Thoughts On Complaining!

One of the cornerstones of our consumer society is customer service.  That’s that horde of underpaid/under-loved folks on the other end of the telephone whose sole mission in life is to listen to you complain.  But they haven’t always been there.  In fact, for 99% of human history, the world worked on the Roman adage: Caveat Emptor.  (Let the buyer beware!)  Then, in the early 20th Century, along came a guy named Harry Selfridge (British department store/Netflix TV series) and, in a moment of sheer madness, coined the phrase, “The customer is always right.”  Customer service was born.  Since then, the industry has grown exponentially, and today billions are spent every year trying to answer the question, “What’s your problem?”  Unfortunately, that’s very difficult because most people don’t know how to complain properly.  So here are a few ideas that might help you the next time you feel you’ve been ill-used by capitalism.  Good luck!

1 – Be honest (with yourself) – Do you actually have a complaint?  The truth is the vast majority of people who phone customer service don’t – and they know it.  They’re usually frustrated, angry, naturally grouchy and sometimes even dishonest.  Most people just want to vent, and customer service is a captive audience that can’t tell them to shut up and go away.  So, before you waste a lot of time (mostly your own) make sure your problem is legit.  (Helpful hint: you were the one putting on the brag about how smart you were buying a cheaper product!)

2 — Collect your information – If you bought something, you have a receipt.  Find it!  It has all the information you need – who, what, where, when and how much.  (Nobody cares why. See point 3.)  Without the facts (readily available) you’re goin’ to sound like an idiot, and that’s not going to help your cause. (Helpful hint: no receipt?  Your life just got a whole lot more difficult.)

3 — Be specific/Be brief – Nobody cares why you bought a new toaster– especially not the stranger on the other end of the phone.  They’ve heard more rambling stories (eight hours a day/five days a week) than you’ve had hot meals.  So, unless your previous toaster was abducted by aliens, forget the tale of woe, and get to the point!

4 — Don’t be a bully – Remember the person you’re talking to is trapped, and they can’t fight back.  They don’t own the company and they haven’t personally set out to cheat you.  Nor were they put on this Earth by Satan to thwart you.  Trying to push them around just because you can is not a good look — and that includes swearing, being vulgar, calling them names and/or threatening them or the company they work for.  Besides, when was the last time you went out of your way to help someone who just called you an asshole?

5 — Offer a solution – “So what are you going to do about it?” is not a solution.  It’s a playground challenge.  Here’s the deal.  If you haven’t figured out what you hope to achieve from calling customer service before you pick up the phone, don’t pick up the phone.

6 — Be reasonable – I had a friend who was a travel agent (back in the day when such things existed) and she told me a customer once called her and demanded a replacement vacation because it rained the week he was in Mexico.  Grab a brain, boys and girls: you’re not going to get a new house just because your doorbell breaks.  The one thing you need to do throughout this whole process is remain on the reality train.


7 – The Harsh Reality — The minimum wage voice you’re talking to has no authority to do anything except maybe – MAYBE – offer you a replacement or give you your money back – never both.  Normally, they’re just there to gather your information (see items 2 and 3) give you a bit of a verbal cuddle, and pass it all up the ladder.  That’s it!  So, the only rule of customer service is if, at any time, anyone suggests they’re going to give you more than that, take it, say thanks and get on with your life.

Quit Complaining!


I’m absolutely bone-weary of constantly being told how screwed-up my world is.  I realize it’s a long way from this place to Nirvana; however, this isn’t the worst of all possible venues west of Lucifer’s back porch, either.  Actually, Western civilization is a kinda run-down suburb of Disneyland, where most of life’s rougher edges are smoothed over.  I have a friend who says, “If you want reality, go to Somalia.”  And she’s right.  That’s where the real world lives.  What we see out our front windows is a man-made amusement park, put there for our comfort and entertainment.  Personally, I don’t mind people complaining, but there is a limit.  There’s a lot of stuff in this world that I like, and I don’t appreciate every malcontent with an attitude calling it down.  The truth is, my world is made of sterner material than what reality has to offer and a lot of people are working very, very hard to keep the harsh, nasty bits of real life away from my front door.  So, here are a just few things people should think about before they start complaining.

I like libraries.  I think they’re cool.  I can walk in, take a book (any book) off the shelf, sit in a warm, semi-comfortable chair and read it.  And if that isn’t good enough for me, I can take that book home.  All the library wants is my word that I’ll bring it back.  They trust me.  And it’s free.  It’s part of what I get just because I live here.

I like buses.  In my city, for $2.50, I get a vehicle and a driver, who will take me within two or three streets of anywhere I want to go, anytime I want to go there.  I don’t even have to ask or show up on time.  These buses travel all around my town just on the off chance that I might want to go somewhere — and that’s 365 days a year.

I like grocery stores — big ones, small ones, all around the town ones.  I’m never more than a kilometre away from food.   It’s not just any food either; it’s all kinds of food.  It’s food from all over the world in what looks like nearly infinite varieties.  If I want to, I can buy vegetables with names I can’t even pronounce.  I can buy food that other people have already cooked for me.  In some places, I can buy fish so fresh it’s still alive when I buy it.  I’ve never been to a grocery store that doesn’t have some kinda food you don’t even need– like pickles and parsley.  They’re a garnish, for God’s sake — and we still have tons of it.  And here’s what I like the most about grocery stores – they never run out.

