"Debt is the fatal disease of republics, the first thing and the mightiest to undermine governments and corrupt the people." - Wendell Phillips

The Frog In Boiling Water: Don’t Complain, Do Something

By , August 3rd, 2009 | 10 Comments »

I have an acquaintance who is constantly complaining about her dog’s veterinarian. He’s too expensive, customer service is poor, and he’s a pusher of unnecessary drugs and treatments. Every time the dog has to go to the vet, I hear the same story. I’ve given her a recommendation to my vet who is probably better suited for her, and I’ve given her the names of vets my friends use. Despite her dislike of her current vet and the availability of alternatives, she continues to go to the same vet and complain about the expense every six months.

A relative of mine behaves in a similar fashion, except it’s her cell phone she complains about. She complains about the expense all the time. I’ve given her alternatives ranging from prepaid wireless which would work because she rarely uses the phone, to cheaper providers and plans than the one she’s on. Does she change? Nope, but she keeps complaining about the expense.

A lot of people I know have a “pet” complaint about something that’s too expensive or not worth the expense. It’s almost always something that can be easily changed, but they never take the time to change it. They just keep complaining. I’ve heard complaints about banks that charge too many fees, credit cards that stopped giving rewards, TV providers that jacked the rate, Internet providers with shoddy service, and on and on. They complain that money’s tight and the prices stink. When I suggest cheaper or better alternatives, the person usually sighs and then says something along the lines of, “It’s just too much trouble” and then goes right on complaining.

My acquaintance with the vet complaint pays close to $600 per year for care for a young, healthy dog. The vet leaves her in the waiting room for an hour with no explanation and the vet is curt and uncaring. At my vet, I pay closer to $300 per year for an older dog with some issues, she gets great care and their customer service is stellar. My vet is two blocks over from my acquaintances’, so you can’t even argue that geography plays a role in the pricing. Why would you willingly pay $300 per year more when there are better, cheaper providers out there? Same with the cell phone. My relative pays $150 per month for minutes and features she never uses. Why won’t she see the light and downgrade to a cheaper plan or provider?

I have a theory about why people continue to do this. It’s not that they’re too lazy to change providers (although some are) and it’s not that it’s really too much trouble (although some providers make it difficult to leave, you can if you really want to). It’s that changing providers means admitting that we screwed up in the first place. If the woman with the vet complaint were to switch vets, she would have to admit to herself that she fell for the slick advertising of the other vet. If my relative with the cell phone downgrades, she has to admit that she was swayed by the salesperson who sold her the expensive plan. If you stop eating at the overpriced restaurant every week, it means admitting you fell for the trendy name or clientele. It’s easier to complain than to admit you were wrong or that you fell for the marketing hype. Of course, this isn’t true all of the time. Sometimes you’re unfairly treated or a company suddenly raises rates for everyone. But in these cases, people tend to be more willing to switch. They don’t like being suddenly jerked around and they look for alternatives. But if it’s a case where they just chose the wrong option or bought into something they shouldn’t have, they’re more reluctant to change.

It’s like the old story about putting a frog in boiling water. If you put the frog in when the water’s cold and raise it to a boil, the frog won’t jump out and will boil to death. But if you throw a frog into water that’s already boiling, he’ll jump out. We’re no different with pricing. If we get in with the wrong provider or package to begin with, we’re more likely to stay there even though it’s detrimental to our financial health. But if previously favorable terms suddenly turn ugly, we’re far more willing to jump out and go somewhere else. Funny, isn’t it?

If you don’t like the way a company prices its services or handles customer service issues, you need to move on. I’m not saying you don’t have the right to complain when a company jacks rates, gives bad service, or charges five times more than their competitors. Complain away, but do it to someone who can make a difference. Complain to corporate headquarters or to a manager. But if you can’t get resolution and you don’t want to pay it, you need to change providers. Staying with a provider that is super expensive or gives poor service merely encourages them to continue their bad ways. By continuing to use their service, you’re tacitly agreeing to their lousy practices. Not to mention wasting money that you don’t have to waste.

Go on and admit to yourself that you screwed up, bought the wrong package, fell for the hype, or thought the sales girl was cute, and then look for a way to correct the situation. Complaining just to complain changes nothing for you.

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  • Carol says:

    I often wonder too if people just enjoy complaining because it’s the only way they know how to have a conversation!

    There are a number of chain stores (Walmart and Target, to name two) that I won’t shop at because I don’t care for some of their policies. I know of many people who complain about Walmart…but yet still shop there. I ask why, and they say “because their prices are cheap.” So they keep shopping and complaining.

  • Jay Gatsby says:

    Here’s how you deal with complainers. Before they get started, ask one question:

    “Do you want me to help you solve your problem, or are you just complaining?”

    This question will only annoy people who want to dump their problems on you. People who are asking for your help will respond positively to such question, while complainers will find someone else with whom they can “share” their problems.

  • Carol says:

    Jay, that’s a great question to ask. I’m going to remember that one.

  • typome says:

    It seems like a lot of your acquaintances and neighbors are people who hopefully don’t read your blog, since you talk so much crap about them in your articles!

  • Bill says:

    Your friend’s one-upmanship can probably be traced back to when the western world was conquered by the Romans. They taught trades and built huge (by comparison) domestic dwellings. The conquered nations were encouraged to trade, as the Romans had the effective monopoly of money, the ultimate trade necessity. People were encouraged to be upwardly mobile as they’d have to, literally, trade up. The aspirational society was arguably born here in those days. To a large degree, we’re still in it, it’s just, the Romans having gone home or merged with the locals early in the fifth century, it’s the bankers who have the monopoly on money now.
    All true!


  • Tightwad says:

    LOL! @ typome!

  • gaelicwench says:


  • Arthur Nijkamp says:

    I’m sorry, but you got the analogy the wrong way around. According to the frog he would jump out of water that is already boiling. This would mean that we would NEVER enter the wrong package to begin with.
    However, the frog stays in the water if it is slowly warming up, meaning that we would stick to the plan even if the situation slowly worsens.

    In my opinion it is a great example, just not for the point you are trying to make…


  • Cheazy says:

    Awesome post. I completely agree and found myself saying to myself out loud “EX-FREAKIN-ACTLY”. Good read and a good way to stick it to the man.


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