Top 20 Tips on how to complain effectively

 The Complaining Cow’s Top 20 Tips for How to Complain Effectively!

Follow these rules and you’ll never be palmed off again with excuses, fob offs contravention of Laws and no refunds again. Feel empowered and get complaining. Don’t forget to come back and tell us how you got on through a tweet or Blog comment. I like to hear about other people’s successes too!

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For more help, advice, tips, information and templates buy the How to Complain: The Essential Consumer Guide to Getting Refunds, Redress and Results!


First stage to complaining

1) Act quickly. Don’t waste weeks moaning, complain that day but remember to ensure you are calm if complaining in person or on the ‘phone!

2) Ensure your grievance is valid. Don’t waste your time sending pointless correspondence with little weight it won’t get you anywhere. They need to know that you are serious.

3) Always try and obtain the name(s) of anyone you are complaining about, who gave you advice, wrote to you etc.

4) Write don’t phone. This gives you your evidence trail.

Helen on VBBC strapline Put it in writing

Use the telephone if you are comfortable doing this. Some people prefer this finding it easier. But I rarely do this and always refuse if a ‘phone call is offered. This is because I get heated (raise your voice and you’ve lost), there is no record for future use, no proof of what was said and you’ll forget something! Emails/letters provide time to reflect, ensure you don’t forget anything and provide you with a record of correspondence which cannot be denied.

If you do ‘phone ensure that you get the full name of the person with whom you are talking. Why you should write not ‘phone to complain effectively for more on this.

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Use a The Complaining Cow notebook to help with your notes and records! See the link to see the range. Phone covers too to keep you in the mood!


How to make an effective complaint

5) Always try to sort things out through Customer Services/the Manager first. If you are still not happy, then go to the CEO. You’ll find the details of CEOs  at See How to contact CEOs for more. You have more reason to go to the top if you have a complaint which has already been poorly dealt with than if you go straight there.

6) Always be polite. Remember that the people you are dealing with are not the people who have annoyed you and they are more likely to respond positively if you are polite. I am tempted to be sarcastic in nearly every letter I send but rarely does the complaint warrant it. Only use it after careful consideration and if it adds some humour. Never swear! Be rude and they can understandably refuse to deal with you.

7) Be objective, don’t accuse and insult with phrases such as “…she was stupid,” use words and phrases like “…it appeared to me that…” Do however state facts.

8) Always point out what a good customer you are and how you have always found the company to be really good in the past etc. This shows that you are a frequent customer so they are less likely to risk losing you.

Write a complaint email that will get results


9) Describe events, bullet points are useful and make it very clear, especially when dates are involved. If the complaint is long, summarise the points (e.g. 10 phone calls, 2 visits, 2 letters, wrong information etc.)

10) Send copies where appropriate. For example, if a faulty washing machine has destroyed some clothes, send pictures of the clothes.

11) Use reference numbers where appropriate, make it easy for them to find your case.

12) Use good English! Poor grammar and spelling shows you in as poor a light as the company to which you are complaining. You also won’t be taken seriously and anything you have to say will be taken with a pinch of salt if you can’t get your own house in order! If English isn’t your strong point get someone to read through your email before you send it.

13) Be formal. Use “Yours sincerely” when you know the person’s name and “Yours faithfully” when Dear Sir or Madam. No “love” froms! (I’ve seen it!)

Use consumer law in your letter of complaint

Helen on Morning live strapline step 2 use consumer law

14) Exercise your legal rights and use the relevant Laws and legal jargon wherever possible to show that you know your legal rights which will always be taken seriously if used appropriately. Make sure you use the correct years and phrases, in particular the Consumer Rights Act 2015 for purchases and services after October 1st 2015and the many others you will find around the site. You can search for laws in the search box.


Tell the trader what it is you want when you complainHelen Dewdney on BBC strapline "tell them what you want (what you really really want)

15) Say what you want as recompense. Is it an apology, money back, something for inconvenience? Be reasonable but assertive.

Helen on Morning Live - strapline step 4 set a deadline

16) Set a deadline for when you expect to hear back and let them know what you will be doing if you don’t receive a satisfactory response.

Taking things further

Helen on Moring Live strapline step 5 what you will do next

17) Inform them that if you are not happy you will take the matter further using the relevant people and organisations e.g. Ombudsman, Trading Standards, Small Claims Court their own complaint procedure, the media, review sites  (The Complaining Cow’s Blog!) etc. Only threaten if you are sure that it will have the desired effect and you are prepared to spend the time and effort taking it further (Small Claims Court for example).

