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December 10, 2012 at 4:44 PMComments: 11 Faves: 0

Squeaky Wheel Gets The Grease Vs. More Flies with Honey

By Erin Froehlich More Blogs by This Author

Things got pretty heavy last week, so if I bummed you out, my apologies!

This week, my mind and mood is much lighter. In fact, a coworker has inspired me to play scientist. I'm trying to figure out whether complaining or complimenting is more productive.

Erin Froehlich – “Expert Complainer”

Peering over my cube walls (check out my cube HERE), he was telling me and my across-the-cube-neighbor that he had written a local movie theater. He has a health condition that means he can’t eat popcorn and he complained that they should really be offering rice cakes for people like him. It was a somewhat unlikely prospect he wrote partly in jest, but to his surprise, they actually responded. Not only did they say they would keep it in mind, BONUS - they included a bag of rice cakes and popcorn seasoning to sprinkle on them!  

I laughed out loud.

(The real audible way. Not the internet way where you think something’s funny and you write “lol”, but what you’re actually doing is this: )

 lol guy

You’d have to know the guy, but these sort of funny stories are just so typically him. “Are you going to put that up on your blog? I thought I remembered you having a section for funny letters complaining to companies like that.” I asked in earnest, but he responded in a tone that told me this was something he’d hardly consider - and that I should know him better than that. “…No?  You know, I don’t really like to complain. Anyways, isn’t that more of your thing?”

OOOH!! There it was. I was being labeled “complainer.”

However, it happened to be completely true, so I couldn’t really be too offended.  Since he joined our ranks, he’s witnessed more than one occasion where I went out of my way to let a company know I was unhappy with their offerings – all handled respectfully and perfectly justified, mind you, but, at the end of the day, yes, still complaining.

“Hey!” I laughed. “That’s how you get what you want! If you don’t speak up, you lose out!”

After it was all said and done, the incident left me wondering. American children are often preached two conflicting viewpoints - both with utter confidence and conviction - on the best way to handle a disappointment.  

So – which is right? Which piece of advice will garner the best results?

“The Squeaky Wheel Get The Grease” Vs. “You Catch More Flies with Honey”

 different approaches

Goal: Determine whether complaining or complimenting a company is most rewarded.

Method: Composed 6 letters to 6 totally different companies – 3 complaints and 3 compliments. Illustrations were included on the advice of my crazy friend that biked across America.  Apparently he’s read that including a picture makes you more likely to get something from the company. Something about how they don’t have a way to enter into their system, so they have to get a higher-up.

Wheel Squeaking - The Complaints (most fun to write)

#1.  Meijer’s

  • Business Type: Grocery Chain
  • Why: They keep on getting rid of my favorite products! I mentioned 5 in the letter, but I thought of more after I sent it. Serious. :p
  • bird food breakfast cause no vegetarian biscuitsHighlights: “Johnson’s Body Care Line. Granted, the packaging is kind bland, but the stuff smells AMAZING. Like sugar coated flower deliciousness… You also got rid of our easy microwave breakfasts – Morning Star’s Stuffed Breakfast Biscuits. I could be running late for work and my daughter could be running late for school, but with Morning Star’s Breakfast Biscuits we’d be able to have a warm, tasty, filling breakfast in just one minute. You know what I had this morning for breakfast? Nuts and seeds - like a bird or small rodent eats. :/”( Full Letter HERE)
  • Results:  I’ve received 3 emails so far! The first I got within 24 hours and seemed to be an auto-generated email for people asking about a specific product. The second was actually from the store manager from the location I normally use and the third I got today was actually from Campbell’s (I complained they got rid of their lentil soup) saying Meijer’s had contacted them. They told me “Although, Meijer no longer carries this item, Campbell’s still does manufacture this item.  If you would like to special order a case of 12 at a cost of $15.60 a case, you can contact the following person” WAT? No freebie? I fought for you Campbells!! Who knows though, if Campbell’s contacted me, the other companies may – and with free goodies.

