How to make an effective complaint

8th Jun 2015


I don't know if I should complain or not

It is good to complain. If you have bought a bad product, had terrible service, had a bad experience, been cheated or ripped off, or even if you just want things to get better you are unlikely to get retribution, recompense, compensation, or satisfaction unless you complain.

The British complaint culture has grown nicely from a somewhat reserved start. We shouldn't be afraid to complain and companies should be prepared to listen – the best ones do and their products and services are usually better as a result. Sadly it seems there's still a long way to go before consumers are taken seriously in Britain. Richard Brennan, ex-managing director of TMI

I don’t know how to complain

There are 4 main ways to complain:

The telephone remains the most popular method, but online is increasing rapidly. In person is decreasing, possibly because some organisations are making this more difficult.

Which system you prefer depends upon your own personality and what you are comfortable with, the type and seriousness of the complaint, and the time you have available. It also can depend upon the complaint routes made available to you by the organisation.

How to make a good complaint


Firstly read the advice we give to organisations. This will help you determine quickly whether the organisation with whom you are dealing has the right, or wrong attitude to complaints.

Don’t lose your temper

The person you are talking or writing to is rarely the person who caused the need to complain, and a courteous factual initial approach is recommended.

A good organisation will welcome your complaint and want to resolve it if they can.

Be clear what you want

Is an apology enough, or do you want goods replaced, money back, actions taken etc? Be very clear about this beforehand and let them know as soon as possible what you are looking for.

There may occasionally be times when the situation might call for compensation, but hopefully these will be rare, and only in serious cases. The Institute does not support the development of a “compensation culture” in the UK, and this could be a major deterrent for some organisations to develop a caring and listening complaints culture.

It is also not appropriate for you to demand the punishment or sacking of an employee, however serious the complaint. This must be determined by the organisation itself.

Give them a chance

Good organisations care passionately about their customers, and more and more of them are realising that if they handle complaints well then many of their customers will remain loyal.

Go to the top

But only after you have tried and exhausted the proper channels: customer service lines, in the shop, local manager etc.

Access to senior management in most good organisations is a lot easier than it used to be. Get their names, job titles, telephone numbers, email addresses etc from their website, or call the switchboard.

Choose the right medium

Some channels are more appropriate than others in certain circumstances. For example, taking faulty goods back in person would seem to make sense, as would asking for instant attention in a store if one received rude or incompetent service.

However, perhaps it is more likely to get a result if one writes to the doctor if the receptionist is rude or inefficient. Email is a fast and efficient way to complain, but many organisations are still not geared up to processing emails with the right priority – much to their own detriment.

Don't be fobbed off

It may help to know why a mistake has been made and you can judge from this as to whether you want to take it further. However, in the end it is not your fault that “the computer is down” “shipping are always doing that”. The organisation should have a process to minimise the effects of things like this so that they do not affect their customers.

Share this