Dear Evil HR Lady,

Do you have any thoughts on when someone should complain to management about customer service? Usually I just finish whatever transaction I’m transacting and leave because a. it is generally unimportant and b. the employee in question is generally at a non-skilled low wage job ( I mean I don’t expect Tiffany service at Wal-mart.) If it somewhere where more skills and education are needed (like a bank) I take my business elsewhere.

That said, I did complain to a manager last night. I went into the local pie-restaurant to pick up a pie (go figure) and was waiting for the whip cream to be added. And waiting. The teenager working the counter repeatedly asked the kitchen to hurry. Meanwhile the naked pie sat there while goofy-in-the-kitchen played around (note to kitchen workers–don’t goof off in front of the open door). Finally the counter woman said, “Hurry, she’s getting angry.” Honestly, at this point I was annoyed but not angry, I mean we’re talking minimum wage teenagers here, but then Goofy says “I don’t care” and proceeds to add the whipped cream.

It was the “I don’t care” that did it. Much to the surprise of the counter staff, I asked to see the manager and asked her to please remind the kitchen that the customers can hear them. Manager was not pleased and said she would take care of it. I am assuming the manager really would want to know that.

Any thoughts?



Dear Pie Eater,

I’m sorry, what was your question? I’m busy thinking about pies. Specifically apple pies and cherrie pies. Or perhaps, a nice key lime pie.

Back to the question at hand. When should you tell management? The answer varies depending on if you are an external customer or an internal customer.

First, as an internal customer (i.e. should you go to a co-worker’s boss to compain about her work, or lack thereof) you have a vested interest in making sure the company succeeds. You also have an interest in keeping your co-workers happy. If you need data from Bob every month and you constantly tick Bob off your data is going to come later and later and then it will start to affect your performance. On the other hand, if you can make Bob happy, you’ll move up to the front of his list. (A gift of pie is always appropriate, by the way.)

My policy for myself and those who come to HR to complain is to ask the following questions before going over someone’s head:

1. Was your request reasonable? Now of course, the person will insist that yes, it was reasonable. Then when pressed she might confess that she knew about this presentation she had to give for a month and a half. Yet, two hours before she was supposed to stand before the Board of Directors she finally called the lowly analyst and asked for 14 graphs depicting sales over the past 3 years.

2. Did you follow up directly with the person? Nothing is more annoying for an employee than being asked once to do something, never getting any follow up calls or clear deadlines, then suddenly being chewed out by management for “failing to get work done in a timely manner.” Before you run to someone’s manager (or HR–please leave HR out of this) make sure you’ve asked the person directly. I’ll give you some sample dialogue:

Sharon: Hey, Bob, this is Sharon. How is that report coming?
Bob: Almost done. You should have it within the hour.
Sharon: Thanks Bob! You’re the best.

Now, contrast that with this:

Sharon: (To Bob’s boss) Bob hasn’t gotten the report to me. I need that report or else Mr. CEO won’t have the necessary information to run this company! Do you want the stock price to plummit?
Bob’s Boss: I’ll take care of it right now! (Storms off to yell at Bob.) Bob, why haven’t you sent Sharon that report!
Bob: She asked for it two hours ago and I’ll be ready to send it in 15 minutes. I’ve been working on it non-stop since she called.
Bob’s Boss: (Grumbling and feeling stupid, but not wanting to admit over-reaction) Well, Sharon’s very important. Make sure to keep her happy.

Let’s think about this. In both cases, Sharon gets her report. However, in the first scenario, Bob will start to like Sharon more and more and will be more willing to bend over backwards to get her what he needs. He may even be willing to go above and beyond for Sharon in the future.

In the second case, Sharon is now someone Bob will not like. He will complain about her to his co-workers and they will all share their Sharon stories. Even Bob’s boss will admit that Sharon is a jerk and he will take her less seriously. When Sharon calls that department, her requests will get punted to the new guy who accidentally sorts wrong in Excel, messing up the rows of data. This is not good for Sharon.

Now, if your follow up call to Bob goes like this:

Sharon: Hey, Bob, this is Sharon. How is that report coming?
Bob: Listen lady, stop nagging me. I’ll get to it when I darn well please.

Then a call to the manager is in order. Or if someone is consistantly providing bad work and not responding to your suggestions. Or if you are more than reasonable in your requests and still not getting information you need. The key point here is that before you complain to management, you need to attempt to resolve the problem directly.

As an external customer, you have the option of not coming back to the store. Management really wants you to come back. (Well, unless you are one of the people described here.) Therefore, the threshold that needs to be crossed before issuing a complaint is substantially lower.

Again, questions to ask:

1. Was my request reasonable? Are you trying to return something you bought six months ago, wore 12 times and no longer have a receipt for? If so (this is a little helpful hint) your request is not reasonable.
2. Did you attempt to resolve it with the employee directly?
3. If you were the manager would you want to know?

If the answers to all 3 questions are yes, then let the manager know. If the answers to 1 and 3 are yes, then let the manager know. Now, Pie-Eater, in your case, the answer to question 1 was yes. (Your request for a pie with whipped cream was certainly reasonable from a pie restaurant. From an auto parts store? Not so much.)

You get to skip question 2 because the errant employee was not the one you were dealing with.

As for question 3, if I were the manager, I would definitely want to know that the employee entrusted with the whipped cream felt that torturing her co-workers was more important than serving her customers.

So, Evil HR Lady supports you.


Evil HR Lady

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