By Mike DuBose

We recently discussed inferior products and services inflamed by poor customer service. Now, we outline successful complaining techniques.

Park emotions: After experiencing frustrating, dreadful avenues to resolve problems, it’s often difficult to calm down. Before launching full-scale, feel-good attacks towards people or organizations, carefully develop complaint strategies. Pause and consider if complaints are really worth your time. Harvard Business School reports that 96% of dissatisfied buyers never complain because they think it won’t matter. However, those unhappy individuals will make it their mission to tell 13 others about painful mishaps. Filing well-designed complaints is healthy for people to vent disappointments—and businesses, hopefully, to learn from their mistakes.

Define outcomes: Companies struggle to determine what complaining consumers are seeking—what do you want in compensation for your misery? Create specific, reasonable, and negotiable options that will address your upsetting experiences. However, expect nothing! Customer service reps are trained to save the company money. If you’re seeking apologies, forget it—the “walking dead reps” will say emotionless, “I’m sorry.”

Document dissatisfactions: Determine exactly what happened in chronological order. Assemble information that confirms your findings. In major situations, create folders to organize your efforts. Document dates/times and names of individuals contacted, conversations, e-mails, website chats, texts, and letters. It’s critical to build irrefutable proof for your defense. Your interactions may be with third-party contractors or poorly-trained staff who don’t record communications. Be prepared—hard-nosed customer reps may not provide satisfaction. Don’t give up—play complaint journeys like games to prevail!

Examine company websites’ communication channels: Prepare for frustrating struggles to find the right people or departments to contact. Many businesses lure you through infuriating artificial intelligence rabbit trails and hide human resources. Search Google: “Best ways of complaining to (company’s name),” “Customer service contacts for XXX,” and “Consumer reviews of XXX.”

Word complaints carefully: Write with concise, understandable 12th-grade grammar employing the fewest words. My Italian professor encouraged us, “Cut to the chase! No bullshooto!” Microsoft Word software contains a very helpful Editor that proofs documents. Ask unbiased, proficient writers to examine your work. The goal is for opposing staff reviewing information to be impressed with your professionalism, writing skills, and circumstances while feeling empathy. Although you may sense rage and anger at times, address issues without emotionally charged aggression and patiently display the facts. Place yourself in the representative’s shoes and remember they’re humans—they didn’t cause your problem, although they may add to it.

Envision your requests like awkward dances between two individuals who don’t know nor like each other. Begin with good expressions about vendors. If you’re a loyal associate of organizations, define allegiance (Delta Airline’s Diamond Member). The goal is to convince reps you’re a valuable consumer who needs their serious attention and some benefits for their company’s missteps. Afterward, introduce your concerns. If there are multiple issues, divide them and define how vendors could have handled problems better.

Time complaints: Determine where corporate headquarters are located—schedule your communications around their time zone. You don’t want to contact business reps expecting helpful compassion at 6 AM in California while you’re sipping coffee at 9 AM on the East Coast! The best times to engage competent staff, hopefully in better moods in Eastern US, are 10-11 AM or 2-3 PM Tuesday-Thursday. Avoid complaining on Mondays (when unhappy representatives are growling), or Fridays and weekends when less experienced and foreign staff are on-call. Be prepared for long wait times with aggravating messages and suffering while maneuvering complex roadblocks. Calling by phone without paper trails is less preferred, except for addressing minor problems or you are a highly-ranked-client, If your concerns “fall on deaf ears,” it’s important to end communications pleasantly and decline post-interview surveys to avoid staff creating “negative incident reports” that will follow and damage your efforts. Continue calling on different days/times until you find solutions. If connected to unresponsive third parties, ask for supervisors or with overseas agents, seek US-based representatives. Remember your behavior with initial reps may be recorded or managers will be briefed before speaking with you, so stay pleasant! “Being nice” is a powerful negotiating tool! Use first/last names to personalize conversations—begin with friendly tones: “Hi Sarah, this is Mike. I need your help.” Then, take notes!

Consider online web chats or e-mails that provide evidence: Program e-mails for “delivery receipts.” When ending communications, ask reps to document conversations, especially if favorable, in your file. Request reference/claim numbers for future inquiries and include your contact information.

Going up leadership ladders: If you’ve experienced major situations or failed lower-level resolutions, write decision-makers. Search Google: “Names and contact information for (company’s name) corporate officers.” I usually send detailed letters to customer-service VPs or CEOs via two-day-USPS envelope with delivery-verification tracking numbers and priority-appearance-packaging.

Addressing serious complaints: If you cannot settle differences, you can transmit your concerns online (60% never hear back) but don’t attack. Other options are: (1)-Better Business Bureau which requires a simple complainant form that will likely generate transgressors’ responses; (2)-Small Claims Magistrate’s Court ($7,500 maximum reimbursement) where presentations don’t require attorneys. Complaints are filed in the defendant’s residency or geographical area where incidents occurred; (3)-Attorney General wherein corporate headquarters are located; or (4) a formal lawsuit (which is stressful, expensive, and time-consuming). Registered letters from lawyers alert offenders that bad trouble is brewing, you’re serious, and for them to negotiate!

The Bottom Line: Present yourself as friendly, reasonable, and professional. Complain correctly with facts, and your chances of success are favorable—no promises since you’re rolling the dice for receptive ears. Remember, complaints can become irritating struggles—pray for God’s guidance and patience—you’ll need it! As Kenny Rogers sang about poker and life: “Know when to hold’em…know when to fold’em!”

For single versions of all our three complaint articles, visit where you can also register to receive his monthly articles and Daily Thoughts.

Write to Mike at [email protected]. Visit his nonprofit website for free access to his books, including “The Art of Building Great Businesses.” The website contains 100+ published articles he has written on business, travel, and personal topics, in addition to health research with Surb Guram, MD.


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