Got a complaint? Email the CEO

A watchdog says the best way to get what you want from a company is by emailing the CEO. Not, presumably, what they'll want to hear...

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 21 Dec 2010
Had a bad experience with a company? A consumer watchdog says that instead of enduring the usual 15 minutes listening to irritating jingles while on hold to the useless customer services team, it’s best to email the chief executive directly. Apparently, many businesses are so ‘hopeless’ at handling customer complaints that the easiest way to get things done is by going straight to the top. Somehow, we suspect this may be one piece of advice the majority of CEOs aren’t going to want their customers to listen to…
 
It emerged this week that the Nationwide Building Society’s chief exec, Graham Beale, was forced to change his email address after one activist published a list of bosses’ email addresses online. Apparently, Beale received so many emails that he had to take refuge behind another email address, leaving the old one to send an auto-response pointing frustrated clients to the customer services department. Marcus Williamson, who set up the website, says Beale was avoiding facing up to aggravated customers - but Nationwide says having his email address published led to a ‘flood’ of spam. We’re guessing it’s probably a bit of both.

Philip Cullum, the deputy chief executive at watchdog Consumer Focus, told BBC Radio 5 Live yesterday that the best CEOs ‘want to hear from aggrieved customers’. But given that most CEOs’ inboxes are already groaning under the weight of emails they receive each day, even without thousands of customer complaints coming in too, we’re not sure whether that’s entirely true. Althought we suppose that if all other channels have been exhausted, a quick email to the boss of the company can’t hurt – and it might provide an incentive for the customer services department to deal with your complaint more rapidly than it otherwise would have…
 
Of course, some complaints are more worthy of a response than others. When passenger Oliver Beale was less than impressed by the food on a Virgin Atlantic flight from Mumbai to Heathrow in 2008, he wrote a letter to Sir Richard Branson which rapidly achieved cult status on the internet. ‘Imagine being a twelve year old boy, Richard,’ he wrote of one dish. ‘Now imagine it’s Christmas morning and you’re sat there with your final present to open… only you open your present and … it’s your hamster in the box and it’s not breathing. That is how I felt when I peeled back the foil.’
 
Luckily for Beale, though, Sir Richard is not one to ignore his passengers’ complaints. A couple of months after the letter emerged, the airline invited him to its ‘catering house’ to help select food on future Virgin flights. ‘Then we can ensure his personal taste is well and truly catered for,’ a Virgin Atlantic spokesperson smarmed. Sadly, we suspect this kind of response is the exception rather than the norm…

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