Don’t Get Mad, Get Even: How To Complain Effectively

October 2, 2009

angry manBy: John Newcomer

Most people would rather have a root canal than complain about a defective product, an overcharge, or unsatisfactory service.  Their reluctance is easily understood.  Companies have made it extremely difficult to complain.  How many of us dread the thought of the ever present “phone tree.”  To successfully maneuver through the tedious steps of the phone tree options requires the patience of Job and the cunning strategy of an Army general.

First you must wait the obligatory 10 minutes, because every company seems to be experiencing extremely high call volume.  Then it is “phone tree” time.  All the time you are going through punching numbers, listening to the next instruction, punching in the next number, you know deep down inside that you will either get disconnected or there will be no option for complaining.

If you are lucky, you will finally get to speak to a real person.  Unfortunately, this person has been trained on how to deflect, delay, and defend. By now, steam is coming out of your ears because you just spent 20 minutes of your life that you will never get back just for the privilege of speaking  with this “trained” customer service representative.

You now realize the deck is stacked against you. Anger takes over and you say things that you would never say but for this temporary insanity. Your attempt to resolve your complaint ends badly.  In fact, a recent survey found that 6 out of 10 complaints are rejected.

Emma Parker, a spokesperson for  the FOS, an British organization established to help consumers, says “many customers with perfectly valid complaints fail to make headway, because they get upset and distressed and often fail to lodge the complaint properly.”

The following tips will help to ensure that your complaint gets heard, and more importantly, acted upon so that you end up in the 40% of successful complaints.


Be clear about the nature of your complaint and what action you require.  Complaining just to complain is a waste of time.  Know what action you want to correct the problem. Write out the key points and important information, such as an account number, when the account was opened, and on what date the problem occurred.


Try to resolve the matter by calling the company.  Sometimes this is all that’s required. In most cases, your first point of contact will be a call center or the local branch. Tell the company that you want to complain and ask if there is a manager or a complaint department you can talk to. Be firm and persistent.

If they refuse to transfer you to a manger, calmly explain the problem to that employee and see if they can provide satisfaction.  If they don’t, ask again to speak with a manager.  If they say, “They’ll tell you the same thing I did,” insist anyway.

**Note: If they still won’t transfer you, hang up.  Look up the company online.  Find out who the general manager, owner or president is.  Call back and ask directly for that person. Getting to the top often makes a difference, because that person, responsible for the bottom line, often cares more about  customer satisfaction than the front-line folks.


When you reach a manager or supervisor, don’t deviate from the terms of your complaint.  If you feel that you are getting the run around it’s easy to slip into “and another thing…”argument.  This weakens, not strengthens your case.  The more straightforward the complaint the easier it is for the company to resolve it.


At every stage take a note of whom you talked to, the time and the response.  Don’t accept just a first name, ask for the last name as well. Companies should not have a problem giving this information.  If they do, make a note of it.


Give the company a reasonable period of time to resolve the problem.  If it requires research, several days may be needed.  Nail them down on how long it will take.  If the company says that someone will get back to you, say that you expect a call within 7 days.


Anger or sarcasm rarely produces positive results.  Be courteous, yet firm, and the person on the other end should be more willing to help.


Are you looking for a refund, a replacement good, an apology or compensation?  Be realistic.  Don’t just pluck a demand out of the air.  This will make your claim look far less credible.


If the issue is not resolved, send a letter.  Write “Complaint” clearly at the top, and include all relevant details such as your address and account number.  Keep things brief and to the point, setting out the facts in a clear, logical order.  State when and to whom you have spoken at the organization. Enclose copies – not originals-of any documents that back up your case.


It can’t hurt to copy complaint letters to managing directors and chief officers.  Find out their names (Google or the company’s website are places to start) and address the letter to them personally.


Make it clear that if your complaint is not resolved you will take the matter to whatever governmental agency regulates the company. Just about every company is regulated in some form or fashion by either a local, state or federal agency.

If all efforts fail you can always file either a lawsuit or a demand for arbitration.  However, this option is really only available if your complaint is significant or involves an amount of money that warrants the effort.

Good luck, and remember “don’t get mad get even.”

Edited by Angie Moreschi