SERVICES » CUSTOMER SERVICE
Insider interview: B.L. Ochman,
Broadcast: February 20, 2005
Ochman, 'professional complainer.'
The following is an edited
excerpt from an interview between Clifton Joseph (Marketplace reporter)
and "professional complainer" B.L. Ochman.
CLIFTON JOSEPH: So you call yourself
a professional complainer – why
is that; what do you do?
B.L. OCHMAN: I get paid to complain
for other people… I
used to have a company called Rent-a-Kvetch, which was consumer
OCHMAN: Yes. A kvetch is a Yiddish word
for a complainer, it’s somebody who just keeps complaining
until they get what they wanted.
JOSEPH: And you’re that type?
JOSEPH: Who would you complain for?
OCHMAN: I complain for everybody from
corporate executives to little old ladies. About everything
from Tootsie Roll pops with no tootsie in the centre, to
lemon automobiles and broken refrigerators, and companies
do what they were supposed to do for people.
JOSEPH: Can everyone complain effectively?
OCHMAN: Some people are not constitutionally
suited to complaining… You have to be willing to
insist on what you want, and a lot of people are not comfortable
doing that, particularly Canadians.
JOSEPH: Why, because Canadians are supposed to be so polite?
OCHMAN: Yeah, that’s your reputation.
JOSEPH: Who’s more predisposed
to complaining, loud mouths?
OCHMAN: Not necessarily, and I don’t
think they would be the most effective either. You have to
be calm, cool and collected and you have to know what you
want – and
what you’re going to do if you don’t get what
you want. So being loud or abusive doesn’t help you.
JOSEPH: That seems like what most people
would do as their first thing–-
OCHMAN: That’s why most people
Take down the details – including
JOSEPH: So 'be calm' is one of the first
tips then. How do you
between being angry – because you still
have to have some of that anger, but at the same time, you
don’t want to push it too far. Where is that line?
'Being loud or abusive doesn’t help you.'
OCHMAN: It’s a fine line, it really is.
You certainly can’t curse, because what they
teach them in customer service school is, if somebody curses,
say 'I’m going to terminate this call because you curse.'
The instant that somebody picks up the
phone, you have to say, ‘How do you do? May I have your name?’ And
if you don’t get the last name, you have a problem
to begin with.
Then you say, ‘Okay, what’s you
employee number?’ And
the person will usually tell you that.
The only people
who won’t tell you their names are hookers and people
that don’t want to be held accountable of what they’re
going to say. So you know what kind of situation you’re
dealing with if they won’t tell you their name.
then you say, ‘To whom to you report?’ So right
away they know that you’re serious, and if they don’t
want to tell you that, you’ve got a big problem.
JOSEPH: You know who they are, and you know who their bosses
OCHMAN: Right, so that if you need to
escalate [your complaint] right away, you can. And then,
after you say what you’re calling
about, then you either get it resolved to your satisfaction
or you don’t. You have to write down everything that
JOSEPH: What are some of the successes
OCHMAN: Well, I’m successful pretty
much all the time when I’ve complained. I got as new
refrigerator, I got a new washing machine for someone, I
got new mattresses for two people who had defective mattresses,
I resolved a landlord tenant complaint, a couple
of different people got new cars when the ones they had were
The guy with the Twinkies?
of my favourites. He would go out running, and when one day
he reaches up there, he gets his Twinkie, he opens it up,
there’s no filling in the middle. Opens up another
one, there’s no filling the middle. Opens up another
one, there’s no filling in the middle. He got this
whole box where there was no creamy stuff in the middle,
and he said ‘That just won’t do.’
He had seen me on TV, so he called me
up and he said ‘I
want to write a letter, I want to complain.’ They sent
him a carton of Twinkies, a carton of boxes of Twinkies.
Using the phone vs. writing a letter
JOSEPH: How did you do that? Was it just an easy thing
to do, you pick up a phone or you write a letter?
never pick up the phone.
I really think the phone is an ineffective way to complain.'
OCHMAN: No, I never pick up the phone.
I really think the phone is an ineffective way to complain.
I always go right to the top and I always let it filter
back down to where it should be handled to begin with.
When you use the phone, other people have the
ultimate weapon: they can hang up on you… And there’s no record that you called.
So it’s best to write a letter…
The people that are charged with dealing
with customers unfortunately tend to be minimum wage people
stuck in really horrible jobs, or they’re in a call
centre with somebody at their elbow, and they have a quota
of how many people they have to talk to in a day, and how
soon they have to get off the phone. They’re miserable.
not who should be talking to customers. Executives should
be talking to customers.
You know, highly trained, well-paid
people should talk to customers – because frankly,
without customers, no one would have to come to work anymore.
Customers are the most valuable thing a company could have.
Yet people are treated like dirt on a very regular basis.
So they want somebody to listen to them. Mostly, they want
people to say ‘That’s
terrible. Let’s see what we ca do about that.’
