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Silence Isn’t Golden: 6 Things a Disgruntled Customer Won’t Tell You

Ah, the things unhappy customers keep to themselves. If only they were as transparent as they claim the companies they’re fighting aren’t, life would be so much simpler for this consumer advocate.

I field complaints from angry customers every day. And while many of these grievances are completely legitimate, some aren’t. And the ones that don’t pass muster are usually maddening not for what they say, but what they don’t say.

Here are the six worst omissions:

1. I didn’t do my research.

Did you bother to read the reviews online? Did you ask your friends about the product you were considering? Or did you just show up at the department store and let a salesman talk you into buying an overrated washing machine? When someone is upset about the piece of junk they purchased, they may actually be telling you that they’re more upset with themselves than the product. In an age of Yelp, Facebook and Google, there’s no excuse for not researching before you buy.

2. I made assumptions I shouldn’t have.

We all make assumptions, of course. But not all assumptions are the same. To assume that a customer service representative will be polite is one thing; thinking that the stripped-down blender will have the latest features, on the other hand, might be a mistake. It’s normal to fill in a lack of information with an optimistic view of a product, but when it backfires – when the product turns out to be a dud – do we admit we made assumptions? No. Instead, we often find fault elsewhere in an attempt to cover up our missteps.

3. I didn’t read the fine print.

This point has been thoroughly covered in previous posts, but it’s worth repeating: If you don’t read the contract, you’re asking for trouble. Many grievances are the direct result of failing to review the terms and conditions. When the company refers back to its contract, it frequently leads to disappointment. Again, no one is likely to admit they didn’t do their homework.

4. I knew I was going to return this, anyway.

No, I’m not necessarily talking about customers who take advantage of a department store’s liberal return policy by “borrowing” a dress for a special event and then bringing it back (although that’s a big “no-no” in my book). I’m talking about customers who know they’re not going to like a product, but buy it anyway – maybe because it’s cheap or maybe because someone else recommended it. Will they admit they knew they weren’t going to like the product? Of course not.

5. The company tried to fix this, but I didn’t let it.

Here’s another irritating omission – when a company does its best to resolve a service problem fairly, but the customer turns it down. Then, instead of mentioning the offer, the customer simply leaves everyone with the impression that the company didn’t address the issue at all. This is often the case with “too-bad-to-be-true” scenarios where it looks as if a company was grossly negligent, but, in fact, made a good-faith effort to rectify a customer complaint.

6. I’m not telling you the whole story.

Customer complaints often leave out other important details. For example: the product wasn’t new, but refurbished; the warranty ran out, or the product was free. Why would they do that? Because mentioning these very important facts weaken their case. It’s human nature to tell half the story. But customers almost never get away with it. Companies do their research when looking into a grievance, and they’ll know.

So what’s the takeaway here? When you have a grievance, put down all of your cards and let the system work. You’re far likelier to be rewarded for your honesty with a fair resolution than for your dishonesty.

Christopher Elliott is a consumer advocate who blogs about getting better customer service at On Your Side. Connect with him on Twitter and Facebook or send him your questions by email.