Customer Service: How To Complain More Effectively

Over the years we have learned to accept that no longer will a customer's problem be resolved quickly. With the invention of IVR (automated phone systems), companies have found a way to make customers "go away" when they have an issue. Very few have the patience to go through an entire complaint process.

Companies have gotten clever and begin their IVR dialogue with "Please listen carefully as our menus have changed." After several frustrating, time-consuming attempts we have all tried to "one up" the system so we cleverly choose "Press 1 for sales" figuring a real, live person would probably answer more quickly if they felt we wanted to buy something.

Once answered, it is most common to be talking to someone overseas. Now, not only is there often a language barrier, there's also an automated system giving the operator automated responses. However, those customer service employees are empowered to say only one word. NO.

Not enough firms use humans to answer the phone in 1 or 2 rings. They love technology. If they took the time to ask their customers about it, however, they would find out the vast majority of customers hate IVR. So, the question is obvious: Are they trying to create a great customer experience, or are they trying to be the tops in technology?

Very few firms seem interested in keeping customers and creating a great customer experience. Companies that are committed to service recovery know they can win customers for life by solving their problems. They go beyond the call of duty to make sure their customers are happy with their products and service. But what happens when the company doesn't solve the problem? What is the next step? We all have tried to contact customer service, supervisors, and managers. And just like most everyone in the same situation... we end up nowhere.

Too few of us complain, so most organizations believe they provide awesome service. You need to start by writing a letter to the company. Let them know that your situation was not handled properly and that you are dissatisfied. Here are a few steps to help you write the appropriate letter.

  1. The letter should include your name, address, home and work phone numbers, date and time of complaint, names of individuals you spoke with, a specific statement of your complaint, the history of what occurred, and copies of all related documents, if any.
  2. The letter should be typed, and to be effective should begin with a compliment.
  3. Identify the service you're complaining about. If the bad service includes a purchase, identify the product with serial, model, and service numbers. State where the transaction took place and include a copy of the receipts.
  4. Describe precisely why are you are dissatisfied.
  5. Explain what you would like the company to do.
  6. Close with a pleasant request for assistance.

In addition to the above, a good letter consists of five simple elements, whether you are just "calling your attention to" or saying "I think someone ought to be aware of..." They are:

  1. A clear statement of the problem. "You mistakenly overcharged me for X."
  2. Facts that back up your story.
  3. A request for redress: correction of a bill, refund, or repairs. Or, if you're merely upset over service, request an apology.
  4. A deadline for resolution of your problem.
  5. A warning of further action if things don't go your way.

You deserve to be treated respectfully and have a great customer experience. We all do. Keep in mind that you are doing a business, government, or nonprofit organization a favor when you complain. You are helping them provide better customer service to everyone. You are helping them turn a bad situation into a good one.

John Tschohl is founder and president of the Service Quality Institute in Minneapolis. Described by USA Today, Time, and Entrepreneur as a customer service guru, he has written several books and has developed more than 26 customer-service training programs distributed worldwide. His strategic newsletter is available online. Contact him at or 952-884-3311.

Published: March 11th, 2014

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