UPDATED: How to Complain in English & Get Results You Want

by | Jul 6, 2022 | 21 comments

This lesson was originally published in May 2017. In July 2022, the lesson was updated with new content and a new video lesson.

Do you feel uncomfortable making a complaint in English – either because you don’t want to be rude or you’re not sure what to say?

You’re not alone. 

Most of us have a negative view of complaints but then… 

The juicer you bought stops working after 3 uses, the flowers you sent to your friend for her birthday never arrived, or the hotel you booked for your vacation didn’t tell you that it’s under construction.

When you’re disappointed in a product, service, or outcome, let’s talk about how to complain in English and get results.

6 Steps to Complain in English Effectively and Get Results

Step 1: Get Your Emotions Out Before You Complain

 

The most successful complaints are communication in a confident, calm manner — whether you’re writing the complaint in an email or making a complaint on the phone/face-to-face.

To do this effectively, vent all your emotions in advance. To vent means giving free expression to a strong emotion. 

You can do this by writing out all your anger and frustration or sharing it with a friend. 

This is where you can use all those bad words you might be thinking.

Step 2: Be Clear on the Result You Want from Making the Complaint

 

As you prepare to make your complaint, be sure to know what result you want.

Are you seeking a refund? A discount? An apology? A replacement? 

What will make you feel better about the situation? 

 

Identify your goal so you can be clear about it when you’re ready to make the complaint.

Note: Be sure that your end result is proportional to the problem you experienced. 

For example, a realistic result of a terrible experience at a restaurant might be requesting a refund or a discount on a future meal.

At the end of a meal, you might say,

“My family and I were looking forward to visiting your restaurant this evening. I understand your restaurant just opened recently and you’re still adjusting, however, we’ve had a number of negative experiences including the wrong food order, then a 60-minute wait for the order to be corrected, and finally receiving our food only to find it was cold. We’d like to give your restaurant a second chance in the future but to do that, we’d like to request a refund on our dinner tonight.”

Step 3: Be Prepared to Back Up Your Complaint

 

As you get ready to make your complaint in English, be sure to have everything you need such as:

  • Purchase receipts
  • Using documents (if applicable)
  • Examples/evidence of poor service, defective product, or disappointing outcome

In the example shared with the disappointing experience at a restaurant, the evidence was referenced by reminding the restaurant manager of “the wrong food order, then a 60-minute wait for the order to be corrected, and finally receiving our food only to find it was cold.”

Step 4: Make Your Complaint to the Right Person

 

To ensure a quick, positive outcome, be sure you make your complaint to the right person. You want to find the individual who has the authority to correct the problem. 

If you’re not sure who that person is, here are 4 ways to ask in English: 

  • Who do I need to talk to in order to resolve this issue?
  • I’m not at all satisfied with this situation. Who do I speak to resolve this? 
  • Who is the right person for me to speak to about my dissatisfaction? 
  • Who on your team has the authority to help resolve this issue?

Step 5: Be Clear, Succinct, and Polite in Your Complaint

 

Get to the heart of the issue quickly and focus on the most important details. And maintain polite language while doing so.

This doesn’t mean you have to apologize for your complaint but you can continue to use words such as please or modals verbs, which increase the level of politeness, when appropriate.

Let’s look at 3 examples and highlight must-have phrases in English for making complaints.

 

A mix-up with a hotel reservation:

  • There is a problem with our room. I reserved a junior suite as you can see here from the reservation. However, the room provided is a double room. How can this be amended? We’d like to have a junior suite, as reserved.”

    A coworker or employee submits something late.

    • I expected this to be submitted on time. What went wrong and how can we avoid this problem in the future?”

      A bad haircut:

      • I’m not satisfied with the haircut I received. It’s not flattering and I can see that one side is longer than the other. At the very least, I’d like to have this fixed at no extra charge.”

        Bonus Step 6: Use the Sandwich Method for Goodwill

         

        You may have heard of the Sandwich Method for providing critical feedback in English. 

        The same method can be useful when making a complaint in English. 

         

        What this means is to start with something positive — for example, how long you’ve been a customer or something you like about the company. 

        Doing this show you are being measured in your complaint. In other words, you’re complaining in a careful, thoughtful way. 

         

        Then you make your complaint with the relevant details and your specific request. 

        And finally, end on an encouraging or hopeful note. For example, 

        • “I am certain you can resolve this issue for me” 
        • “I would like to continue being a customer and I am hopeful you can find a solution.

        Following this method helps to establish goodwill. Goodwill means friendly, helpful, or cooperative feelings or attitude.

        We saw this demonstrated in the example of complaining at a restaurant. Let’s revisit it and take a closer look:

         

        Start with something positive: 

        My family and I were looking forward to visiting your restaurant this evening. I understand your restaurant just opened recently and you’re still adjusting, 

        Make your complaint:

        however, we’ve had a number of negative experiences including the wrong food order, then a 60-minute wait for the order to be corrected, and finally receiving our food only to find it was cold. 

        End on an encouraging note:

        We’d like to give your restaurant a second chance in the future but to do that, we’d like to request a refund on our dinner tonight.”

        After you’ve watched the video, here’s what I want you to do: practice complaining!

        Identify a recent situation that made you want to complain. Perhaps it was a later delivery. A disappointing experience. Or an order mix-up.

        How would you use the strategies and phrases you’ve learned today on how to complain in English to make the complaint and get the result you want?

        Write it down. And share it with me.

        You can do that directly in the comments section. While you’re there, be sure to review examples from other students. This will help you think about how to adapt what you’ve learned about making complaints in English to different situations.

        All my best,

        Annemarie

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