Got a complaint? Never say these 5 words

Orna Lenchner did it.

She emailed a while back, claiming she’d contacted a United Airlines executive — someone very high up in the “costumer care” department.

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Costumer care? Yes.

Lenchner wanted to know why United wasn’t helping her, and I suspect I know why. There is no “costumer care” department.

You’d be shocked at how many readers make that obvious typographical error — “costumer” instead of “customer” — and yes, it does affect the outcome. Spelling the name of the department counts.

So when I think about the five words you shouldn’t use when you’re trying to fix a customer-service dispute, that one ranks the highest: using the wrong word. Getting the name of the company wrong: Untied instead of United. Delta Airlines instead of Delta Air Lines.

Maybe you will disagree. I know travel bloggers who don’t bother to copyedit their own work and make colossal and embarrassing errors; then they ask why I never quote them in my stories. (Because they have no credibility, perhaps?)

But there are other words you shouldn’t use. For example:

Stewardess, waitress, bellboy.

Maybe that’s what you used to call them, but they have no place in the 21st century unless they’re in a costumer drama. I mean, costume drama. Seriously, if you want the company to immediately side with the employee in a dispute, just refer to one of them as a steward. Go on, I can stay here and wait for the result.

F**k that!

Four letter words may accurately express how you feel at the time you’re writing the letter, but they never help your case. I was just reviewing a complaint from 2015 that involved several profanities, including multiple F-bomb drops. I won’t name names. Can you guess how it turned out? That’s right, it went absolutely nowhere. Complaints with salty language get tossed into the recycler.

It was a dark and stormy night.

Can anything be worse than profanity? Maybe. The novel-length complaint — too many words — can easily doom an otherwise reasonable complaint to the “no” file. And that’s too bad, because we are taught to include lots of details in school and at work, and making our complaints succinct seems so out of character. But remember, if you’re complaining about an incident, chances are the company already has a file on it. If they need specifics, they’ll ask. Keep. It. Short.

You ruined everything.

Here are the most difficult words to omit from your complaint, but trust me, you don’t want them. Emotion, superlative, drama — all of them are the enemy of resolution. The most common variety in my line of work is: “This experience ruined my vacation.” I remember seeing it on a recent cruise case where the staff accused a passenger’s daughter of bringing drugs on board. The cruise line’s “crime”? Searching the room for contraband. How do you even compensate a passenger for something like that?

Words are important when you’re trying to solve a customer service problem. You have to choose the correct words, say it politely and succinctly and with as little emotion as possible. Otherwise, you’re just asking for your case to be denied — or ignored.

Which words are the worst to use in a complaint

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