I am rather proud to admit that I am pretty good at complaining. I don’t just mean whinging to my boyfriend for him to unload the dishwasher – I am referring to making complaints to companies if I have experienced poor customer service or purchased a product which hasn’t met my expectations.
I usually try to let things go, but unfortunately, from time to time, an incident will happen that makes it impossible for me to turn a blind eye.
I was recently working from a 24 hour coffee shop (who I am not going to name as I don’t believe the brand was at fault) and had a really unpleasant experience with one of the staff members.
I sent in a complaint to Customer Service and as an apology, the company sent me some complimentary drinks tokens to use next time I was in the store to try and repair my opinion of the company.
This experience gave me the idea to share with my readers my tips and tricks for complaining effectively to get the apology and outcome that you deserve.
So if you need to make a complaint to a company, then read on to make sure that your feedback is read and understood by the complaints department and you are provided with an appropriate form of apology.
I have attached the full complaint that I submitted and the response I received a few hours later. This is a great example of how taking on board the points below will always get you a great result.
How to Write a Brilliant Complaint Letter
IS YOUR COMPLAINT VALID?
Before you even submit your complaint, take a minute to cool off and ask yourself if it’s valid. If you don’t appreciate the new decor in your favourite clothing store, or you’re unhappy that your car insurance provider won’t let you switch to a cheaper provider without paying a cancellation fee, then sorry to break it to you, but this isn’t a valid complaint.
Personal distaste for a companies decor style is not a poor portrayal of customer service, and cancellation terms were most likely laid out in the terms and conditions when you began your insurance policy, so the company hasn’t ‘done you over’ in any way.
However, if you’re complaint is regarding poor treatment by a staff member, or a product you have purchased has broken or not arrived as expected, then these are justifiable grounds to make a complaint.
WRITE A LETTER OR EMAIL
Complaining in writing is much more powerful than having a heated phone conversation that neither you or the customer representative you’re speaking with can refer back to once the discussion has finished.
Writing down what happened will allow you to contemplate the situation and explain your experience much more clearly. It will give you a chance to document what happened after you have calmed down and reflected, and you will have had a chance to think about what you actually want to achieve out of this complaint.
Keeping everything in black and white also makes it much easier to keep a trail of any correspondence that you might need to refer back to at a later date.
MANAGE YOUR EXPECTATIONS
I am sorry to be the one to burst your bubble, but you do not deserve a year’s supply of free pizza just because the one you ordered arrived without the extra sweetcorn you requested. I didn’t deserve a £1,000 gift voucher for free coffee due to the experience that I had, nor did I expect the company to give me this.
You need to manage your expectations and ask yourself what outcome you think is appropriate. It might help you to imagine you’re the CEO of the business you are complaining to, and think about how you would handle such a situation.
You want your complaint to be taken seriously. If you start demanding money off or freebies because of your experience, then you are going to lose your credibility and the person reading your letter will just think that you are another person trying to get something for nothing.
EXPLAIN WHAT HAPPENED CLEARLY
The person that you are writing to probably didn’t witness what happened. If you are complaining to a large organisation, then it’s likely that you will be reaching out to a customer service or complaints department, where the staff spend their entire day responding to emails and letters from angry customers like yourself.
So make it very clear what happened and explain the situation in detail – the more specific you can be the better. You need to make the person reading your feedback understand your experience and understand why you are so upset. If they are struggling to picture what happened because your email is unclear, then you aren’t going to get the response you were hoping for.
EXPLAIN THE OUTCOME THAT YOU WANT TO ACHIEVE
Explain what outcome you are expecting. There is no point complaining if you don’t even know what you want out of it. Some people think that if they don’t specify what they want, then they might get offered more than they expect, however, this is certainly not the case.
Usually if you send in a complaint without specifying the conclusion you’re expecting, then you will just receive a generic email back along the lines of ‘sorry for the inconvenience’ and that will be the end of that.
You can see in my email that I asked for the person in question to be spoken to about her behaviour, as the encounter left me feeling intimidated and I didn’t want to have a similar experience next time I visited the store. I also asked for ‘some form of an apology.’ This careful use of language suggests that I wish to be compensated somehow, without specifically asking for money off or complimentary drinks (which can come across as tacky).
So whether you would like a replacement for a broken product, or for a membership to be refunded because the service was not as described, make your expectations clear so the person on the other end knows what they need to do to make you happy.
