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How to Complain in Person and Get Results

Beth is interested in ways to earn money and how to get best value when spending it.

Are you upset and need to make a complaint?

Are you upset and need to make a complaint?

How to Make a Strong Complaint

  1. Don’t Go in All Guns Blazing
  2. Know Your Rights and Stand Your Ground
  3. Be Clear About the Result You Want
  4. Have Empathy for Front Line Staff and Remember to Smile
  5. Be Willing to Negotiate
  6. Choose a Convenient Time

How Good Are You at Complaining?

How many times have you been upset by a bad meal experience? Or feel you missed an in-store offer because the item was sold out? Did you do anything about it? Or did you just file it along with life’s other disappointments?

Here are some tips on the right way to complain effectively. Follow them, and you’ll be surprised how easy it is to get redress. However, before you start, make sure you have a genuine complaint. You'll get nowhere fast if you try it on to get something you’re not entitled to.

Use the 3 C’s to Get the Result You Want

  • Keep Calm
  • Be Confident
  • Remain Courteous

1. Don’t Go in All Guns Blazing

If you lose your temper when making a complaint, you no longer have the moral high ground. Keep your cool and state your case calmly and rationally. Know the facts and be able to prove them.

For example, if you have seen the item priced cheaper at another store, be prepared to name the precise store so that the manager can call them to check your claim. If you’re making a complaint about excessive wear and tear of an item, be sure to bring your original receipt so the store knows exactly how long you’ve had the goods.

2. Know Your Rights and Stand Your Ground

Many countries have laws to protect consumers. Some stores stick strictly to the letter of the law when giving refunds. Others will go that bit further to retain customer loyalty. If you're unsure of your rights check your government’s information website.

In the US, the Better Business Bureau will guide you through your statutory rights; consumer legislation varies from state to state. In the UK, consumers are protected by the Consumer Rights Act 2015.

Knowing the law is on your side will give you confidence to press your case. Nonetheless, your aim should be to settle your complaint amicably. But, as a backup position, if reasoned argument fails, you’ll be able to ask the courts for a resolution.

3. Be Clear About the Result You Want

If you have a genuine reason for complaining, be clear about the outcome you are looking for. Are you asking for an apology only, or do you want the goods or service replaced? Do you expect a full refund or just a partial one? Are you asking for financial compensation for the emotional upset or recompense for wages lost as a result of the issue? Everyone is different, and each person will want a different result.

Don’t be greedy; aim for a conclusion that is right and reasonable in the circumstances. Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In is a helpful guide to effective complaining. The down-to-earth advice it gives will help you reach an amicable end to your complaint. By following the tips it gives, you should be able to convince companies that you’re right, get replacement items for defective goods, and gain financial compensation for bad service.

Feel great when your complaint succeeds.

Feel great when your complaint succeeds.

4. Have Empathy for Front Line Staff and Remember to Smile

Often it is a minimum wage employee who bears the brunt of customer grievances. I’ve regularly seen shoppers make a loud and aggressive complaint to frontline staff. This doesn’t help their cause. Junior members of staff may have little or no authority to resolve the problem.

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You should try and gain the store assistant’s sympathy and understanding of your issue. They may want to help you but may have been instructed by their manager to deflect certain types of complaint rather than offer a solution. However, if you can get them onside, you can learn nuggets of information that will help you progress your case. (See my real-life experience below).

And remember to smile! It can be an icebreaker and help win over aggressive, rude, or disinterested staff.

5. Be Willing to Negotiate

Sometimes what you want is too one-sided, so be prepared to listen to alternatives. A negotiated settlement is usually better than rigidly sticking to your original demands and heading for expensive litigation. It can be better to reach a compromise than to wait for an ideal outcome that may never happen.

6. Choose a Convenient Time

A complaint should be made as soon as possible, but this isn’t always practical. You may only discover that something doesn’t work when you get home and try to use it. Or you may be emotionally upset at the time of the actual event and only seek redress sometime later. If possible, try to use a quiet period of service to make your complaint. If the manager and staff are not under pressure when you raise the issue, they are more likely to be sympathetic.

How to Complain Effectively in Person

  1. State the problem
  2. Express your feelings
  3. Ask for action
I complained about a missing half price pizza offer.

I complained about a missing half price pizza offer.

A True Story of How I Complained and Got What I Wanted

Sometimes a complaint doesn’t fall within strict legal liability. However, a store may give you the benefit of the doubt if you have a strong moral case. An example of this happened to me last week. I received an email with a special offer as part of my favorite store’s loyalty scheme. The offer was on for 7 days, starting on Wednesday and finishing the following Tuesday. The offer was “buy a pizza and get a pack of ice cream free.” The value of the pizza and the ice cream was the same, so in effect it was buy-one-get-one-free (a half-price offer).

From past experience, I knew these offers sold out fast, but I couldn’t get to the store until Saturday (the 4th day of the offer). So I deliberately arrived at the store as it opened. I figured their shelves would be well stocked at that time of day.

I put a pizza in my trolley and then went to get the ice cream but there were none on display. One of the shop assistants told me “Oh we haven’t had those for days, everyone’s complaining, but the order didn’t go in on time.” I asked if I could have an alternative and when being told I couldn’t, I gently asked if I could speak to the store manager. “There’s no point” I was told, “he won’t give you anything else instead. Other people have asked but he’s refused them all.”

I could have just accepted what I was told at this point, but I felt I had a strong moral case. I had been sent the offer as part of the store’s loyalty scheme and I was a regular customer there. So I politely stood my ground and said I would wait until he was available as I would like to discuss the matter with him.

The manager said the offer was “subject to availability”

The manager came out of his office in an aggressive mood ready for a fight. Before I had even opened my mouth he stated the store was under no obligation to have every item in stock. He said the offer was “subject to availability” and it wasn’t available. Instead of responding to this in a similarly aggressive manner, I smiled at him and said how disappointed I was that I was unable to buy the advertised offer. I told him I was a regular customer because I liked the store and its helpful staff. He calmed down because he was being complimented on his staff and it was something that he couldn't disagree with.

I then went on to tell him why I was so disappointed. The offer had been sent to me as a reward for being a loyal customer, but it was hardly a reward if it was not available. I pointed out the offer still had 3 days to run, but staff had told me that stock of ice creams had run out 3 days ago and no more were on order. I felt that this was unreasonable and not in the spirit of a 7-day offer. I said that substitution of an item of similar value would satisfy me. At this point, the manager realized that allowing me an item of similar value to replace the missing ice cream would keep me as a loyal customer and would save him from having to listen to any more of my reasoned argument.

Why Did I Win My Complaint When Others Had Failed?

I stayed calm. I was confident of my case, and I was polite and friendly throughout the discussion. I clearly stated what the problem was; the advertised offer was not available. (And I had learned from staff that insufficient ice cream had been ordered to meet anticipated demand.) I offered a reasonable solution; I would accept a substitution of similar value.

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

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