How to Respond to Complaints in English (The Right Way)

Oct 11, 2017 | Business Professional English, English Conversation

“Hello, Melissa. We appreciate the update on the shipment. However, we would like to note that by the time it arrives, it will have been more than 60 days. This is unacceptable according to our contract. We’d like to know how you plan to fix this.”

This is a real complaint to a real company. In fact, it is my complaint. I wrote this recently in an email to a company. However, after making my complaint, I haven’t had a response from the company.  It’s very disappointing.

That is not good customer service. Ignoring the problem may only make it worse.

I understand though. Responding to a complaint is awful. It’s uncomfortable and stressful. No one likes to chat with an angry customer.

But, whether it’s in an email, a telephone call, or face-to-face, it is important to respond correctly so you don’t lose a client.

If you need to do this — in English — I want you to know how to respond to complaints the right way. In today’s Confident English lesson, you’ll learn the language and rules you need to respond politely and have less stress.

4 easy-to-follow steps to respond correctly to a complaint.

Lesson by Annemarie

Respond to Complaints Correctly in English

Just like the lesson on How to Make a Complaint Politely in English, responding to a complaint is a delicate situation that must be handled correctly. If not, then you risk losing a long-term client, a new customer, or a friend. Yikes!

In America, the expression “The customer is always right” is very famous. What about in your country? Is this also true? If not, then how do you think of your customers? Are they valuable and necessary? Do you want them to work with you again in the future or purchase from you again? If so, then it is necessary to know how to make an unhappy customer happy again!

In the video lesson, I shared 4 easy steps for responding to complaints correctly:

Step 1: Listen

Step 2: Apologize

Step 3: Take Action

Step 4: Follow Up

“Just like the lesson on Making Complaints Politely, responding to a complaint is a delicate situation that must be handled correctly. If not, then you risk losing a long-term client, a new customer, or a friend. Yikes!

Step 1: Listen

Yes, your customer is angry, upset, frustrated, mad, disappointed, etc. It is not fun, but it is necessary to listen.

In English, we have several ways to show we are listening. We can use small words and sounds to acknowledge their problem or show we understand, such as:

  • Uh-huh
  • Mhm
  • I understand…
  • Yes, I see…

You can follow-up your these words and filler sounds with these questions and comments to get the details of the problem and clarify:

  • Could you tell me a little more about why/how/what happened…?
  • Could you clarify what you mean when you say…?
  • Can you tell me exactly what happened…?
  • I’d like to summarize the situation to make sure I understand everything correctly.


Step 2: Apologize

This is maybe the most important (and most difficult) step. Your customer wants an apology, more than anything. A sincere apology.

Here are several common expressions we use in English to do that:

  • I’m really sorry to hear that. I understand how difficult/frustrating/disappointing that would be.
  • I sincerely apologize. We/I/The company would like to repair the damage (or resolve the situation).
  • I apologize for the inconvenience/the problem.
  • I’m terribly sorry. We will work to resolve the problem immediately.
  • I understand why you are upset/angry/frustrated. We are going to solve this as quickly as possible.
  • I’m really sorry. We’re going to take care of it right away.

Step 3: Take Action

Now it is time to take action, to do something about the problem!

Depending on the situation, you will need different expressions to help you take action. In some cases, you made to repair a product or provide a refund. Maybe you will need to provide a service or resolve a conflict.

Use these following expressions to help you create the best action plan for your situation:

  • Let me* talk with my manager to see what we can offer you to amend the situation. Would it be okay if I call you back in a few hours with a solution?
  • We will send a repair person immediately (or as soon as possible). Let me confirm your location.
  • I’d be happy to walk through all the steps you need to repair the issue. (Common for software problems or technical problems discussed over the phone)
  • We’ll issue a refund immediately to resolve the issue.
  • Let me check with the manufacturer (or the shippers or the programmers) to see what happened so we can fix this. I will get back to you as soon as I know what happened.
  • Let me review this situation so I can identify the best solution. I will get back to you within 24 hours.
  • Let me discuss this with my manager/supervisor/sale team and get back to you later today with a solution.

*Did you notice many of these statements start with “Let me…“? This is another way to say “Please allow me …” or “Would you allow me …” It is more informal and much more common to say, “Let me…

Step 4: Follow Up

How do you show the customer that you really do care or that he/she is truly valuable to your company? Follow-up after you resolve the problem to make sure the customer is satisfied. You can follow-up with a quick phone call or email message.

You can use these questions and statements below to check on your customer and make sure everything is ok:

  • I just wanted to follow-up with you regarding [the problem] – did the repairman fix the issue?
  • Did everything work out ok with [the solution to the problem]? I just want to make sure you are satisfied.
  • Was the problem resolved successfully? Is there anything else we can help you with?
  • Was everything satisfactory? Do you have any other concerns?
  • Please be sure to let us know how we can help you if any other issues occur.

After you’ve watched the video and reviewed the lesson, I’d love to hear from you!

Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments section below.

1. Have you ever had to respond to a complaint in English? If so, was it successful? Why or why not?

2. What strategies do you use to respond to complaints? Do you have any expressions or questions that you often use?

3. Remember that famous American quote, “The customer is always right?” Do you agree or disagree with that idea? Why?

Have a great week and thanks so much for joining me!

– Annemarie

P.S. If you liked this lesson, please share the Confident English love with your friends via Facebook or LinkedIn.

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