Key Learning Outcomes

  • Recognise that if you have to make a complaint, the way that you do it will have an impact on the results you achieve.
  • Learn about the benefits of directing your complaint to the most senior person in an organisation, monitoring the timing of your complaint and using a positive and light approach.
  • Understand that people make mistakes, so hold off lodging your complaint until you have given them an opportunity to fix the problem.
  • Explain the importance of acknowledging the resolution of your complaint.


Sometimes as a small business you can feel like a small fish in a very big pond. When you don’t get the level of service that you think you deserve it can be frustrating, especially if you are operating your business with the philosophy of “customer first”.

There are a few key tips for complaining and getting results. There is some merit in the old saying “the squeaky wheel gets the oil”; however, it is important that you complain in the right way if you want to get results. We have all experienced customers who rant and rave or have heard a customer yelling at some poor person behind a counter. It can be embarrassing not just for the person who is on the receiving end but also for everyone who witnesses this bad behaviour. Generally, the person behind the counter is not responsible for the problem and cannot do anything about it.

Below are a few key points that you should consider if you need to complain. We have used this method successfully over the years to get a number of issues resolved quickly and successfully.[wlm_ismember]

Timing is everything

You need to ensure that the timing of your complaint is appropriate. For example, if someone has told you they will get back to you within 72 hours, there is no point complaining unless you have given them this time to respond. On the other hand, it is important not to wait for too long. If months have passed since the 72-hour deadline, this indicates the issue is not very important to you.

Be reasonable

Everyone makes mistakes. Our rule is that we give the benefit of the doubt at least twice. It may be that the first or second person you spoke to was having a bad day; let’s face it, we all do. If we don’t get a result after a couple of attempts to resolve the situation via the channels laid out by the organisation, then it is reasonable to take the matter further.

Go to the top

Our experience is that if you can reach the head of an organisation, you have the greatest chance of getting your matter heard and dealt with. These individuals are charged with, and are usually passionate about, the success of the organisation, and are usually grateful for the information you provide. You won’t necessarily hear directly from the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, but if they do read your email or letter there is a very good chance that they will ensure the matter is resolved. If possible, send the message to more than one appropriate senior person to increase the chances of being heard.

Be constructive

As we know the person who rants and raves does not tend to get a positive response. The key to a good complaint letter is to offer some constructive feedback. Tell them what happened and how it might be done better. Be clear on what you have done so far to resolve your issue and explain the organisation’s response. Remember that many large organisations record telephone conversations, so there is no point in exaggerating and saying you phoned 10 times if you only phoned 3 times, or that you waited for one hour if it was only five minutes. Stick to the facts and try to take the emotion out of it.

Use some humour

A well-written complaint letter that gives the reader a smile will get a better response than one that is filled with expletives. With any important piece of communication, we find it is best to leave it for a while before pressing the send button. Re-read and make amendments or, better still, get someone else to read it to make sure your meaning is clear. If you are writing to the CEO, you will probably not get a second chance so make it count.

Don’t ask for more than you deserve

It is important to focus on resolving your original issue. When people start to add to their demands, for example they seek compensation for their time or for the “stress”, their complaint will be viewed differently. Stick to what you originally asked for – no more and no less. If your request was valid in the first instance, then it is valid now.

Be polite

If you do get a response about your complaint, then it is likely the company is trying to resolve your issue. We saw an interaction between a large retailer and a customer recently. The customer posted a complaint on their Facebook page. The retailer responded almost immediately offering a solution. The customer continued to post rude comments, which did not help to resolve the situation. No matter what has happened to date, if your complaint has resulted in someone calling to tell you they want to help you and resolve your issue, give them the benefit of the doubt and work with them towards a positive solution.

Give credit where it is due

We believe in giving credit where it is due. Following up if the matter is resolved in a positive way is just as important as letting a company know when they have let you down as a client. Again, stick to the facts and let the CEO know whom you dealt with and how they were able to help you.

We hope this guide will assist you if ever you are in a position where you need to make a complaint in the future. Remember, large organisations are not much different to small businesses in that receiving constructive complaints allows them to improve their business for the future.[/wlm_ismember]

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