#2.  Flat River Grill

  • Business Type: LocalRestaurant (Owned by Larger Company with many other Restaurants)
  • Why: Epically bad service, small servings, and inappropriately high prices.
  • Highlights: just wanted some breadWe stood there for 5 minutes in uncomfortable proximity to a crowd of strangers before anyone even spoke to us… [After asking for it three times] We never got any bread. (and, incidentally, we went breadless the first time we ate there as well)… When our waiter came to see how we liked [dinner], we were about halfway through. That’s when he noticed we were all wearing our winter jackets and that apparently the heater we were sitting next to this whole time hadn’t been lit…. He dragged [a new heater] over from across the patio and attempted to light it – for about 5 uncomfortable minutes standing next to us while we ate – until he finally gave up saying he couldn’t get it, left and brought back another person to get it lit – which they did in about 2 minutes [also standing next to us]…. I would have recorded my disapproval on the review card that came after we paid, but no pen was provided to do so. (Maybe there’s a reason for that?)” ( Full Letter HERE)
  • Results: Irony was not lost on me when it turned out the business with the worst service was the first to respond to a complaint about it, but there you are! What they had to say: “First, I need to apologize for the breakdowns that occurred during your experiences. This does not reflect the standards of service for Flat River Grill nor does it come close to meeting my personal expectations for our staff. Because of the delay with everything, it appears that the server was spread too think and had too much going on to see to the needs of every guest in his section, which I accept complete responsibility for…Although it pains me personally to hear from a guest regarding a less than favorable experience, I am very glad that you have brought this to my attention so I can take steps to ensure that it does not happen again. Furthermore, I would like to ask you to send me your mailing address so I can provide you with some gift certificates toward another visit and personally invite you back so you can see that these experiences do not measure up to our expectations nor are they characteristic of a typical Flat River Grill meal.” WOOT! Gift certificates are heading my way! I’ll let you know how much they’re worth when they arrive. ( I DID specifically mention our meal cost $80 a few times, but we’ll see.)

#3. Forever 21

  • Business Type: National Clothing Store
  • Why: I’m used to buying pants in dress sizes, but their pants are sized with measurements. This wouldn’t be a problem except 1.) I don’t know my measurements and 2.) even when I talked to people they wouldn’t help me.
  • Highlights: forever 21 pantless comic“I almost literally had to run down an attendant that seemed to be avoiding me… I assumed [not knowing measurements] was probably a pretty common issue and she would be familiar with the approximate conversions, but she wasn’t – nor did she try to track one down for me. Her advice for me was “Umm… I don’t know, I guess you can just kind of hold them up to you and see.”“She wants me to take out EVERY size of pants you have and hold them up to me?...That’s going to take forever. I’m not doing that.” I thought… asked if I found everything all right today, I responded politely, but honestly…“Oh, I’m sorry. The jeans are over there.” She pointed. “Did you want to check them out?” No. No, I didn’t.” ( Full Letter HERE)
  • Results: Nothing so far! If they don’t respond, they’ll be the only company I’ve complained to to ignore me – which makes them look even worse. Maybe they didn’t get it because their website precluded me from being able to send the picture I made? 

Fly Luring - The Compliments (SEE! I can so be nice! :p)

#1. Ju Sushi

  • Business Type: Local Restaurant
  • Why: They’re the total package – great atmosphere, great service, great food, great prices. (Also, I would REALLY enjoy some free sushi!)
  • Highlights: “I’m one customer that is difficult to impress – if I’m not greeted and cared for promptly and properly, if my food isn’t cooked quite right, if the plate’s presentation is lacking, I take note – but my experience was wonderful from beginning to end!... Considering it all, your menu is priced very reasonably in my opinion. I’ve paid more and gotten far less.” ( Full Letter HERE)
  • Results: Despite my well written and extremely flattering letter, I haven’t heard back from them yet. Hasn’t been TOO long though, so I’m still holding out a little free sushi hope.

