Geoff Tennant - Promoting access to mathematics for all
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24/5/15: when to complain?

In this blog post I shared some thoughts on air travel based on bad experiences.  Well, on the main occasion I had in mind when writing that, in a country I'm not prepared to name (the fact I'm currently thinking about the main ingredient of a traditional Christmas dinner is, of course, complete coincidence) I joined up with two other people who missed the connection because the plane from Heathrow was running late.  The desks where we were so appallingly treated had little vote buttons, "How has your experience of customer been today?" offering a choice of a smiley, indifferent or snarling face.  Ask me a straight question, I'll give you a straight answer, so I put the snarling face.  I was then most put out when one of my fellow travellers, after saying repeatedly, 'This is ridiculous" gave a smiley face.  Why?  That's not what you think so why are you giving this feedback?

And then recently I was staying in a hotel which came highly recommended.  Now, in my humble opinion, there's only one thing about a hotel that matters.  I really don't mind if there's a mini bar, a Corby trouser press, I don't care how many TV channels there are (although it helps if at least one or two aren't pornographic). I don't even mind whether the room is ensuite (although that is rather nice, I have to concede).  But I do rather like being able to sleep at night.  My worst experience ever was when I ended up in a room facing straight out onto the main platforms of Hull train station.  When I asked to be moved I ended up facing the high street as the night clubs emptied out..  Anyway,, the hotel I was staying in recently failed the sleep test - not only was there a lot of door banging, voices, water gurgling, there was also a late night repair involving lots of banging going on.

(Parenthetical thought: the water gurgling seems to me to be a price we pay for ensuite rooms in hotels.  In my flat, with identical layouts above and below me, the water supply is at least a room and a corridor away from my bedroom.  Ensuite hotel rooms brings the water supply much closer which I for one find quite disruptive).

Now, add the noise to being in a bit of a mood already, I really didn't sleep very well.  So why, when the staff greeted me in the morning, asked how I was, and how I slept, did I say, "Fine, thank you, yes, very well, marvellous".  Why?  Having been so critical of my fellow traveller a few weeks previously, why was I now doing the same thing?

There are a number of answers to this, I suppose.  Speaking for myself, I really wasn't in a mood to get into a discussion about the noise levels the previous night - and took the view at the time that complaining would prolong the process of getting to sleep rather than shortening it.  When the following morning came I was feeling somewhat out of sorts and wanting to avoid interaction with fellow human beings as much as possible.  But the hotel is left with the impression they had a happy customer whereas I'll be avoiding the hotel in future if I can.  Rule of thumb - if staying in a block, either in a hotel or a flat - be in a huge block rather than a small one, that seems to work best for me.

I suppose the fundamental issue here is that, in practice, my tendency to complain - or not - in any given situation depends far too much on how I'm feeling at the time.  If I'm not wanting to interact then it's easier not to.  If I'm angry then I blow off steam, irritate other people around me and can easily end up completely losing sight as to what I was originally trying to achieve.

I was given some very useful advice a few years ago which I passed on to my teacher trainees and will retell in the form I used with them.  Suppose you're a student teacher taking a class with the regular teacher present.  You've set some work to do, you're happy with the way the class is getting on, when with no warning the regular teacher takes over and tells the class to quieten down.  In that situation I would be quite annoyed - I was in charge, I was happy, if you're not happy then you should be telling me in the first instance, not just taking straight over.  But the acid test here is what i would say and do if I wasn't feeling personally miffed.  Because there's still a professional issue which needs sorting out.  So, if I come up with an answer to the question, "How would I address this situation if I was not feeling personally miffed?" I know what to do.

Another way of looking at this is to consider the question, "What am I trying to achieve by complaining?"  If the answer is to vent my feelings this really isn't a good reason.  Because there's an immediate problem which needs rectifying?  Because I feel entitled to some kind of compensation?  In the hope that problems will be rectified for the benefit of future customers?  In order to help build up a pattern so that, with repeated broadly similar issues being reported, the powers that be will finally sit up and take notice?

All this points to staying calm, polite and positive, trying to work with the people with whom you're dealing.  I'm acutely aware of expressions like, "When you point a finger there's four pointing back at yourself" as I write this, and very aware that I'm hardly a good example to follow here.  As in so many aspects of life, I feel i have some grasp of the theory, but the practice....

But coming back to the experience in the hotel, I probably should have complained about the building work going on late at night.  No guarantee that anything will change as a result, but if nobody indicates that there's a problem then it will certainly continue, so that will be future customers who will also be disturbed.  In Ephesians 4:26 we read, "In your anger do not sin" which clearly implies that anger in itself is not a problem, it's what we then do which matters.  Jesus Christ displayed anger with the money changers in the temple (Matthew 21:13) and, as considered in this blog post, our Almighty God Himself is both a God of anger and a God of mercy.

I did complain to the airline about my bad experience trying to sort out a problem, largely on the basis that if everybody in a similar situation did so, that would be a lot of complaints pouring in and hopefully the airline would come to the conclusion that something is wrong.  I had no response so I resent my complaint a week later.  I then gave up but was somewhat surprised 6 weeks later to receive a reply indicating that they couldn't find a record of me being there, could I send them my ticket number?  Sorry, no, not interested in trying to find my ticket number now 7 weeks after the event, this response to my complaint is entirely in keeping with the problem which gave rise to it in the first place.  Some battles we really aren't going to win, I shall simply try to avoid this airline in the future.  Which is a shame, because when the planes are in the air, when things run smoothly, it is actually pretty good.

2 Comments to 24/5/15: when to complain?:

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David Mansergh on 05 June 2015 11:21
Hi Geoff, I've enjoyed reading your wisdom on air travel, like the idea of beetle booties and agree that nostalgia isn't what it used to be. I'm undecided about the benefits of shooting the messenger in the hope that someone might notice the growing pile of messengers on the floor. Although your old website appearance was fine, the new appearance looks good. I trust you didn't spend thousands with a brand consultant to achieve the new look! Also just wanted to check that this comment function is still working since it doesn't seem to have got much use recently. It seems that summer is slowly arriving in the UK. I hope all is well with you. Thanks for your continued blogging. Best wishes, David.
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Geoff on 06 June 2015 00:45
Great to hear from you, David, thanks for contributing, not necessary to laugh at my dreadful jokes. Glad you like the new look, a school friend, Jason, suggested that the blue on blue text was difficult to read, have to confess, this is an 'off the shelf' template, now that I've found the controls I might experiment further. Comments working fine, I do also get comments through Facebook which don't come here, of course. Thank you for the encouragement and trust you're keeping well, Geoff

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