Would You Talk To Your Mother Like That? How to Deliver Constructive Customer Feedback Your Momma Would Be Proud Of

Remember what your momma told you?

When it comes to sage wisdom, there’s no one more revered (or feared!) than a mother. After raising a child (or several), she’s well-versed in complaints, and how to deal with them. Momma does know best, and she’s going to help me illustrate some points on how to offer constructive criticism.

Constructive criticism makes for a customer businesses will actually want to listen to, and more importantly, help.

I’m sure you’ve heard them all, countless times, as a child, but all those little “Mom-isms” are just as relevant and applicable now, as they were, then…especially when it comes to making a complaint and giving customer feedback. There is a right way, and – definitely – a wrong way to complain. Momma’s got the following tips for anyone facing a customer service issue.

Here’re several tips to make your Momma proud the next you have to make a complaint:

You want to talk about compromise? Try making something all of these children liked for dinner! She’s an expert at compromise!

You want to talk about compromise? Try making something all of these children liked for dinner! She’s an expert at compromise!

“Don’t talk to strangers.” Do your research and find out who it is you need to talk to in order to best resolve your problem. Complaints are general statements, while constructive criticism is specific, and specific problems call for specific solutions. Find the person at the appropriate location, level, or department and try to address the problem with them first, as they’ll have the direct knowledge and power to solve the problem. Simply put, make sure you talk to someone who can do something about it.

“Keep it short ‘n sweet.” This goes along with composing your thoughts and yourself before making a complaint. A focused inquiry is easy to direct or re-direct, can be sent to the appropriate person, and usually expresses not only the problem, but suggests a solution, too. Stick to the facts, Jack.

“Stop picking at it or it won’t heal. You do have a right to be upset, and that right is the one giving you the power and ability to complain. After all, you wouldn’t be approaching customer service if you weren’t dissatisfied to begin with. Once you’ve expressed your feelings, move on from there. More time should be spent discussing the solution than the problem.

“I’m not a mind-reader!” Do you want an explanation? An apology? A refund? Before you speak, know what it is A.) You’re speaking about, and B.) You are looking for. You cannot expect a company to solve a problem they don’t know how to fix. Help them help you. It will make both your lives easier.

“Who’s the boss?” An opinion is one thing, telling someone how to run his or her company is another. You cannot demand someone fire an employee, for example. That is not your responsibility and not within your power. Moreover, you indirectly insult the company that hired that person to begin with. Know that they ultimately make the final decision, here, and give them their due respect. It goes both ways.

“If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it at all.” Rarely if ever has an insult or accusation gone over well when trying to solve a problem. It doesn’t accomplish anything and creates another problem entirely, turning a business conversation into a personal argument. Let me ask you: if it’s not going to help you get what you want, should you say it? Probably not. Focus on positive, constructive thoughts that will move the conversation forward.

“Play nice [with the other kids] in the sandbox.” Insults and name-calling will never, ever have a positive effect. If you treat them nicely, they’ll more likely than not return the favor. Say “Please.” Say “Thank You.” You wouldn’t believe how much of an impact this approach makes, and it always starts the conversation out on the right foot. The company will feel comfortable knowing the customer is composed and calm, and be more eager to move forward with the conversation. Moreover, if an employee feels like he is personally making a difference, and is being appreciated, he’s far more likely to do all he can to help you and/or your situation out.

She could cook. Clean. Rivet. Get your butt to baseball practice. And solve your customer service issues. The original Superwoman.

She could cook. Clean. Rivet. Get your butt to baseball practice. And solve your customer service issues. The original Superwoman.

Momma’s a smart woman, and we could all afford to remind ourselves of these little lessons, time and time again. This little list of customer feedback tips will go a long way, and hopefully leave both yourself and the company happy.

Don’t forget that companies deserve praise, too, and something as seemingly small as a glowing Yelp review, or a short e-mail note can make a company’s day. Take the time to let them know when they’ve done well and gone above and beyond your expectations.

So, next time, before you complain, ask yourself…would you talk to your mother like that?

Stay tuned for the follow-up to this post, where Eric describes his own recent experiences from providing customer feedback, and what became of them.

What do you think? Is constructive criticism the best way to go? Are you willing to compromise when it comes to customer feedback, or not?

Image credit to Confessions of a Working Mum and The National Library of Congress.