#2. Traditional Medicinals

  • Business Type: National Tea Company
  • Why: Love the line as a whole, but their Gypsy Cold Care tea in particular. It tastes and smells fantastic AND it actually works really well on cold symptoms.
  • Highlights: “Have you ever seen Annie Hall? That scene where Woody Allen’s telling Diane Keaton how he feels? “Love is, is too weak a word for what I feel - I lurve you, you know, I loave you, I luff you, two F's?” SERIOUSLY.” ( Full Letter HERE)
  • Results: I hadn't received word by the time I posted this, but I did eventually receive a package with TWO boxes of Gypsy Cold Care. I had mentioned how I normally buy two - one for me and one to give away to people dealing with colds in the office. Guess they liked that. Isn't that sweet though? I really do love this company! :)

#3. Eden Foods

  • Business Type: National Healthy Food Production Company
  • Why:  Umm… honestly? I have a TON of products I love, but I played this one for strategy. I was afraid if I just tried for the stuff I wanted most, it wouldn’t work out. I wanted to try with a company that had a history of generosity so I took to the internets and found this site “The 39 Experiment: Asking Random Companies for Free Stuff.” Apparently the guy that wrote this got soy milk, soy noodles and tea from them, so I gave it a shot.
  • Highlights: “I’m a blogger for a natural health company that love, love, LOVES your teas (especially your sencha rose tea!), but is really curious about your sea veggie products… Any chance you could send me some samples? I’d love to be able to advise people on them!” ( Full Letter HERE)
  • Results: Once again, silence. Nothing. Not even an email, but if they DO end up send me some sea vegetation (or even a “Thanks! But no, I’m not giving you free stuff, you freakin' mooch” letter), I’ll be sure to update you all!

The Moral of This Story?

The idealist in me would have liked to think most businesses would value both praise and criticism equally, but as even these very preliminary results show – that’s not actually the case. Does this reflect on people as well as companies?  Are we more concerned with winning over the people that don’t like us than thanking those that do?

What do you think?

Credits: Jon Day for the awesome title suggestion! Thanks, buddy! :)

More from Erin Froehlich Others Are Reading


  • AWESOMELY KOOL!! We have too much complaining. A strange play on letters in the word companies (complain) drop one pick up one (letter that is) is it not what companies do? Drop some pick up some. Sadly as you allude to in your blog, Positive comments do not garner as much attention as negative. I VALUE value!!

  • HA! Thanks, Stacey!! :D

    I think you're right and actually, you know, I've noticed this in my own life. Compliments can make our day, but the details tend to fade away much faster than criticism. For instance, I can remember in detail being insulted in 5th grade.

    I was just standing in line for lunch when some guy walked from across the lunchroom to say "You know you're not pretty, right?" I just sort of stood their dumbstruck wondering where this was coming from. I gave him a confused look and said "So....?" I was wearing one of those t-shirts that were really popular at the time - you know the ones in mid to late 90's with the sassy phrases written in sparkly lettering? It said something like "Angel" I think , and he just sort of pointed to it, obviously feeling a little dumb for not delivering the blow effectively. "Like.. your shirt?" Even though it was executed pretty badly, it still stuck with me that someone went out of their way to tell me I wasn't attractive. They just HAD to let me know.

    You think I remember ANY compliment I got in 5th grade with that sort of clarity? No way!

  • I think that makes already let the 3 companies that you had good experiences know that you are hooked, but the others were in competition for our business! As for forever 21 I guess they just suck at pr lol

  • *nods*

    I see your point about them already having my approval, and honestly, this was the result I had expected, but don't they want me to continue with the positive feelings toward them? You'd at LEAST expect a "thanks" for someone that took the time write a positive review of your business It's those sorts of people that spread the word and bring in more business!

    I mean, I say thanks when I'm being complimented even when I'm not ALSO getting money from the person complimenting me! ;)

    And yeah, about a week later, this is a pretty epic PR fail, Forever 21. :P

  • UPDATE: FINALLY heard something from Forever 21.

    "Thank you for emailing us with your concern.

    Unfortunately, you will need to contact your local store for further assistance. We apologize for the inconvenience.

    If you have any further questions/concerns, please call our customer service line..."

  • ooooo yeah nice dodge...blame it on the store, that will direct you to corporate, that will direct you to the's a vicious cycleeeeee

  • UPDATE: Checked my mail yesterday and I won stuff from two different companies I wrote to!!! (Full letters HERE:

    Traditional Medicinal's: Sent me two boxes of their awesome Gypsy Cold Care tea all for quoting Annie Hall at them and begging for freebies. I was, actually, a little bummed they didn't write me back thanking me, but I'll take the free stuff.

    Flat River Grill: Sent me a letter saying

    "Thank you again for your communication(their typo not mine) your experience at Flat River Grill. I have gone over the service issues with my front of the house management team and we have identified some opportunities for improvement within our staff and are moving forward with some action plans to correct some of the flaws."

