The Secret Lives of Complaint Letter Readers

Did you know that when you write a scathing complaint to a company, not only does an angel’s dick fall off, real people can cry?

A reader identifying himself as “re-flex” has a wife, eight months pregnant no less, who works very hard to keep her company’s website working well for the users, against the odds. She goes through a lot to do a good job, but was floored recently by an email, passed up through the ranks, with stamps of forwarding all around, that said simply, “Your website sucks!

She was floored, which, doctors say, is not good for a pregnant woman.

Same shoe, other foot, after the jump…

    “Dear Consumerist:

    I enjoy reading your website very much.

    You often publish stories that spotlight the consumer’s perspective in the eternal consumer-corporate struggle.

    I thought you’d like to hear a small story about how life is, or can be, on the other side of the front lines.

    Remember when writing those letters of complaint to your various corporate offices to make sure that whatever comments you give are constructive–useful in rectifying whatever problem it is that you are experiencing.

    My wife works for a major healthcare organization. She’s in charge of its website. What this means is that she manages a team of roughly six people and many, many consultants (graphic designers, HCI experts, etc.), as well as “interfaces” as best she can with various other relevant departments (such as IT, Regulatory Compliance, Legal, etc.) to put together the roughly 10-million-dollar a year effort that you see when you enter in http://www.hercompanynamehere.com.

    She works hard at this job. There’s been many a time that she’s been working toward a deadline and she and her staff don’t get home until three, four in the morning–only to grab a quick nap and head off to work again at six AM. It’s a very frustrating job for her, because she has to try to negotiate through the politics and opposing interests of many diverse, stubborn groups to try to get a web site together that is useful to the end user.

    Firefox grabbing a larger share of the market? –She has to try to convince the coders to test the site on Firefox. They don’t want to do that because, obviously, it’s more work for them–they’d rather just tell the end user that they need to be using Explorer for the site to work right.

    Mac users having trouble with the site? –She finally got the developers to acknowledge that Apple has a large enough part of the market to make sure the site is opimized for Safari as well.

    Front-end web server incompatible with the legacy database system, the latter which houses a million or so client records and sits on a computer in some other city? –Somehow there has to be a system implemented–within budget–that puts all this together so that the healthcare data the end user wants to see is displayed within a few seconds of him or her clicking the “Submit” button. The technology is daunting enough, but trying to get the hundreds of people responsible for those systems to play nice is a whole new circle of hell.

    Basically she sits in meetings from seven in the morning till six at night, fighting to make sure the end user gets as good an experience in logging into the website as is humanly possible, given the restrictions placed on the process by budget, politics, time, and talent of personnel. And she’s eight and a half months pregnant.

    So it was in the spirit of wry irony, yesterday, that she received a letter from an end user giving critical feedback about the website. I’m looking at that letter right now.

    It’s obvious that this note has been passed up through all sorts of various departments till it reached her desk. It has all sorts of stamps on it saying “Received” and “Copy to: Marketing and SBM Team” and “Record as:” and such. There’s a note on it that says, “This is from a member. Can you have someone take a look at this? Sally, can you have someone call the member and get some specific feedback? Thank you, Leslie” and “Jim: See page 2. FYI.” Everything has been stamped in triplicate and photocopied in quintuplet many times over.

    And what does the note say? Here is the comment, verbatim:

    “Your web site sucks!”

    Insert Nelson Muntz “Ha-ha!” here.

    She was quite deflated by this letter. After trying so hard to get it right–it’s tough to be made to understand that someone out there disagrees. It’s even harder to have to work with a comment that is so utterly non-useful and uninformative.

    No, she is not permitted to simply disregard the letter as the work of some asshat. Her responsibility–both professional and personal–requires that she follow up on this.

    So when you write your letters of complaint, remember that a person like my wife might end up reading your letter; and, depending on the words you choose, she might be so startled by them that she gives birth on the floor of her office while surrounded by slack-jawed, wide-eyed, spittle-dripping subordinates. Not saying that’s what happened here, necessarily”

We’re all “up with people” but if we received that email, we would toss it. If a user doesn’t care enough to elaborate on why it sucks, they don’t care enough to see their ‘complaint,’ such as it is, resolved. It’s part and parcel of being on the front line. We’re surprised that if her company is so concerned about the website customer service, why someone lower on the rungs couldn’t have replied to the user, “What do you mean?”

Any company that has a website needs to be ready for the slings and arrows of the rabble. If they can’t take getting critiqued publically, they should shutter up shop.