How to Complain and Get Results

Two Methods:Starting the ComplaintEscalating the Complaint

Everyone has experienced the disappointment of making a purchase or requesting a service only to have something go terribly wrong. In some cases the incident isn't worth getting fired up about, but there are other times when making a complaint is the right thing to do. If you're going to the trouble to make a complaint, you want to make sure you get results, whether that means a refund, a do-over or simply an apology. Read on to learn more about how to bring about the outcome you want while keeping your composure.

Method 1
Starting the Complaint

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    Be the squeaky wheel. If you feel like you've gotten ripped off or treated poorly, it's worth speaking up to get the situation resolved. Get ready to be a little pushy and stand your ground. If you don't make yourself heard, chances are the company to which you're complaining will simply ignore you.[1]
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    Complain right away. Do it while the incident is still clear in your mind, and the people responsible are still on shift. If you wait and do it later, it will be harder to make your case. Try to complain the same day the incident occurred. If that's not possible, do it the same week or month - the sooner, the better.[2]
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    Find someone who can help. Don't be that person screaming at a fight attendant about how angry you are that you're going to miss your connecting flight - she can't do anything about it, and all you're doing is making the situation worse. Instead of flying off the handle at the first person who crosses your path, take the time you need to think the situation through and figure out who will actually be able to do something about your issue, or at least connect you with the person who can.
    • Many stores have an information or help desk staffed with people who can assist you with problems. Before you turn to a store clerk, find out if there's a more appropriate person to talk to.
    • You can start with the person who is manning the register or waiting your table, but such people will generally only be able to help you with minor issues. If your problem with the place goes beyond finding a fly in your soup or wanting to return a defective kitchen appliance, you'll likely need to ask for the manager.
    • If you're calling a customer service line, make it clear that you have a complaint to issue, and ask to speak to the appropriate person.
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    State your problem and your desired outcome. When you find the right person to talk to, be clear about what happened and how you want the situation to be resolved. If you need your money back, be specific about the amount. If it's a service issue and you want some kind of explanation, state that. It will be easier for the person to correct the situation if you're up front about what you want.[3]
    • Address the employee by name. Introduce yourself. A formal introduction is a great way to make them stop and take notice. "Hello Jane, I'm Mrs. Smith. How are you? Listen, Jane, I realize this isn't your fault, but...."
    • Speak to them as if they were a confidant and you are revealing a secret. Start off by pointing out you are not blaming him or her, personally, for the problem or error, but you'd greatly appreciate their help in resolving it.
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    Smile. This cannot be overstated; you can NEVER smile too much. People will respond more favorably to someone who is smiling. You are guaranteed to get a kinder, gentler response when you use this strategy.
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    Don't get emotional. Don't go on and on about how angry this incident has made you. Don't raise your voice or make angry gestures. The key to actually getting what you want out of the situation is to get the person who can help you on your side. If you're acting threatening, the person will be far less likely to want to give you what you want.[4]
    • Control your body language and facial expression so that you appear calm and alert. Don't resort to eye rolling, crossed arms, and other gestures that imply you might lose your temper at any moment.
    • Wait patiently. In order to get your refund, apology, and so on, you might have to wait until the customer service rep gets approval from someone higher up. Creating extra tension by acting impatient is a hostile way to behave. Wait calmly and patiently while the situation is resolved.
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    Thank the individual for his or her time and attention. If you got what you want, a genuine thanks is in order. If you didn't receive your desired outcome, you'll have to decide whether it's worth it to you to take it to the next level.
    • Make sure to take down the names of company representatives you've already complained to, if for no other reason than it makes them realize you mean business and they might be held accountable.

Method 2
Escalating the Complaint

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    Write down the details. If you've decided it's time to involve the higher-ups at the company, start by writing down all the details of the incident in question. Write down dates, dollar amounts, and any other pertinent information. Write down the names of any employees or customer service reps to whom you've already spoken, and describe the exchanges you've had with them.
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    Write a formal complaint letter. Track down the email or address of the person at the company who handles complaints. Compose a cordial but firm letter stating what happened and what outcome you desire. Be clear that you expect a reply within a certain time period - a week is usually best. Include your contact information and times during which you are available to speak.
    • Email is usually the quickest way to get in touch via written correspondence, but you could also print out your letter and send it through regular mail.
    • Keep records of all correspondence on the matter from here on out.
    • If you're satisfied with the reply you get from the company, write a thank-you note and consider the issue resolved. If you don't get a reply, or if the reply you do get seems dismissive or rote, you'll have to keep escalating.
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    Email the CEO. Don't be afraid to take your complaint to the top if you aren't getting through to employees and managers. If the company's error was egregious and harmful to you, the CEO is going to want to know about it. Be persistent - email the CEO every week until you get a reply.
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    Post it on Facebook or Twitter. This is an increasingly effective way to get the attention of companies that are otherwise unreachable. Write a post or tweet explaining what happened and asking for help. Be sure to share it with the company's Facebook page or Twitter account. Since your complaint has now moved to a public forum, you'll probably get a response very quickly.
    • Don't use this method until you've already tried to contact the company privately to no avail.
    • You'll get better results if you don't publicly slam the company. Your posts and tweets should be calm and straightforward. Resist the urge to rant.
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    Work with a consumer advocate. Contact the Better Business Bureau, online resources like, or your local TV station's consumer reporter to serve as an advocate. These institutions are set up to keep consumers from getting ripped off by companies.[5] If complaining on your own isn't causing the company to budge, it might be time to get some outside help.


  • Explain the problem clearly and quickly.
  • Smile.
  • Always be polite.
  • Make allies, not enemies.
  • Remain Calm.
  • Do not use slang
  • Be clear about what outcome or resolution you seek.


  • Chances are that the person to whom you're complaining is not personally responsible for the problem. Thus, keep calm and treat him/her with courtesy and respect.

Article Info

Categories: Managing Conflict and Difficult Interactions | Official Writing and Complaints