Why are the British so bad at complaining?

Covered mag, presented by Gocompare.com
  • | by Jon Severs

Maybe because of the popularity of “I ain’t two-faced I say it to their face, yeah?” shows like Big Brother and the X-Factor, there is a belief that the British have become much less hesitant when it comes to saying what they think and, in the adopted parlance of the US, “sticking it to the man”.

This is absolute rubbish. While we are as miserable a bunch of whingers as we ever were, we don’t stick it to the man at all: we instead make a feeble attempt at “having a word” that ends in an embarrassed smile and an, “Of course, you’re right, I probably should have spotted the razor blade in the sandwich and yes, I should definitely pay for my own intestinal reconstructive surgery”.

Frankly, it’s embarrassing. Over in the US, they do things properly. If they so much as get a sniff of a company having acted inadequately, they’re on the phone to their lawyer before you can say compensation-culture-ruins-trust-in-society. If they hit a blank wall then they simply do something radical, like writing a song about it.

The difference in attitude is because, in the US, people realise how vulnerable companies are to good old-fashioned whinging. It’s time we realised too.

“Everything today impacts on a brand’s value and perception in the marketplace,” says Paul Spiers, managing director of PR agency Amplifier PR. “We talk in the commercial world about how important the ‘total customer experience’ is. However, some brands still neglect the absolutely vital element of the post-sale customer relationship.”

This neglect works against you in the first instance. It means that when you do complain, you are likely to encounter someone woefully unequipped to deal with your problem and so the chances of your complaint being resolved are about as likely as Prince Andrew settling for a quiet, non-ostentatious life out of the spotlight with a nice quiet girl in Dorset.

“Most companies are not geared up properly to handle complaints,” explains Mario Dolcezza from customer experience and loyalty experts Diciamo. “It’s fundamental that in order to manage complaints, the customer service advisor must be empowered enough to make decisions and resolve issues. Most are not.”

On the plus side, this neglect means that companies let easily rectifiable complaints escalate into PR disasters via the wonders of social media – as happened with the United Airlines example above.

“Social media has completely changed the channels by which people can complain,” says Spiers.” The United Airlines song became a massive viral hit, with some pundits claiming it even had an impact on United’s share price.”

Not all of us are country music legends like Dave Carrol, though, with the power to make a mildly amusing complaint ditty for YouTube. Hence, we’ve decided to help you negotiate the difficult would of complaints with the Top Three Tips for Complaining.


“Sheer determination and doggedness is often the answer,” says Dolcezza. He recommends being assertive but not rude – “if the service advisor you're dealing with is not able to deal with your problem, tell them you want to speak with a supervisor and don't accept ‘there’s no one here to take your call’ = somebody has to be in charge, make sure you speak to them.” If that fails, he says to ring up head office and ask to speak to senior management. Or better still, a company director. Things tend to resolve very quickly when you’re interrupting someone’s day at the golf.


Sometimes, one man is not enough. You need help. Local newspapers love to get involved in a little-man versus big corporate scrap and getting yourself pictured in the local rag looking sad, preferably in a sparsely furnished home, while detailing how the nasty big company has mistreated you will often reap a swift and full resolution to your complaint.


In the Internet age, anything even remotely funny can go viral such is the boredom of the nation’s underworked office staff, so injecting some humour into a complaint letter and leaking it to the internet can be a useful ploy. The most recent example of this was a letter of complaint to Virgin Atlantic that The Telegraph gave a whole page of coverage to.. Obviously, trying humour can be a little tricky, you might be to comedy what Jack Whitehall is to, well, comedy. If so, it is probably best to fall back on that trusty friend: sarcasm. “I really did appreciate the 12 hours of D&V resulting from your custard product – you should really advertise the salmonella risk on pack, just in case someone doesn’t realise the full scope of the potential delights within.” OK, it’s not hilarious, but at 3pm on a Friday afternoon it’d probably get you a BAFTA. Alas, we should admit that even these seemingly sure-fire ways of getting your complaint noticed may not be enough. If this is the case, there are several trade associations charged with fighting your corner, a full list of which appears here. After that, you’re probably left with Watchdog or the bald bloke off morning telly. Embarrassing, but if it gets you a voucher for a replacement for that stale in-date pitta bread you were lumbered with, it’s got to be worth it, right?