Rebecca Armstrong: Making a complaint? You need some words of power

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The Independent Online

I'm terrible at complaining. Well, I'm great at whining, moaning and harrumphing to my long-suffering colleagues and to you, poor readers, about whatever is making me want to unsheathe my claws at any given moment (people saying "yourself" when they mean "you", leggings as trousers, cruelty to creatures), but not when it comes to making an Official Complaint. I quail, I rage impotently and there are usually hot, ineffective tears involved before I give up on addressing whatever it is that needs complaining about.

My father would win gold if complaining was an Olympic event. He'd be up there on the podium, with a tenacious glint in his eye, as broken customer service representatives littered the arena. I put it down to the fact that he never, ever gives in and that no irritation is too small to hit back against. I'm sure there's a still-quivering complaints-line operative who recalls The Day the Beard Trimmer Guard Cracked.

Daddy Armstrong puts his successes down to his words of power (WoP). The first is "escalate", discovered during a fraught call with BT. Things not going your way and you think someone more senior could help? Want to reach down the phone to the (underpaid, overworked) call centre chump and poke them in the eye? Ask if you can escalate the problem. He claims that this phrase – not be confused with: "I want to talk to your supervisor," (which just means you'll get passed to their mate at the next desk) has seen him through contretemps with all of his utilities providers (AKA the gas and electricity board, in human, rather than corporate, speak).

His other WoPs are more esoteric, discovered while crossing swords with Air India. When denied the chance to use a rather expensive return ticket because delays had made it invalid, he found help from a lonely agent at a regional branch.

She told him to tell HQ that his ticket "should be extended on involuntary basis". You'd never guess that that would do the business, but such is the way of WoPs that he was soon on the wing with a new ticket. These are just two examples of what can work when you want your voice heard or your money refunded, although what you don't say also helps (swears, curses and threats are a no-no, unless they involve the magic word "ombudsman", which I'm told by a friend who's a kick-ass complainer usually does the trick), as does how you say it. But there must be other WoPs out there to be used on estate agents, ticket inspectors and when trying to get any kind of upgrade. I'd love to hear yours – tweet me yours (@rebeccaj) and I'll spread the words of power.