Effective Complaining

Patience, preparation, and professionalism are attributes of effective complaining. It’s a delicate balance of being assertive and persuasive to get results you want. Being a “professional whiner” isn’t a bad thing! However, the tactics of screaming, threatening, and bullying don’t normally provide the best outcome and could lead to bigger problems. 

Respect the Process

Taking a higher road of respect, professionalism, and a calm head are likely to be more effective. Focus the complaint on the specific issue. Despite your frustration, stick to the point. Avoid personal attacks, threats to people or the company, and abusive language.

Feel free to express the inconvenience(s) the issue has caused that may not be as easy to quantify in terms of a dollar loss. 

Calmer Heads Prevail

Once you have your complaint draft ready (or your notes ready), it may be worthwhile walking away to cool off and coming back to your message to read it again. You may find a different choice of words to get a better outcome. 

If the initial feedback from your complaint isn’t what you want to hear continue to respectfully disagree and stay persistent working through your options. If initial attempts have failed and you feel the time is right, you can indicate your intention to pursue legal action or some level of escalated action. 

If you’re complaining about a licensed company/person there usually local, state, and/or federal government departments and processes that are well established to handle complaints. Also look into filing a complaint with the organization, trade association, board that provided the license. 


Prepare Your Complaint

Complaining can be stressful and the ultimate test of patience. Preparation can build confidence and help build a constructive complaint. The objective may not always be to get money back. Perhaps, other strings such as additional products, replacements, services, coupons, or an apology will suffice.

Prepare a list of objectives to achieve and place them in order of importance. It may be as simply as one objective but put some thought to any other acceptable resolutions.

Anticipate Responses

Try to anticipate the company’s response and be prepared for counteroffers and your rebuttals. Researching social media for similar complaints is a good way to prepare for what you’re about to encounter. If you’re flexible with outcomes make a list of strings to attach and possible concessions. Ask for more than what you’d like to settle at but be reasonable and able to support your claims. Be ready to negotiate in good faith and this will likely get the same from the company.

Companies have a lot more experience dealing with complaints than an individual person. They may try to steer the negotiation in a direction you didn’t expect or you don’t fully understand the value. The response from the company may surprise you positively or negatively. If you’re caught off guard you may need more time to respond.  Restate what you think was offered to make sure it is clear to both parties.


Often the trick is finding the right person and holding the conversation in a person-person format. Better results usually come from more personal negotiations. This means visiting a location and speaking with someone face-face is generally more effective than responding via a form on a website. This take more effort but like a lot of results, you get what you put into it.


Regardless of the process, find out if your conversation is being recorded. If it’s a phone call, sometimes this is clear as you work through their automated prompts. In any case, document the key details of the conversation especially the names or employee ID’s of the people involved in your conversation. Ask for names of managers, executives, owner as well as their contact information. Document as much information as possible.

Online Chat Rooms are becoming more popular forums to ask questions and get answers. Make sure to keep a copy of the dialogue from start to finish. Some of the Chat Rooms have built-in capability that allows you to dowload the transript. In any case, keep a copy. 


Ratchet your complaint up the ladder if you’re not content with the service or outcome from those you’ve already dealt with. Document events when you feel customer service is rude or out of line.  Be persistent and try various avenues of getting your complaint resolved if one path leads to undesired result.

Leave your contact information if there are unresolved topics. Leave them no excuse not to reach you. Look around for executive names on their website, Better Business Bureau , directories, LinkedIn, social media, Glassdoor, etc.  

Be Persistent

Target their Reputation

A complaint that tarnishes the reputation or rating of a company is often taken seriously. Depending on your issue, there are numerous federal and state governmental agencies or departments that accept consumer complaints. There are also sites on which the company advertises such as Better Business Bureau, HomeAdvisor, Thumbtack, Google, etc.

Social Media

Use the power and audience of social media. Research and post on forums like Facebook, WhatsApp, Quora, Twitter, Instagram, possibly LinkedIn, or other specific sites where the company’s audience resides. As mentioned earlier you may find a similar complaint on social media that has received responses. Larger companies likely have employees monitoring feedback for the purpose of rectifying negative comments sooner than later.  


Your message should be drafted with careful attention to spelling, grammar, and sticking to the facts. Be careful with dropping employee names and any personal information because this could backfire in more ways than one. Consider saying the “Customer Service Department”, or “Customer Service Representative”, instead of John Doe said “This, that, and the other.” At some point during the resolution process, names may be necessary to get to the root cause or desired result. 

Express Optimism

While anticipating a good result may seem far-fetched or you’ve run out of patience, continue to express optimism towards a desired result. Depending on your situation you may indicate your intention to remain a customer if an agreement is reached. 

Purchasing Power

Depending on your level of power (such as if you are a Director of Purchasing or leader of an organization) you may be able to use that to your advantage. Your power to influence others consumer decisions may get a more favorable response. Of course, keep it truthful and be able to support your statements. 

More Considerations

If you’re sending an email, consider carbon copying (cc:) related consumer groups, boards, agencies, etc. If you’re considering legal action, you may want to consult with an attorney before sending the complaint letter. Think about all the forums which you could launch your complaint….a few ideas are listed below.

Better Business Bureau®

Click here to first review the criteria and types of complaints handled by the BBB®. From that page you can begin to file any type of complain that fits the criteria. A couple more specific links are shown below. 

A few common places to file almost any type of complaint. 

  • Federal Trade Commission
  • Local Consumer Groups
  • Trade Unions
  • State Agencies/Boards (medical board, dental board, school board, local government officials)
  • Company website (there may be more than one if there is a hierarchy of ownership, such as a parent company to a subsidiary)
  • Company social media sites  (i.e. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Linked In, YouTube, WhatsApp, WeChat, Reddit)
  • Rating review sites (i.e. HomeAdvisor, Thumbtack, Airbnb, Travelocity, TripAdvisor, Indeed, Google, Glassdoor)
  • Other possible sites: Quora, Yahoo Answers


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Effective Complaining

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