I like the cops.  Yeah, yeah, yeah: they’re always showing up after the fact, and there are quite a few nasty ones, but so what?  I like being a mere three digits away from specially-trained people whose sole purpose on Earth is to keep me from getting my ass kicked or robbed or run over by a drunk.  I might not see a cop from one week to the next — but they’re around.  They’re like spare tires; you never have to think of them until you need one.  Yet it’s their very presence that guarantees I don’t have to worry about involuntarily donating money to a horde of crack addicts with kitchen knives – in my backyard.

I like space.  One of the neatest things my world has to offer is space.  I’m not talking about the great outdoor wilderness somewhere north of Rubberboot, Alberta.  I’m talking about urban space that makes certain I’m not haunch to paunch with my fellow citizens every minute of every day.  On some of the busiest streets in my city, there are benches; places to stop, sit down, take three deep ones and look at the world.   As long as I don’t bother anybody, I can sit there as long as I like.  Or if I don’t like traffic, I have parks – lots of them — green spaces where somebody else cuts the lawn, trims the bushes and plants the flowers — just so I can look at them.

But the best thing I like about my world is, it’s not every man for himself.  I’m not on my own against a barbaric universe.  I literally have armies of people who want to help me – doctors, nurses, garbage men, teachers, counselors, postal workers, social workers, firefighters, therapists, dog catchers, health inspectors, building inspectors and on and on and on and on.  Everyone from the kid under the information sign to the person who cleans the sewers – they’re all there to make my life better – just because.  Here’s the deal.  This world might be slow; it might be frustrating; it might not give each one of us the exact result we want, but at the end of the day, if any of us has a problem, generally this world is willing to help.  And all ya gotta do is ask.

Honestly, folks!  We live in the most benevolent society in history — it even gives us enough leisure time to complain about it.  Let’s not abuse that privilege.


Originally written in 2011.  Reproduced with some gentle editing.

Happy Holidays?

One of the annoying things about living in the modern western world is that everybody complains so much.  There isn’t a day goes by without somebody having a nasty word to say about something.  And when it comes to high holidays like Christmas and Easter, the bellyaching reaches fever pitch.  Yesterday, sitting around the after dinner chocolate and ham, some incompetent wag (who shall remain nameless) came up with the oh-so-original: “Easter is crap!  How did we get from Christ on the Cross to bunnies and chocolate eggs?”  I suffered in silence for at least two seconds before I explained that it was a conspiracy by the Medieval Christian church to decrease the chicken population.  By convincing the peasants to collect, boil and colour eggs every spring, the priests kept the food supply at subsistence levels and thus kept the ignorant peasants in perpetual servitude.  Okay, I’m a dick, but I’m not sure she didn’t believe me.

In fact, the road from the crucifixion to the Easter Bunny was a simple case of marketing.  The early Christians were not as stupid as some people seem to think.  They knew they were the new kid on the block and it was going to be difficult to convince the heathen hordes of Europe to abandon their gods for this new guy.  After all, the pagan religions of the time were all about Mother Earth and fertility — which meant plenty of sex, wine and playing the lute (the 5th century equivalent of sex, drugs and rock and roll.)  Persuading people to give that up for abstinence, prayer and penury was a tough sell.  However, the Christians realized that the pagans had some pretty healthy spring festivals already available that celebrated the end of winter.  What they did was attach Christ’s resurrection and the renewal of the spirit to the established idea of the renewal of the earth.  From there, it was mere baby steps to preaching the gospel in terms that the local peasantry could understand.  In fact, the name “Easter” probably comes from the ancient Anglo-Saxon goddess Eastre.  She was the goddess of the dawn and fertility, and her symbols were the egg and the rabbit or hare.  The Christians just cashed in on her popularity and slowly squeezed her out of the picture.  Actually, by the time The Venerable Bede was writing about her in the 8th century, she was already ancient history.  Not bad for a bunch of religious fanatics without a marketing degree among them!

The early Christians’ sizing up local festivals and parachuting their man into them gives us a glimpse into why we have holidays in the first place.

Way back in the day — before weekends, paid vacations, stress leave and personal time — life, for the vast majority of people, consisted of toil.  People worked; that’s what they did.  Their lives depended on it.  In general, as soon as you could walk, you worked, and when you couldn’t walk anymore, you died.  It was a dismal existence.  Since most people grew their own food in those days, the only change to this trudge to the grave was the seasons.  The necessity of pleasing and pleading with the gods for fair weather and a good harvest gave rise to elaborate ceremonies.  These occasional attempts to invoke the gods were opportunities for celebration.  People took their noses away from the grindstone and their shoulders away from the wheel to party.  In the autumn, when the harvest was done, it was time to sample that year’s grape crop and eat everything that couldn’t be preserved.  In the spring, after planting the crop, fertility was everybody’s responsibility, so getting naked in the sunshine was what the gods intended.  These pagan rites were the perfect place for the early Christians to deposit their saints, their rituals and their religious holidays.

Non-religious holidays came much later.  Kings might grant a special feast day to celebrate a military victory or the birth of an heir, but it wasn’t until the Age of Reason that secular holidays became institutionalized.  Yet, even up until the early 20th century, there weren’t that many holidays.  Days like Labour Day and Thanksgiving are fairly recent additions.  However, since the 1950s we’ve gone nuts and now there are very few days left on the calendar which don’t have some significance.  We have Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Secretary’s Day, Boss’s Day, Valentine’s Day, Groundhog Day and on and on and on.

Yet, in the land of plenty, where we can celebrate minor saints and jumped-up rodents, there is always somebody with a sour word about it.  Holidays are a modern invention, and given we have so much to celebrate, it would be nice if we could just shut up and enjoy them.