Eric Labanauskas

Eric is a data entry specialist and contributing writer for the QLP Blog Squad. He is a city boy with a country heart, with an appetite for anything chicken-fried. He has studied as an apprentice at the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture, performed across the country as Buddy Holly in "Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story," and can tie a bow tie by himself without the aid of a mirror. 1950's rock 'n roll is his soundtrack, especially while on road-trips with his lovely girlfriend. Suffice it to say, he is also the owner of some good cocktail party stories from his many experiences. You can also connect with Eric on Google+.


  1. Jana Quinn

    Eric, these are wonderful! It goes along with the all-I-really-need-to-know-I-learned-in-kindergarten mentality. Be fair, direct, specific, and understanding. I especially like the mind-reader one (and may have been on the receiving end more than once); even if it means possibly including information both parties know, lay out the sequence of events so the confused customer service rep can follow the story.

    Another childhood favorite was being told not to identify a problem unless you had a solution. While it’s not 100% perfect (someone else may have a good idea for a solution), it’s also a frustrating waste of time to have someone complain ad nauseum about something that already happened or can’t be changed.

    Great tips like these should be posted on the Contact page on every website with a check box to confirm someone has read them before they can access the contact field.

    • Eric

      Thanks, Jana!

      Amen, right? Right. Absolutely agree with you. Sure, you may be shooting the moon, and you may not get exactly what you want (if it isn’t feasible or practical), but at the very least, you’ll spark some ideas with which the customer service rep can work from.

      And someone should get on that check box idea, immediately. Filter-out half the problem customers before they even become a problem.

  2. Jenna Markowski

    These are excellent tips, Eric! After working in retail for a few years, I can fairly say that there are certainly a large amount of consumers who have forgotten what their mamas taught them. The last three are so true. Berating a sales rep or overstepping your boundaries is a surefire way to guarantee that no one will want to help you. On the other hand, as you said, customers who are grateful for help and make the employee feel like they are making a difference will get excellent service. Great post! 🙂

    • Eric

      I mean, hey. When did proper manners fall out of fashion? I’m amazed these days at how few people will say “thank you” if you hold the door for them, or cut you off on the road, no signal, no polite wave, nothing.

      Sure, it’s advice from Mom, but really, the most basic of primers in social skills and how you should interact with other people, giving them respect they’ll more than kindly return.

      Agreed. The SECOND someone starts informing me of how my job should be done, that’s the end of the conversation. If you want a job, pick up an application and fill it out. The kid working the movie theatre concession stand doesn’t decide what the price of popcorn is and (probably being paid minimum wage) can’t afford it himself.

      Like Aretha said, r-e-s-p-e-c-t.

  3. amy

    Love this post, Eric! I know I’ve heard both my mom and grandmothers say these “mom-isms” to me… and still do to this day too, actually.

    My favorite from your list is, “I’m not a mind-reader!” From my retail days, I hated dealing with customers that would voice a negative opinion about one of our practices (typically the ‘All Sales are Final’ on our clearance section), but would end it there. They’d scoff at the disclaimer and make a huge to do about it. I always felt like asking, “So… what would you like me (the lowly, part-time, hourly worker) to do?” I guess that also goes along with your, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it at all” idea too. Chances are the employee you’re working with doesn’t have control to over-ride the system. Take a deep breath and relax, let me get a manager who can actually do something for you before you shout and scream at me.

    Oh man, I thought I had moved past my aggression during my retail days, but apparently not. I’ll end my comment here before I have a ten paragraph rant for you to read and respond to.

    Excellent post, Eric! Cannot wait to see what you’ve got for us with the follow-up post 🙂

    • Eric

      Like most, I worked retail myself, right down the street at the outlet mall. As much as I love moms, I have to say, when they’re shopping for someone other than themselves, it’s a terribly inconvenient situation…especially when the mentioned third party is present.

      If you’re ever in a position where you’re selling pants to the mother of the son who needs a certain style and color chinos for catholic school…so God help you.

      On the other hand, we once had a guy show up before a job interview, and he was nothing but grateful when we put together an interview outfit for him. He didn’t know much about fashion or fit, and we had to carefully nudge him in a better direction than the one he typically moved in, but come reaching the checkout, he was nothing but pleased. Both problems, the latter of which actually working toward a resolution, and not only that, but grateful for the help he received, too. Made his day and ours, both.

      Ten paragraph rant? Wouldn’t know anything about those. In completely unrelated news…it has been a little while since I’ve written a post on good ‘ol Rahm Emmanuel. Hmm…

  4. Alex Brodsky

    Though I was never in a corporate position with any “real say” in any complaints, I’ve worked in retail for years, and you better believe we heard our share of complaints. Some were articulate, well-thought out arguments that made us actually take a look at how things were done. Others were a lady yelling at us for not making her last-minute-phone-ordered balloons random enough and saying we ruined her BBQ.

