The Art of Effective Complaining


Jan 21, 2015 by James

The UK is famous for several things, including a reluctance to complain and make a fuss, and let's face it, some poor service. Could there perhaps be a connection? If we want to improve the standards of service and goods that we receive, it makes sense that we need to start complaining effectively, but that can be a challenge for reticent Brits.

Effective complaining is an art rather than a science, but it is an art that can be learned. Here are some tips.


Be prompt

Timing is important in complaining. If you can, complain immediately the problem arises but if not, then do minimise any delays. Choose your format carefully; it is often best to complain in person, but if you are very angry or the matter is quite complex, it can be a better idea to use e-mail, social media or the post. All of these formats give you time to consider and, if necessary, edit the content of your complaint.

Most importantly, before you complain make sure you can answer all of these questions:

  • What do you want to achieve? Will an apology do, or do you want compensation of some sort? If so, of what sort?
  • Who is best placed to make this happen? You should make the complaint to that person.
  • Do you feel calm enough to stay polite and rational? If not, then wait a while. Getting angry and aggressive will devalue your complaint and may destroy your credibility in the process.
  • Are you right to complain? You may feel angry or upset but if you have missed your flight or train, or simply changed your mind, whose responsibility is that?


Set the scene

Once you have found the person to whom you should complain, you could reduce any sense of confrontation and hostility by taking the time to acknowledge any good aspects of the situation, such as your previous good experiences of the company, before explaining why you feel aggrieved and what you would like to happen. Bringing down the hostility level makes it more likely that your complaint will be resolved quickly and efficiently, because the recipients will be motivated to help you.

Remember that a complaint is a process of negotiation, rather than a 'silver bullet', and therefore satisfaction may take some time to achieve. If you discover that the person to whom you have complained cannot sort out the problem, then you will need to escalate it to somebody who can. As long as everybody stays calm and polite, this should be relatively straightforward.

If even escalation does not resolve the matter, you may wish to consider other options. In some cases, such as complaints against utility companies or financial providers, there may be an overseeing body, such as Ofgem or Oftel to complain to. Another option is to (rationally, calmly and politely) describe your concerns on the company's social media pages – many are carefully monitored and this tactic can get you a particularly quick response.