How to Make an Effective Customer Complaint

complaintYou plot your budget in great detail, and take steps to follow it every day. What happens, though, when you shell out some of your hard-earned dough for a product or service that is unsatisfactory? When money is tight, spending carries more weight and potentially more disappointment when things don’t go your way.

But wait- the customer is always right, right? While that adage may hold water, it is not always exclusively true, nor completely relevant when lodging a complaint as a consumer. What the consumer has- if handled correctly- is not absolute hold on being “right”, but rather the balance of power in the consumer/service provider/retailer relationship.

Did something break after one use? Did you get overcharged for something? Did something fall short of your expectations during an experience? Then speak up- but complain effectively, so that you get what you want in return.

Like effective communication, effective complaining is a skill that has to be learned and adhered to in order to yield results- which can include financial or product compensation.

Keep your Cool

Have you ever called a company to lodge a complaint, and then been on hold for an eternity? Or waited in line at a customer service counter to speak with someone. Not surprisingly, your rancor is riled way up by the time you actually talk to someone.

Keep it together though, because effective complaining hinges on your demeanour. Remember the person that you are talking to is a person too- and responds the same way as you do to certain behaviours.

For every action, there is a reaction.  If you march in, guns a blazing at the person on the other end of the phone or on the other side of the cash register, they will slip into defensive mode, effectively squashing your chances of getting the best possible compensation from your complaint.

Identify a Goal

It’s no good to say “I’m unhappy”. You need to identify what it is you want as an end result from your complaint. Do you want your money back? Do you want free product? Do you want an apology?

No matter what you’re doing, you won’t reach your goal if you don’t have one. Identify it. Write it down.

Similarly, decide what you would be willing to accept as a minimum. You have a better chance of being satisfied if you go in with a range.

Chain of Command

Before you spill into the meat of your complaint, make sure that you are talking to the person authorized to do something for you. Recognize that you may have to tell your story several times before getting the results that you want.

Focus on the Task at Hand

Your customer service person is trained to handle objections, and now so are you.

Explain your side of the story without assigning blame. Allow them time to respond without interruption. A balanced dialogue offers more express delivery than a heated disagreement.

Always come back to the point at hand- that is whatever compensation that you are after.


There is a saying that you attract more files with honey than you do with vinegar. Realize that the retailer or service provider, to a certain extent, has the choice whether or not to recognize and act on your complaint.

While they may be obligated to fulfil a certain task, as per their return policy, for instance, they will be more motivated if you offer them kindness and respect. You might be able to get what you are after, and even more if you empathize with the human element present here.

Let them know that, while they are the ones handling the complaint and in that instance are representing the company, that you don’t hold them personally responsible.

Complaints have a way of getting personalized. Meet in the middle by humanizing the discussion.

Credit where Credit is due

It’s a fact; human beings are far more likely to complain (and to share their criticism) about a product or service than to offer praise for a job well done.

Change your own consumer behaviour by noting good service when you see it, and by vocalizing it to the employee and to their supervisor if possible.