When was the last time somebody said
that to you when you were complaining about something?
Usually they say, ‘That’s
funny, no one else has complained about that.’ Why
do I care? I’m complaining about it, why do I care
what anybody else said. But that’s what they say, ‘That’s
the first time I’ve ever heard about that.’
of all, I bet it’s not. But secondly, so what? I’m
an early warning system, 1,000 other people are going
to come with this same problem. Take care of me. That’s
what people want.
Talking through an over-the-phone complaint
Most people have some idea that when you call to complain,
ask for the supervisor.
OCHMAN: If you
are complaining on the phone, which again I highly, highly,
highly recommend against, if you’re
complaining on the telephone, as soon as the person picks
up the phone, say ‘Good morning, I’d like to
have your name.’
And they say, ‘My name is John.’ ‘John,
do you have a last name?’ ‘Oh we don’t
give out last names, that’s against company policy.’ ‘John,
do you have an employee number?’ John always has an
employee number, and if John won’t give you his name,
his last name, or his employee number, you have a problem
and you should immediately hang up the phone and deal with
it in writing.
When John tells
you his name and his employee number, you say ‘John, to whom to you report?’ And he tells
you that person’s name, and you say ‘Thank you
very much.’ And then John knows you’re serious,
that you’re going to talk to his boss – or his
Don’t lose your cool
JOSEPH: It seems a lot of work, that you have to play this
game, you have to moderate your anger, moderate how you approach
OCHMAN: I’ll tell you, one day I was
in a stereo store, because this receiver that I bought had
broken for the third time. I was really upset. The first
two times, they gave me a loaner, and I waited, and they
finally fixed it and it came back to me. The third time I
went in, they didn’t want to give me a loaner. And
I just lost it on them. I started screaming, and I started
yelling, and I got thrown out of the store.
And there I was standing on Broadway
with my broken receiver, and I thought ‘I didn’t get what I wanted, I
didn’t handle that very well.’
I still had a broken receiver, and nowhere
to go to get it fixed. The point is, if you’re going
to get what you want, it is a game. And if you play it
always get what you want, and if you don’t, you won’t.
It’s your choice.
Go to the top with your complaint
One doesn’t assume that the head of
a corporation is sitting there waiting by the phone. We’re
taught to believe that they’re busy, time is money,
and they’re out there making it; that it’s hard
to get to them or get to their representatives.
very unlikely that you’re going to get the
chairman of the board on the phone... but you will
get his or her secretary.'
OCHMAN: It’s very hard to get to them,
not at all hard to get to their secretaries... It’s
very unlikely that you’re
going to get the chairman of the board on the phone, or the
president, but you will get his or her secretary, and that
person is charged with making things happen. If they call
customer service and say ‘Take care of this person,’ trust
me when I tell you’ll get taken care of.
JOSEPH: You’re sort of going to
the top to get to the bottom, where the action is?
JOSEPH: Why don’t more people
OCHMAN: I don’t know why people don’t know
how to complain effectively, I just know that they don’t.
That’s why I had a business for ten years where people
said ‘Handle this for me.’ People, (a) they don’t
like to complain; and (b) they don’t like to be disappointed.
Let me tell you how Canadians complain,
all right? Canadians say ‘Ohh, gee, I got this product, and now it’s
broken, and maybe you could replace it or maybe you could
help me.’ Well, no one’s going to help you when
you sound like that.
You can’t be ‘maybe… if you could be
so kind.’ Baloney. They sold you something that doesn’t
do what it’s supposed to do, and they owe you something
that does what it’s supposed to do. It’s that
simple. Right away, you have a right to complain. They’re
wrong. You’re right. And you just have to start out
by being assertive.
New Yorkers have a reputation for being, shall we say,
more assertive than other people.
JOSEPH: Why is that do you think?
OCHMAN: Oh God, just to get down the
street in this city you have to assert yourself.
JOSEPH: But I don’t know, sometimes
one might not want to complain.
OCHMAN: You have to pick your battles,
you really can’t
argue or complain about everything. There are some things
that are worth fighting over and there are some things that
aren’t. But if you’re in a restaurant where there’s
a fly in your soup and they don’t fall all over themselves,
you should not eat there.
JOSEPH: Have you gotten tired of complainers?
I mean you’re
out of the business now, right? And after you’ve heard
so many people come and complain, do you at some point say ‘I’m
tired of hearing y’all complaining to me?’
OCHMAN: Yeah, that’s exactly what I said. After a
while I had just had enough and didn’t want to hear
it anymore. I felt like I’d helped hundreds of people,
I did my thing… I went on to other things. But I often
think I should write a book, because these are things people
need to know, so I’m thinking about it.
I don’t have time anymore, but will I fight
against injustice and shoddy service for the rest of my days?
You bet. That’s just who I am. I’m a kvetch.
nobody ever complains, mediocrity is perpetuated.'
JOSEPH: But you’re also just a
natural born complainer right?
