How to Complain Effectively

No matter how hard we try to be a good steward, there is always the potential for problems when we purchase goods or services. It doesn’t matter how much background work we do, how much we look on sites such as Angie’s List or Home Advisor, how many contractors we interview before starting that remodeling project on the house, or how many friends, neighbors or relatives we talk to before buying, we may run into an issue. 

Maybe the product simply does not work, or it does not perform as advertised, or some aspects of the job were left unfinished. When this type of thing happens, it’s time to complain. 

Here are suggestions to make your complaints more effective. 

1. Be very clear about the problem

Saying things like “I am not happy” or “This isn’t done to my satisfaction” really doesn’t define the issue. Be as specific as possible about the problem to help the person who is hearing or reading your complaint understand exactly what’s wrong. 

2. Define the resolution you expect

Along with defining the problem, the most effective complaints also come with a clear indication of what needs to happen to resolve the issue. If you want a refund for a product or service that didn’t live up to your expectations, say so. If a refund won’t be enough, say that too. If you are simply looking for an apology, then make it clear. This makes your complaint much easier to deal with and also more likely to be resolved to your satisfaction.

3. Mention the company’s reputation

Effective complaints address the negative impact of bad products or services. It’s very easy to say something such as “I was very disappointed in the product you provided and will not recommend you to my friends or family.” This will make the company aware that you may start telling your friends about your experience or, worse, talking about it via social media.

4. Follow the complaint process if there is one

Most companies have a designated complaints procedure. You will probably get more attention if you follow their defined procedure. Be sure to make a screen print of any online forms in case it does not automatically email you.

5. Complain using e-mail, or in person, rather than phoning

It is possible to make effective complaints by phone but much better to write or visit in person. Phone complaints are easy to ignore and there is no documentation to use as a follow-up. 

If you’re standing at the reception desk demanding to see someone, you’re likely to get a much faster response because you’re embarrassing them. Most companies do not want their reputation damaged and will react quickly if you are complaining in person.

6. Keep track of the details

To file a complaint against a company, first gather your records: sales receipts, warranties, contracts, or change orders. Then, print out email messages or logs of any contact you’ve had with the seller about the purchase. 

When you are complaining, document each touchpoint you have with the business. Make sure that you keep a full record of all communications including dates, times, who you talked to and what was discussed. 

You may run into situations where the complaint takes a lot of time to resolve and when that happens it’s hard to keep track of who you talked to, when you talked to them, and what they said. Each time you follow-up to get your problem resolved, mention the previous efforts to get the situation fixed. Be persistent!

7. Use social media

A complaint expressed via Twitter, with the hashtag of the company’s name together with ‘bad customer service’ is likely to get a very quick response. Most large companies have someone monitoring social media for any sign of activity about them. 

8. If you don’t get the response you want, say so

There is no point in seething to yourself. If you are talking to someone and they don’t seem to be listening to you, then say so. If they are responding to a completely different point, then make that clear. If they are being downright rude, then ask politely if they are aware of how rude they sound. 

And if you don’t think the person you’re talking has the authority to solve your problem, ask to speak to their manager.

9. Take it to the next level

If you tried every possible way to resolve the issue directly with the business, you may need to take it a step further.  If you made the purchase using your credit card, dispute the charge with your credit card company.

You may want to contact a nonprofit consumer organization such as the consumer reporter at a local TV station. Another avenue is to notify the Better Business Bureau (BBB) in your area about your problem. The BBB tries to resolve  disputes between customers and businesses.

Some problems with sellers are the result of frauds and scams. If you believe that you have been the victim of fraud, file a complaint with the correct government agency: The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), or your state attorney general. If your purchase was with a foreign retailer, report the problem to

At all times, remain polite and civil and maintain your composure. You may be angry, but calm yourself down before you email or visit the business. 

No matter how angry, frustrated or irritated you are, remember the golden rule from Matthew 7:12 “Do to others whatever you would have them do to you.”

Checkout the Manage Your Money God’s way podcast for more on how to complain effectively.

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