18) Keep copies of everything; you may need them if you have to take the matter further (Senior Management, Small Claims Court etc).

See How to take things further.

Further advice on complaining effectively

19) Social media can be a useful tool but needs to be used in the most effective way and it does have limitations. 5 ways how not to use Twitter to complain (and 5 ways how you should) and Is Social Media An Effective Method for Complaining?

20) Never apologise for complaining! If your complaint is valid then you are owed something and the company should thank you for bringing it to their attention so they can improve service for all customers.

The Complaining Cow resources for helping you complain effectively

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5 top tips for complaining effectively

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More tips, advice, template letters and all the details on consumer laws you need GET THE BOOK! How To Complain: The ESSENTIAL Consumer Guide to Getting REFUNDS, Redress and RESULTS! too!




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101 Habits of an Effective Complainer has been designed to improve the way you look at and make complaints. Each page gives you a complaining habit to consider and an example of how and why it empowers you to become more effective in getting the results you want.




and if you need more than just free tips see Services  and if you don’t want to wait to get complaining see:


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8 replies on “Top 20 Tips on how to complain effectively”

A very useful resource, thank you even if we hope this list will not be needed too often. Great to see more and more new initiatives in the field of customer service and how to improve it. This list can also be very useful for companies who face the exact mirror image.

Thank you very much! We should perhaps compare notes as to whether there are more complaints about bad service or praise for good service! 🙂

Retail is a fantastic place for the complaining public… example perhaps…?

My days should be boring really; the same job the same things to sell and the same problems to cope with.


No two hours are the same, different members of the buying public with differing wants needs and problems cross the threshold and make every day different!

The newest gem which is becoming a trend is the telephone callers whose conversations go thus…

Me.. Good morning and thank you for calling ######## my name is ###### how may I help?

Caller.. I am in Hertfordshire, what time will my furniture arrive.

Me… Pause, awaiting some sort of ( good morning, name , address, order number ) help !!!

Caller… Are you not listening to me ? I am sitting here waiting for my delivery!

Me… Sorry madam, but in order to help I need to look at your order, would you have your order number to hand….?

Caller… No… I have a lot to do today and I need to get to the post office for stamps for a birthday card !

Me… Could I perhaps ask you your name or post code?

Caller… ### ### but you should know that…. don’t tell me YOU have lost my furniture.

Me… Just one moment please… (Looking for a customer with that post code) … Sorry madam but that post code does not exist on our customer data base.

Caller… Listen to me young man (lol I like that ) the post code most certainly exists I have just moved here and am talking to you from it!

Me… Ahh.. you have moved home, could you then please give me your previous post code as that is perhaps the address you have on your order?

Caller… I haven’t got time for this, you are very incompetent, and you are not even able to find me on your system.. I bet you HAVE lost my furniture.

Me… Could I perhaps ask your name???

Caller… Emmm… didn’t I say that ?

Me… No madam!

Caller … Mrs Moris

Me… Thank you, one moment please…

Me… Sorry, but you still are not showing on our system?

Customer … That is the last time I will ever buy anything from Harveys again.

Me… Thank you for calling us today, and may I suggest that you give Harveys a call with the same question..

Ahhh… another happy member of the public!

Idiots. I shouldn’t have to say in my top 20 tips for complaining make sure you ‘phone the right place should I? Idiots.

This is why I do not work in customer services, I could not deal with the idiots. I couldn’t deal with the difficult people like me either!

Thanks for posting!

I’d just like to add something about point 19…
Most times when you call the first thing you hear is:
Calls may be recorded for training and security purposes.
This is not only them telling you they might be recording you, it is them explicitly giving you permission to record them.
Most modern smart phones will let you record the call. And let you play the recording during a future call. Its worth figuring out how to do it. You’ll be amazed at the impact it will have.
Of course the calls you want to record are the ones where they make the promises they break that you are now complaining about.

Much as I love this idea it is not strictly accurate and you could come unstuck. Oftel provides this advice: basically saying get legal advice if you were to use the recording wth a third party. So, you can use if between the other caller and yourself but soon as a third party becomes involved it is not so clear cut. So if you wanted to go to Trading Standards or Small Claims Court etc it would be difficult. Certainly worth doing and if you need to use then gain legal advice. It’s complicated if even Oftel say get legal advice! Typically though as you say it’s not the call you are making that you want to record. One of the main reasons I always says put it in writing.
Thanks for your comments!