If something, even the smallest thing, is not satisfactory then we jump to complain about it. And we’re no longer calling the business owner directly or sending them an email or letter, we’re doing it very publicly by tagging them on social media or writing a bad review on Facebook or Google.

There’s a Time and Place for Complaints

I’ll admit, I am guilty. I tweeted a large business for poor customer service just a few months ago. BUT that was after multiple attempts to resolve the issue with their phone customer service team. I always think you should try and contact a business by phone or email directly, AND IN PRIVATE, before jumping to leave a bad review. Give them a chance to reply and rectify the situation. After all, it may have been a one-off or even something out of their control.

Complaints, if made correctly, can help businesses understand their weaknesses and any flaws in their operations. A constructive complaint can help a business grow for the better.


Imagine if we put as much time and effort as we do telling businesses when they do something wrong into patting them on the back when they did it right?


Changing Our Attitudes

So, this is what I have been thinking lately. Imagine if we put as much time and effort as we do telling businesses when they do something wrong into patting them on the back when they did it right?

The whole “customer is always right” attitude has led us to just feel satisfied when we receive service that is good or even great. So, we move on and don’t give it another thought most times. What if we all stopped and took two minutes to give them a good review on Google or Facebook? What if we said ‘hey you, you pour your heart and soul into your job/business/work and it shows, so well done'!’

Love is Free but it’s ALSO Worth a Million Bucks

Working day-in-day-out with small businesses, telling them how best to manage trolls and complaints and just generally angry people on social media (among other the other things we help with), I can tell you how impactful an out-of-the-blue moment of appreciation from a customer is. You’ll definitely make them smile, you might brighten a shitty day or you could even give them the boost of energy they needed to just keep plugging away. Best of all, that love (if it is public), will likely get them more business when other potential customers read it and decide to use their service.

So, I propose that we all take two minutes to think of someone who gave you great service recently and hop online and give them a review. Not only will you make their weekend, but I bet you’ll have a spring in your step too.

Sarah Stevens is a former journalist, magazine editor and TV producer, and the director of Content Society. You can see more of her work here.

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