    There is certainly an immediate difference in how we treated these customers at the time of the complaint. The respectful ones get our attention. The rude ones are immediately rules as “complainers” and people we don’t want to handle (“Let the newbie handle her.”) and as a result, we wouldn’t even pay attention as they vented

    I am sure the same goes for the people reading emails and letters sent to the large corporations about their product issues.

    That being said, some companies still just aren’t as good as others dealing with customer complaints (#BurgerKingApparentlyOnlySellsCheeseburgers)

    • Eric

      Being the man in the middle is a tough place to be, especially when you have to consult someone else for the necessary authority to resolve something. I worked reception for a high-end salon, and – more often than not – customers had something to complain about, even when it was their own damn fault. Well, in order to apply a discount, or a comp, or do anything, really, we needed a manager. They, most times, were anyplace but the salon. When you have neither the authority nor the person with the authority? You’re stranded on a desert island of frustration, for yourself and the customer, both. People do forget that customer service reps do actually want to help people out, and when they’ve a hard time finding resolution, it frustrates them, too. Tip #1 for companies: always, always, always have a manager present. “I’ll have our manager call you” rarely, if ever, is the answer people are hoping to hear.

  5. Mandy Kilinskis

    Excellent post, Eric! All of these are great points for how to treat customer service employees and get your concerns solved efficiently. “Playing nice” might be my favorite. When I used to work customer service, I was always far more helpful and pleasant with the customers who presented their problems in a calm manner and said “please” and “thank you.” I would go above and beyond for those customers.

    Like Amy, I could probably write ten paragraphs about how to treat customers, but luckily, you’ve already laid it out so nicely. 🙂

    • Eric

      Thanks, Mandy. Being nice? SO FRIGGIN EASY TO DO. I was amazed, and I mean AMAZED, any time someone would thank me for being polite. Meaning, what? That most people aren’t? Still taken aback by that. It’s easy. Say you’re at a restaurant, you finish your drink, and the server brings another. “Thank you” not only shows your gratitude, but also shows you recognize the hard work someone’s doing. Now, “Thank You” doesn’t pay the bills, so be sure to leave a proper tip, too. 20%. How would you like it if your paycheck was 20% smaller “just because?” Mostly, though, just treat others the way you’d like to be treated.

  6. Jen

    Awesome post Eric! I’ve never actually written a complaint letter to a company (although I’ve wanted to), but I will be sure use these tips in the future if I ever get frustrated enough with a company to do so. My favorite motherly advice is “I’m not a mind-reader!” If you go into a store yelling about something without knowing what you want done about it, how are they expected to help you? I can’t even count how many times I had to deal with this when I worked in retail. If you want something specific done about your problem let it be known.

    • Eric

      Totally agree with ya, there, Jen. When I worked for J.Crew, you’d have people who would ask for things to try on just for the heck of it. We’re they going to buy all of it? Nope! On the other hand, you can make for smart business if you ask questions and start narrowing their search, before it ends up an unbought pile on the fitting room floor.

      Most companies make it very easy to contact them nowadays, and you don’t even have to draft a formal letter, simply, a short note. Catch my follow-up post about two experiences I had in giving customer feedback.

  7. Rachel

    Lots of great advice here, Eric. Being nice, courteous, and calm do wonders in getting your problem acknowledged and solved. I think a lot of customers forget that the worker on the other side of the counter is a person with feelings, too, not just a stand-in for the company. And, like many people have mentioned, that worker is probably very limited in what they can do to solve an issue, so it’s a waste of time and energy to get so angry.

    Looking forward to the follow-up! 🙂

    • Eric

      Right on, Rachel.

      The source of the problem isn’t always the source of the solution.

      Some people confuse the two, and end up frustrated because they’re asking more than what some people are authorized or capable of doing. Recognizing where to go for help is half of solving your problem, and usually the first step you should take.