    (Well, that's good to hear...)

    "I am sorry your experience with the food was less than satisfactory. We offer a variety of appetizer that cover a variety of portions, and the pan fried goat cheese and the calamari are a couple of the smaller ones. I have spoken with our chef regarding the price points and we will certainly explore how to engineer the dishes to price more competitively. This is a battle we are constantly fighting as the cost of all food products are constantly fluctuating and have gone up considerably over the last couple years."

    (Yeah, okay, you started strong, but you really think I'm buying that the economy excuse for the tiny appetizer portion I received? It's not like I'm unhappy with the prices/portion sizes at ALL restaurants and if it were an across the board issue, you'd think I would be. Rating: kinda lame.)

    "I regret that your server did not illustrate to you that the appetizers you chose were smaller portions..."

    ( So what, you'd have him issue a warning to everyone that those orders one of those dishes that they only feed about two people? Seriously? Passing the blame again?)

    "..., and that you did not receive bread which certainly would have helped increase the amount of food that you received."


    "Your experience with our service and food certainly does not resemble our goal for your dining experience at Flat River Grill. I have enclosed some gift certificates and would like to invite you to allow us another opportunity to serve you."

    I received 4 separate gift certificates, valued at $10.00 each which, I am apparently only able to use one at a time. I know it's still free money, but that feels pretty lame to me considering I sent them a two page letter detailing their failure and that I spent $80 on the meal. I'll use them, but if you think I'm spending a dollar over the $10 at any one of these four visits, you don't understand how stubborn I am. ;)

    and that you did not receive

  • I'm guessing Forever 21 doesn't care about you as a customer because you're not an anorexic cheerleader. A good rule of thumb is if you can't fit your entire body through a rubberband, you're likely not their target audience.

  • Yeah, maybe they just assumed everyone who came there wore the same size 0 pants....whatever that would equal in inches. ;)

  • I had an incident occur at the steakhouse in the BOB. I forgot the exact name of the place. It's on the first floor, starts with a J, and is way over priced.

    I had checked in on foursquare and got 50% off one of their house micro-brews. I normally don't order drinks at restaurants unless I'm with bad company or need some liquid courage. I ordered the IPA. I love IPAs LOVE THEM! Unfortunately and to my complete surprise the beer was horrible. I have never left a "man down", but I left this one 3/4 full. It wasn't a strongly hoppy beer that I love. It was a liquid hop with nothing but pure and overwhelming bitter for its only taste. I went back to my water and waited to order.

    For food I decided to ordered an 18oz. top round which I thought was the best value on the menu. When I got my steak it was Luke warm, and to top it off out of 18oz. 8 of them were pure fat (I would expect that for a Rib-eye), but not a top round.

    I let the waitress know about the steak immediately and said nothing about the beer. I reassured her that I wasn't disgruntled with her service cause that had been exceptional, but that I wanted to speak with the manager. I exchanged word with him about the temperature and the overwhelming amount of fat. He grabbed my steak and said we'll heat this up for you. I'm thinking in my head "What about the 8oz. of fat?" I told him "Don't bother, here's the money for that terrible beer." I tipped the waitress ten bucks to reenforce in front of her manager that it wasn't her and walked out (which I didn't know at the time was completely legal).

    I wish I would have taken you're approach Erin, but in a verbal way. I might have received free stuff, but honestly that might not have worked cause at this point they'd have to pay me to go back. It sucks too cause I remember as a kid going there with my grandpa, and/or family when ever I visited GR and the food was great. I talk to my G-Pa about it later that day and he said that he had the same sort of experience minus the beer and the place had changed for the worst along with most of the BOB. He hasn't gone back to that steakhouse either.

  • Garchow-

    Yeah, my experience with Gilmore Restaurants ( The Bob, Flat River and more) has been sort of unsatisfying across the board. They spend a lot on atmosphere, and that's cool. They have impressive menus and the food I get from them is generally good - but their service and pricing is WAY off.

    And I agree when you say you'd have to be paid to go back! I'm a total foodie and I like to indulge and spend money on good food, but no WAY am I going to spend any more money with you until you redeem yourselves and show me you're worth it.

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