OCHMAN: My mother says so. Yeah, I just
have a skill for it…
‘Mediocrity has become the
who don’t complain… is it partly
that we’ve gotten used to not getting a fair shake?
OCHMAN: I think that’s true. I think
mediocrity has become the norm and they accept it. Well,
I don’t think
you should do that, I think you should demand to get what
you pay for… If nobody ever complains, mediocrity
is perpetuated. That’s really the bottom
line... If nobody complains, then that kind of service
and that kind of mediocrity continues.You
have to complain.
JOSEPH: Why are companies so unconcerned about bad publicity,
or about servicing the people that buy in their establishments?
OCHMAN: Beats me, it’s about the dumbest thing that
they could do. It would not cost them as much to just do
what they say they’re going to do as it does to advertise
and to get people into the store.
If you look at the average customer
in a supermarket, that person’s not worth the $3
package of bad meat that she just bought. She ought to
have $50,000 tattooed on her head so you knew that that
customer, over time, was probably worth $50,000 to you.
When you look at the cost of getting
a customer, as opposed to the cost of keeping a customer,
it’s just bizarre
that companies don’t do a better job of customer service.
I don’t why.
‘It’s much more threatening
to stay calm’
JOSEPH: Back to the whole question of
you say that you’ve got to go at these companies, be
firm, stern, but at the same time, not too much over the
line – what is that line? How do you moderate that
urge to just loud mouth somebody?
OCHMAN: The line is when you could be
arrested for your behaviour; until then you’re cool [laughs] … No
throwing things. When somebody’s screaming and yelling,
not making sense most of the time. And even if they are making
sense, it’s much more threatening to stay calm than
it is to scream and yell. Somebody who’s lost it is
not much of a threat.
JOSEPH: You’re a letters person.
OCHMAN: Because there’s a paper trail,
somebody has to do something about that. You make a phone
call, they hang up, there’s no record of the fact that
you called. You’re in the store complaining, they say ‘I
didn’t talk to him, I don’t know what you’re
If you write a letter, somebody has to
do something. But it’s not enough to just write a
letter, you have to send copies of that letter to people
who can adversely affect the company.
Complaining in restaurants
We’ve haven’t gotten our soup… [the waiter]
might have forgotten. Now, what is it that you could get
out of this? It’s a simple mistake, but
it’s customer service, you didn’t get what you –
be very careful about complaining to somebody who’s
going to touch my food.'
OCHMAN: I’d be very careful about complaining to
somebody who’s going to touch my food. If I was going
to make any complaints about anything, it would be on the
way out while I was paying the bill. But given the fact that
this person could do God knows what to your food between
the kitchen and here, this is a situation where I wouldn’t
do a lot of complaining. I might politely say to him ‘excuse
me, we ordered soup’ but I don’t think that I
would go much further than that.
You have to pick your battles. If we
were on our way out, I might say to the maitre’d, ‘Hey, the guy forgot
our soup… don’t you think there should be something
you would do about that?’
Using the Internet to complain
These days, with the Internet people have much more effective ways
of complaining than they had in the past, and companies
should be paying attention to stuff like that
are many different sites on the internet where people
give their opinion of products and experience with companies,
and millions of people now before they shop, they go online
and they see what’s been said about a company. And
really bad news, a lot of times, they might not buy that
A company that is paying
attention now, particularly a big company, needs to be
looking at what’s being
said about them online, no just disgruntled customers walking
out of the store, but what do those people do after they
leave the store.
It’s very serious from the point of view of what
can happen to a company’s reputation. It’s a
whole other area of concern, but consumers are getting more
and more power, if they can spread what they think on the
internet, and it can travel around the world very quickly.
The decline of customer service
JOSEPH: There used to be a time where
the consumer was king. You go into an establishment and
it’s like ‘can
I help you ma’am? Can I help you sir?’ What happened?
OCHMAN: Companies, they look at it as
impossible for them to maintain customer service – whereas the last thing
a company should cut is its customer service. That’s
its competitive edge. But I guess some of it is economic,
and some of it is just mediocrity. Mediocrity abounds, unfortunately.
Try and find somebody to help you in most stores, they’re
customer complaint is a positive thing. It’s
an early warning system.'
Look on a lot of websites, you’ll never find a phone
number, you’ll never find the name of a human being
to contact. What are they afraid of? They’re afraid
that people are going to complain. Well, people are going
to find their way to get what they want said, whether or
not they not they can say it to you. I have no idea; I am
mystified by why companies are less responsive.
JOSEPH: It seems like it’s easy
to target them, easy to spread bad new, easy to tell your
friends not to shop there.
OCHMAN: Absolutely, and one disgruntled
customer is going to talk to ten of their friends who are
going to talk to ten of their friends… People do
listen to their friends when it comes to purchasing things.
A customer complaint is a positive thing.
early warning system a lot of the time. For every person
that writes a letter, 100 people feel that way. Companies
should be paying attention.