Quite a lot of projects this year have been focused on service and expectations our customers have of our ticketing operations, either as people, products or digital services.
We all know things go wrong, people (our staff) have bad days or even customers being a little bit on the grumpy side. Whoever is at ‘fault’ for the issue, however ‘big’ the effect was on the activity, you can rest assured that all complaints, well pretty much all complaints have the same basis make up.
1. About them and why you should listen to them
All very simple to start off and I guess it’s good to give the recipient of your complaint some idea about who you are and that you are experienced and know how this stuff should work.
Typically a phrase such as “I have been coming to XYZ for over 20 years” or occasionally the non numeric version, “as a regular attender over recent year”
highlight persona or personal circumstance, not membership status or longevity of patronage as flag to follow up
I think these set the scene really well, as when reading complaints (or praise) we must appreciate the persona of the author, if a ‘regular’ attender cannot find their way to the bar or park – we must think about our new customers – as they will almost certainly have an issue.  We should not however use the about me to prioritise the email, it is from one person, albeit a group of people may have been in the booking, it is not from £5,610 of revenue, so when looking through the letter highlight persona or personal circumstance, not membership status or longevity of patronage as flag to follow up
2. The Actual Issue
It is very often the case that the ACTUAL issue can take up a few short sentences of a multi page customer service rant. In the ticketed environments we work in, most AI’s fall Into one of five pretty clear categories
  • The seats were crap / overpriced ( we are talking restricted view, leg room, general pricing, booking fees, someone was talking in the row behind, etc)
  • My buying experience was crap (people were rude to me or website did not work/ I couldn’t use it)
  • I did not get tickets, everyone else did, your system sucks (pretty simple really, but when is a system ‘fair’ if you miss out?)
  • I don’t agree with your published policies and conditions (or did not read them – often combined with #3 ‘as a hard working junior doctor etc)
  • I work in IT / Customer service (catch all phrase – basically telling you what you are doing wrong and why they know better)
Now there is some tongue-in-cheek in those five, but they ARE the issues, we need to focus on these more than anything. We only have these scant view lines to work out where (if anywhere ) we have let the customer down or ‘could have done better’
3. What Makes you so different ( AKA the ‘multipliers’)
Depending at the entry point to your complaint above, the customer will deploy varying degrees of ‘multiplier’ to their story or issue to swell its impact. Now before we start, we must understand that for many people a trip to the theatre IS a special occasion, may reading this may go to three shows a week / month / quarter, but many of our customers may go to one or just a few a year. Invariably these is around a special occasion, typically birthday or anniversary.
Of course for every celebration there are the darker multiples, ‘her husband died last year’ or ‘I had an ingrown toenail removed, so could not possibly stand’ (genuine multiplier)
Celebration or a darker anniversary or circumstance, we do need to park the multipliers to one side when evaluating a complaint. This may sound harsh, but if we weight the story and not the issue, we risk focusing on circumstance and not resolution.
I was in the closing arguments of a murder trial I was defending, I could hardly ask the judge for an adjournment to come and get tickets
There are then the multipliers that are based on work, some of these are my favourite. It tends to be used by ‘professionals’, more than management, skilled or unskilled workers, as if we should pay more attention to the complaint of a barrister to that of a barrista – I have seen complaints using phrases such as ‘I was in the closing arguments of a murder trial I was defending, I could hardly ask the judge for an adjournment to come and get tickets’. Let’s think about that. No, they could not have done that, but when that barrister was on her way to court, if she had not been able to get a de-caf mocha choca-cino as the barista at Cafe Nero WAS queueing up for tickets all hell would break lose.
We should pay attention to the personal story, if only to have empathy and to be able to understand why they we’re disappointed, it should not, like personal circumstance provoke more or less of a reaction to the underlying issue.
4. The Claim
I would like you to rectify the situation – eight simple words. They show I am rational and think you should be given a chance to apologise (number 1 thing you should do anyhow) along with refund, exchange, making tickets available that could not be obtained.
The customer does not have to leave it up to you to decide on the response in service or monies that you may give. A nicely put, ‘I request a full refund for the seats I was unable to use’ is perhaps a justified request.
5. The Threat
So, if you do not give me what I want, I am going to do ……… which is normally, a #1 + #3 reversal – so stop being a member / donor, head to your competitor or raise a complaint with trade / consumer body.
 The threat should be the least of your worries, really!
If it is something you or your staff have genuinely done wrong and let down a customer in either service or product, you will want to correct it, right? Of Course you will. The threat tends to be used when the complainant knows that they are fault, have no or little basis for their counter claim. This can be seen as a form or bullying, expoesinally when tied at junior or less experienced staff.
6. The Wrap Up
So, we’ve heard about them, the issue, why they are so different, what they want and what they’ll do / no do if you don’t react, what else could be added? Well, that’s the ‘Wrap Up’. It’s easy to read behind the lines here, with themes of you’re useless at your job and everyone hates you, along of course with the challenge of “I know you don’t care about your customers, so you probably won’t even reply” – this is also know as the ‘Shitty Wrap Up’
Wrap ups are just or should be just that. We know the customer is really saying ‘I feel really let down and hope you can see why, please alter your process and / or (not always) refund me something. If the customer has written this, take it on board. If it’s a SWU – ignore that part and make your own from the actual problem and the claim, here the problem and consider the solution.
Finally
Not ALL complaint letters follow this exact structure but a lot do, or at least a number of elements within them. We must remember that the product we supply is associated with many other emotions, celebrations and traditions, we are offering far more than a parcel from Amazon, so when things go wrong the perceived damage or sense of injustice grow.
Next time you are reading a complaint letter, take a highlighter, highlight the issue and answer that, referencing the about me sections, but ignoring the multipliers. The threat and wrap are almost worth redaction completely, they add noise to what are focus should be – just solving problems and making customers have a wonderful event.