Feature Stories

The Fine Art of the Effective Complaint

Are you ever frustrated with customer service? Have you been ripped off, taken to the cleaners and hung out to dry by a store or service provider? To claim the title of savvy consumer you need know-how and confidence to make sure that, no matter what, no one ever gets your hard-earned money without your permission. It’s all about the fine art of complaining.

Start Easy

Make at least one good-faith attempt to reach a resolution for your problem at the customer service level. Don’t threaten; simply state your case and the resolution you expect. Take notes and keep a paper trail that includes the names of the people you speak with, their titles and phone numbers.

Be Nice

No matter your method of communication, do not make threats or use foul language. Wait until your anger subsides. Stay calm; keep it professional.

Write to the Top

If you cannot reasonably resolve the issue, head straight to the top. Find the name and address of the highest-level person in the company — the president or CEO. Don’t waste your time working up the ladder.

State Your Case

Be very clear on what the problem is, what you have done to attempt a resolution and exactly how you want this resolved. Do you want the item replaced? A refund? A re-do?

Use Strong Language

You want to keep your letter short, but powerful. Use words like “shocking,” “appalled,” “outraged,” and “egregious.” These are attention getters, so use them if they fairly describe your situation. Do not use vulgar language, slang or profanity. Always remain dignified.

Name a Date

Give a specific date that is at least two weeks hence by which you expect this matter will be resolved.

Make it Easy to Respond

Be sure to give the president a way to reach you. Give your name, address, phone number and the best time to call.


Some of us (yep, that would be me) cannot see our own spelling and grammatical errors. Find someone who will proof your finished letter. There’s nothing like poor grammar and typos to detract, devalue and dilute your message. Keep working on it until your letter is impeccable. Now the president will take your matter seriously.

Be Bold

Use bold and capital letters when you add this to the lower right area of the envelope: “FOR IMMEDIATE AND PERSONAL ATTENTION.”

Be sure to keep originals of all of your documentation, such as paid receipts, warranties, photos and other items that support your position. Make photocopies for attachments, but hang on to the originals.

One last thing. Always say thank you. Do that in advance as a way of letting the other person know you have the utmost confidence that he or she will do the right thing. Remember that it’s in their best interests as well as yours that you do not go through life with a bad taste in your mouth because of a transaction gone wrong.

This article was contributed by Mary Hunt.

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