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Tips for Complaining Effectively

Updated on October 17, 2017
Nancy Owens profile image

Nancy has over 20 years experience in the administrative support industry. She is an entrepreneur, writer, mother, friend, and DIY'er.

Basic Communication Model

Communication skills are a key element in complaining.
Communication skills are a key element in complaining. | Source

What Do You Do?

How Do You Handle Complaints?

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Complain Professionally as a Small Business Owner

Complain with confidence and compassion for the other person.
Complain with confidence and compassion for the other person. | Source

Complaints Are a Part of Daily Business Operations

Handling complaints is an important part of day-to-day operations in any business. However, this is especially important to the small business or home based business owner. Larger corporations can absorb the impact of complaints more easily than the small businesses.

Many small business owners prepare themselves to deal with customer complaints, but forget to prepare themselves for those times when they need to complain. Often, the need to complain arises in a situation that is of critical importance and the situation needs to be resolved quickly. Sometimes a simple human error on the part of a vendor or supplier can cause a sudden uproar of confusion and backlog. Small business owners are often overworked and have minimal staff to delegate chores of fixing problems or investigating errors.

Two Common Approaches to Making a Complaint

The Direct Approach

The direct approach is a method commonly taught in business communications classes. It is used most often when the person making the complaint is reasonably certain that the other party will be willing and open to making the requested change. One example of a time when the direct approach is particularly useful is in situations where there is a clear billing error. It begins by stating the action you would like the other party to take.

“Please remove Item X from your invoice number 1234 to ABC Company as this item was not on the original order (number 425A6).”

In the above example, an error was made in that an item was included on a bill that the customer did not order. Most companies are willing to quickly correct this error if you can show them the original order did not include that item.

The Indirect Approach

This method of complaining is typically used when the situation is more delicate. For purposes of illustration, imagine that as a small business owner, you contract for the services of another small business owner in your local area. Up to this point, you have had a great working relationship. Lately, however, you have noticed that the quality of service provided by this company is slipping. This is affecting your business operations, and you want to remedy the situation without offending the other party. This would be a good time to use the indirect approach to complaining by first providing some background to the situation before stating the complaint and what outcome you want.

“Currently we are in Phase 3 of developing the GizmoWidget for WhizBang Company. This project must be completed by April 30. In order to complete this project on time, we must install Part Number 3x into every GizmoWidget.

In the past, we have found your Part 3x to be very high in quality, and your delivery was always timely. We have noticed that our last two shipments of Part 3x did not arrive on time, and when they did arrive many of the individual parts were defective.

To date, we have on hand 300 defective parts, which we are returning. Please send non-defective replacement parts within one week’s time.

Thank you for giving this matter the attention it deserves.”

Communication Plays a Key Role

Sometimes you just have to lodge a complaint.
Sometimes you just have to lodge a complaint. | Source

More Tips for Effective Complaints

In Person

Remember to keep your body language “open”. Try not to cross your arms, tap your foot, or place your hand on your hip. It can be difficult, but try to smile and use eye contact in a friendly manner. Take a few deep breaths before approaching the person.

Sometimes being in the position of having to lodge a complaint evokes strong emotions. Try to remember why you are there, which is to solve a problem. Begin by trying to determine just who it is that you need to speak with. The receptionist, or other lower level worker can often refer you to the best person to handle your complaint.

When you are speaking, remember to keep your voice well modulated.

Over the Phone

Be aware of your voice quality. Try not to breathe rapidly, or sigh into the phone. Take a moment or two prior to calling, to make notes about what you want to say. Avoid speaking too loudly. This happens a lot over the phone, when a person is feeling they aren’t being heard or understood.

Again, as with an in-person contact, find out who you need to speak with.

When you are connected with this person, state your case calmly and succinctly. Having all of your information together prior to making the call is best. That way you come across as being organized and informed. Know what you want to accomplish with this call, and be aware of things like return policy, etc.

In E-Mails

When lodging a complaint as a professional in your industry and as the owner of your small business, treat the e-mail you are writing as if it were a letter. Include a salutation, body, and closing. Using one of the above approaches, be sure to include all information necessary for the person on the other end to route the request, or solve the problem.

© 2012 Nancy Owens


Submit a Comment
  • Nancy Owens profile imageAUTHOR

    Nancy Owens 

    8 years ago from USA

    Thank you Windclimber! That makes a lot of sense. When we sit for long periods bloodflow is constricted. Standing probably also helps us to breathe easier and take in more oxygen.

    Thank you for the kind words.

  • Windclimber profile image


    8 years ago from my boat somewhere on the Chesapeake Bay

    Good job, Nancy! I voted this hub as useful because you include a lot of information and food for thought AND you link to even more info.

    You mention being aware of your voice quality when speaking over the phone; here's another phone tip: stand up! You know that old saying, "thinking on your feet"? The truth behind it, the science of it, is that you have better blood flow to your brain when you're standing.

  • Nancy Owens profile imageAUTHOR

    Nancy Owens 

    8 years ago from USA

    Hi WHJ. You are so right! As a small business, and especially home-based business owner, a person is a walking, talking advertisment for their company 24-7. A person may be great at handling the incoming complaints and customer service issues but when the table is turned and they need to be the one doing the complaining it is an entirely different ball game!

  • WHJ profile image


    8 years ago from Saudi Arabia

    "Many small business owners prepare themselves to deal with customer complaints, but forget to prepare themselves for those times when they need to complain".

    You are right .. and this is one of the key success factor in business growth and marketing. You have to think how to satisfy yourself before satisfying your customers.

    Very good & useful topic.

  • Nancy Owens profile imageAUTHOR

    Nancy Owens 

    8 years ago from USA

    Thank you so much for that thoughtful comment, JEOrtega. You are spot-on with that technique! It sounds like you really know your job. I, too, spent many years in customer service. Handling complaints is a part of doing business. Fortunately, most complaints can be taken care of to the customer's statisfaction. I love that you called it your "ledge voice." :) Letting them know you care is key.

  • JEOrtega profile image


    8 years ago from Southern California

    Hi Nancy,

    This was very informative. I work in the customer service field and I work with many customers who have complaints. I use what I call my 'ledge' voice as if I am talking someone down from a high ledge. It seems to work very well. As long as the person you're talking to understands that you care about their situation, all should turn out fine.


  • Nancy Owens profile imageAUTHOR

    Nancy Owens 

    8 years ago from USA

    Spoken like a true veteran, Don. Thanks for taking the time to read.

  • Don Simkovich profile image

    Don Simkovich 

    8 years ago from Pasadena, CA

    Small business owners need to realize that handling complaints is a big part of their job. Businesses exist to meet a need or solve a problem for a customer and sometimes those needs aren't easy to meet and problems aren't easy to solve.


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