EMPHASIZE DISAPPOINTMENT RATHER THAN ANGER
Do you remember that feeling as a child when your parents say to you, ‘we’re not angry, we are disappointed’? Remember how it made you feel much more regretful of what you had done rather than if they shouted and displayed anger.
The same applies to businesses. The last thing a company wants is for a customer to be disappointed by its brand – even if its a huge corporation. So rather than trying to show how furious you are by what has happened, instead try expressing disappointment and under-fulfillment in their company as a result of their actions.
DON’T THREATEN POOR REVIEWS OR BAD PRESS
Threatening to leave a bad review on TripAdvisor or Yelp because you’re angry about what’s happened just makes you look like yet another unreasonable, difficult customer.
The reality is, if the experience really was that horrendous, then you would leave the review anyway rather than using threats as a scare tactic to getting what you want.
Leave the idle threats out and focus your attention on articulating what you want to achieve out of providing this feedback.
DON’T USE PROFANE LANGUAGE
I do not even need to tell you that swearing and using bad language in a complaint makes you look unprofessional, aggressive and unconvincing. Yet the amount of times that I read reviews of products before purchasing and see one star reviews with foul language used to express the customer’s anger is shocking.
Even as a consumer, I will often turn a blind eye to these reviews and purchase the product anyway, because the poor language used makes that person seem ignorant and I am more inclined to think that they are only complaining to receive a refund or they don’t understand how to use the product correctly.
So find another way to express your feelings. Use strong vocabulary to get your point across and if language isn’t your best skill, then remember that you can use the internet to find synonyms and check your spelling and grammar.
DON’T USE BLOCK CAPITALS
THE MINUTE YOU START TYPING LIKE THIS it puts the reader off. Avoid writing in block capitals to express your anger and instead work on improving your vocab or explanation of the incident.
Using block capitals is going to make the reader think that you are irate and difficult to communicate with and you will not get the feedback that you deserve.
As I have already mentioned, the person processing your complaint probably receives hundreds of complaints, all from customers who think that their situation is much more terrible than the next person’s.
The best way to get empathy from the person reading your complaint is to add some humanity to your story. Tell them why you had such high hopes for this product, or why you are disappointed in their brand. You need to tap into the person’s feelings to make them want to help you.
As you can see from my email, I explained that I was particularly hurt by what happened because this coffee shop holds a special meaning to me as it’s where myself and my boyfriend went on our first date. This gave the person on the other end something to relate to and I am sure it would have made a difference to how much they wanted to help me.
COMPLAIN TO THE RIGHT PERSON
There is no point in complaining to somebody who does not have the authority to make the situation right. If you are complaining in a restaurant, then speaking to one of the waiting staff isn’t going to do much good as they will not have the authority to refund your meal or offer you anything complimentary to make up for what has happened.
Speak to a manager, or better yet, go straight to the head office. It’s there that you will reach a person that can amend the situation, and they will also be able to then speak to any staff member who may need disciplinary action based on what happened.
THE PERSON YOU’RE COMPLAINING TO, PROBABLY ISN’T AT FAULT PERSONALLY
Remember that you are just one person speaking to another person. It can be easy for some people to get angry and nasty over the phone or via email because they feel anonymous.
Remember that whoever you are speaking to is a human being just doing their job, and they don’t deserve to have their day ruined by you. So don’t give that person a load of hassle and abuse because it’s unlikely that they are directly to blame.
BE POLITE AND REASONABLE
Remember your manners. As we have covered, it’s unlikely that the person reading your complaint is personally responsible for what’s happened – so speak to people how you would wish to be spoken to.
There is a big difference between being firm and being rude. There is no shame in asserting yourself but being rude is an absolute no-no when it comes to making a complaint and expecting a good outcome.
CHECK YOUR SPELLING
You need to make sure that your email or letter comes across as credible as possible. So make sure to check your spelling and grammar. Proofread your work and only press send when you are happy that your writing is mistake-free and clear. If spelling and grammar is not a strong subject for you then consider using a free tool like Grammarly to polish up your language.
If you are complaining about a specific member of staff, then try your best to get their name. Unfortunately, if you ask the person your complaint is about for their name directly, they’re probably going to know why you’re asking and therefore may refuse to tell you.
In this situation, keep an eye out for their name badge or consider asking one of their colleagues. If you are unable to obtain their name for whatever reason then make sure to describe them as best you can without being offensive.
To Finish Off…
I hope these tips and tricks will help you to make a better complaint in future and that you will get the outcome that you truly deserve. If you have any more advice on this subject or a story you would like to share then I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.