Secrets to Effective Complaining

by Ron Haynes


With the economy in the doldrums, it makes sense to stretch every dollar to the max. So what do you do when a product or service you spent your good money on is a disappointment? You’ve done everything you can to make extra money and now it’s being spent on something that isn’t performing. What do you do? Complain, of course. But how you complain can either help your cause or hurt it. Well managed and efficient companies will budget for complaint resolution. Make sure your complaint is productive by using these steps.

Complain effectively

1. No matter how upset you are, remain calm. You can stay firm, but you must remain calm. Displaying anger, shouting, or making threats will not help your cause. Summon up the self discipline to stay polite, even if you’re fuming on the inside. If you resort to being rude, you won’t get the desired results, you’ll lose points and make it more difficult to resolve your issue.

Side note: Don’t threaten legal action unless you’re actually willing to take that step fairly quickly. Once you threaten legal action, well trained employees are taught to refuse to talk to you anymore and will only refer you to their attorney.

If you decide to write a letter, be sure and use respectful, grammatically correct language with copies of receipts or canceled checks. Also, be sure and use tip #7 in your letter!

2. Don’t let the problem marinate. Take action as soon as you notice a problem. If you notice something wrong while you’re still at the store, bring it up right then and there. If you notice the problem later, initiate contact as soon as possible with the company’s complaint department or whatever responsible party they have set up to handle customer complaints.. Above all, don’t assume the issue will “resolve itself.” The sooner you start complaining, the better you’ll be able to negotiate an agreeable resolution.

3. Ask for the manager in charge. Don’t waste your time negotiating with someone who isn’t in a position to help you. If you aren’t getting anywhere with your complaint, ask to speak with a manager, a district manager, a regional manager, or even higher. Usually, the higher the position someone holds, the more authority they will have in solving the issue. And many times, the higher the position someone holds, the more interested they will be in protecting the company’s reputation.

4. Keep a written record. Keeping a written journal of everyone you spoke with including names, extensions, dates, nature of conversation, and what was promised puts you in a position of strength.

5. Get to the point and stay on it. Keep your story simple and your stress level low. Think of your complaint as ad copy. Advertisers (the good ones) usually have a very simple list of the essential elements of their product. You should do the same. Make it a simple paragraph, one page at the most. If you need to provide additional information, you can do so, but keep your story simple and easy to tell. Include the product or service you’re having problems with, model numbers, dates, who you spoke with, etc.

6. Stick to measurable facts. Generalities won’t work. A regional VP won’t be impressed if you talk about how a product’s failure “made you feel.” She can’t fix that. She needs to know that you had $43 in produce, $76 in meats, and $55 in other groceries ruined by the failure of her company’s refrigerator, all substantiated by receipts, and that you missed 2 days of work and had another $198 in repair bills.

7. Know what you want. There’s a good chance, especially if you move up the complaint ladder, someone will ask, “What would you like me to do?” You better have a answer ready! Don’t make anyone guess what would resolve the issue. Be specific but be reasonable. Asking that the entire cost of the refrigerator be refunded along with $2,500 for your time isn’t reasonable. And if all you want to do is vent, don’t waste yours or anyone else’s time. Most companies will work hard to keep you happy, particularly if you’re a valuable customer who spends a lot of money with them. It’s cheaper for a company to keep an existing customer than to attract a new one. Use that to your advantage but don’t overdo it.

The NEXT Level

What happens if you take these steps but still can’t get your issue resolved? It may be necessary to take things up to the next level.

  • Contact the Better Business Bureau. The BBB will try to resolve your complaint through a type of non-binding mediation.
  • Contact the Attorney General’s Office for the state in which the business is based and file a complaint with them.
  • Contact the Federal Trade Commission. They won’t attempt to resolve your complaint, but if they receive enough of them, they will use your information to investigate cases of fraud.
  • Use the traditional media to your advantage. Sometimes local television stations, newspapers, and magazines have programs to help consumers and are willing to investigate your problems as a service to other viewers and readers.
  • Take the company to small claims court. Do your homework to find out if you’re even eligible to file a claim, but if you are, you can literally “get your day in court.” Then again, you might find that they don’t show up and you get a default judgment against them.
  • In our digital age, perhaps the ultimate revenge is to start a blog! Or you can use a growing number of sites and blogs that let consumers lodge public, online complaints. These can generate publicity that might help resolve complaints. A few I’ve found recently are:

About the author

Ron Haynes has written 988 articles on The Wisdom Journal.


The founder and editor of The Wisdom Journal in 2007, Ron has worked in banking, distribution, retail, and upper management for companies ranging in size from small startups to multi-billion dollar corporations. He graduated Suma Cum Laude from a top MBA program and currently is a Human Resources and Management consultant, helping companies know how employees will behave in varying situations and what motivates them to action, assisting firms in identifying top talent, and coaching managers and employees on how to better communicate and make the workplace MUCH more enjoyable. If you'd like help in these areas, contact Ron using the contact form at the top of this page or at 870-761-7881.