How to Handle Workers Griping Online: Bring Back the Complaint Box!

Have you ever seen one of those good, old fashioned complaint boxes?

What I remember is it being crafted out of wood, the chained pen, and the slot on the top (with the tiny, unbreakable lock that nobody had a key to). The company was old fashioned so it fit well with how they operated. I loved opening the box and looking inside to see what complaints got dropped in.

Of course, if you put one of these up in your office today, you’d probably be roundly mocked (and rightfully so). The idea behind it isn’t as bad as it seems though, and if modernized, could be a better alternative than employees finding a new place to vent: online.

Going online to complain

I have complained online about customer service (specifically using Twitter) and I don’t like doing it. First of all, it bugs other people who follow me for other reasons. It also airs dirty laundry that I shouldn’t have to (though in fairness, I always had multiple phone calls and emails before I went public).

Maybe the thing that should worry employers the most is the fact that complaining online actually works (and in all cases, much more quickly than before). I had a tweet responding to my complaint about an Internet outage within 10 minutes, and the call center was closed for the day.

This reinforces the idea that the best way to get results is to get online and start tweeting rather than attempt to resolve it privately. And when you see complaining online being used as a threatening tactic, that’s where the trouble begins.

Facebook effect on employee relations: why it’s important

If you’ve been following TLNT over the past few months, you’ve no doubt seen attorney Eric B. Meyer’s posts about Facebook, social networks and employee complaints. We’ve learned from him that you can fire someone for griping on Facebook, or maybe you can’t, or maybe you should read a manual that actually (kinda, sorta) explains it.

Given that an employer’s choice of what to do on this matter is limited, it can mean that Facebook complaints could be treated differently than their normal, everyday counterparts.

For example, if Employee 1 is complaining on Twitter about working hours and it is public, versus Employee 2 who complained privately to you about a similar issue around the same time, I can tell you which one will be solved (or at least, attempted to be solved) first. And what will other employees see? You jumping right on complaints posted publicly while others wait weeks or months for resolutions when they took the more private route.

That encourages more complaining online which means that complaint box (with its little unbreakable lock) has moved from its place outside your door and out into the larger office environment.

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A better solution?

Something happens to a complaint when it goes public. There is a lot of posturing, knee-jerk reactions, and forced accommodations to make the problem disappear. That might be an okay solution if you’re doing business with a short-term customer who you just want to shut up right now,but it is a lot less appealing when dealing with a regular employee.

So what’s a better solution? Here’s one: Open up your own complaint box.

Sounds easy, right?

Not exactly. It isn’t as easy as putting an anonymous submission form up on the company intranet. For example, if your company never responds to complaints or lets people know in some form that they are getting resolved or acknowledged (no matter how big or small), you’re going to be in just as bad of a place.

It’s not so much about having the complaint box out there, it’s about listening and responding. And, it’s also about giving priority to people who try to figure out solutions for themselves, resolve personal issues directly, and act like mature adults rather than those who go straight to their boss’s boss with any complaints (or, immediately broadcasts their thoughts on Facebook).

So, with a complaint box you lose a little face, but in doing so you can also demonstrate an important lesson: the complaint box is back open. Yes, we can resolve issues like civilized folks should. And when you respond in kind to the ways you want people to give feedback, you also send an important message to employees.


1 Comment on “How to Handle Workers Griping Online: Bring Back the Complaint Box!

  1. We actually have a facebook style intranet that every employee can post to with whatever they like just like facebook – it helps with engagement and if you treat your employees with respect and like adults, they may just surprise you… 😉

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