  8. Kelsey

    This may be a repeat, since I left a comment earlier and apparently it didn’t want to post…BUT! This is a great post and I completely agree! Kohls is definitely a store that gets walked all over because of their “yes we can” policy. Needless to say, it’s even more frustrating when you have an angry customer screaming in your face for something totally outrageous because they want us to say “yes we can!”. (I personally have never had a customer scream in my face, but I have heard some nasty stories!) I will say that I have had some pretty rude customers though, and honestly, if I have a customer that is not happy with their service but they are calm and collected still I normally will do anything to make sure the situation is taken care of. I do this because I WANT to. I feel respected, and in return I will respect that customer and make sure they walk away happy. If a customer gives me a terrible attitude and acts like the world revolves around them, I still keep my smile and I’m still friendly, but that customer just lost advice I could have maybe given them, or maybe even some sort of discount. I know this sounds terrible, but I know for a fact that I’m not the only one who has done this to customers..I’m just being real here, if you “follow what your momma told ya”, you will most likely get more out of the situation than you even were expecting in the first place! I can think of a few times this blog could have came in handy working at Kohls! Nice work. 🙂

    • Eric

      Whew! Givin’ me a run for my money with this response, Kelsey! Where to start? “Yes we can” is a phrase and mindset that would’ve worked pretty well, say, fifty years ago, when the economy wasn’t absolutely terrible, and people weren’t as opportunistic and manipulative as they can be, today. I should’ve added something along the lines of “don’t spoil a good thing for others” now that you mention it, because you’ll always have someone, inevitably, abusing the system. Customer service is there for the times you’ll need them, but if you don’t, and haven’t a good reason to seek compensation, etc…don’t ruin it for the rest of us. This isn’t so much a response to the comment as it is a point I could’ve added, but nonetheless, relevant.

      Friendly, honest folks are the absolute best. In truth, I think they ought to train customers like they train customer service staff! Thanks for reading! 🙂

  9. Jeff Porretto

    I absolutely will go out of my way to be as hospitable, friendly, understanding, courteous, and other synonyms. But there are RARE instances where you need to kick a little ass. For instance, my dog hurt her leg. I immediately made an appointment at the vet. When I get there it was “we don’t have anything open today.” The nice thing to do would be “oh ok, we’ll come back tomorrow” and let my dog limp around and cry all night. Instead I went into ass kicking mode (after trying the nice thing to no avail) and damn well got my dog an appointment right then and there.

    Please note that I said “RARE.” “Ass kicking” should not be the default argument setting =]

    • Eric

      I wouldn’t call it so much “Ass-kicking” as I would suggest someone to stand his or her ground, and be firm on what it is they want. It’s tough. You’ve had a bad experience, you call customer service, and it sounds like the nicest person in the world is on the other end of that telephone. Sometimes – this is me speaking for myself – I’m inclined to diminish my complaint because of how warmly my complaint’s received. Ironically, that changed the other day when my home town Wendy’s screwed-up their 289239823rd drive-through order, and the employee was rude to me. Got home, logged onto their site, and BAM. Complaint. If there’s anything to be learned from this economy, it’s to make sure you get what you pay for, in terms of quality and quantity. They followed-up nicely, first and foremost, with an apology, then, saying they contacted the location to address the issue, and lastly, sent an e-mail the following morning requesting an address they could send coupons to.

      So, I’d say you’ve got a good point, sir. Always maintain your urgency and importance so as to receive full service.

  10. Jill Tooley

    Over the years, I’ve been insulted by more pissed off customers than I care to count, and none of them got what they wanted. I shut down when people yell at me, and it doesn’t make me want to help them. It makes me want to purposely deny them!

    Granted, there have been a couple times where I was on the other end, and I raised my voice to a customer service rep. I felt HORRIBLE the entire time! In one of those instances, I ended up apologizing to the rep and telling her that I was having a bad day that shouldn’t be taken out on her. She softened and told me she was also having a bad day, and we ended up talking it out. And you know what? I ended up getting my way because I was nice to her! What a concept, eh?

    Maybe I’m a sucker, I don’t know. But I can’t justify being rude to another human being in an attempt to get what I want. Great blog!

    • Eric

      My first job – ever – was working the concession stand at the local movie theatre. It was a weekend, and to top it, a rainy day. In the summer. Well, when it’s hot and rainy outside and everyone’s on vacation time, where do they go? The movie theatre. We ran out of popcorn (and we pre-made giant bags of it) and ran out of all our soda, only have juice and iced tea available.

      You would think people would’ve been ready to tear employees apart over it. I certainly thought so.

      But, keeping things calm, killing ’em with kindness, and making it seem like business as usual (rather than ERMAHGERDWEREOUTOFEVERYTHING!!!!) they were nothing but pleasant to me. Hell…I even made tips.

      That said…if you show up late for your film, trust me, it’s not going to be how fast that popcorn bucket gets filled that’ll determine how late you are. Truth be told, I’d probably have rushed through it all to get the cranky ones out of my hair.

      That said, I think another good point can come out of this: don’t treat the customer service reps as if they’re the same person (if applicable) that gave you something to complain about in the first place. They’re there to help you.

      That said? Here’s more mom-style advice:

      “Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.”

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