How to Complain Effectively

by Mike Gonyea

When it comes to effective complaining, it's helpful to know exactly what you hope to gain from it before you do it. First, ask yourself what you want the person to do with the information you're conveying. Then, restrict your complaints to issues for which a clear solution exists, be specific and concise with your reasoning, and to the extent possible, keep your emotions in check.

Personal Complaints

Nearly everyone has come across a situation where they felt the need to issue a complaint. You could have been unhappy with a friend, relative, employer or educational or governmental institution. Complaining about employment and school policies and behaviors can be tricky because the receiver of the complaint could potentially cause you harm. A good rule of thumb for these kinds of complaints is to offer very specific ideas on how troublesome issues can be resolved. For serious complaints, it is usually better to deal with an intermediary, such as a human resources manager or an institutional ombudsman, than it is to directly confront a superior. Head off serious issues before they get out of hand. But again, restrict personal complaints to things for which there are tangible solutions.

Consumer Complaints

Consumer complaints are the least personal but often the most easily ignored. However, in the digital age, social media provide forums for dissatisfied consumers with unresolved complaints to openly air their grievances in public. Chances are pretty good that you'll come across someone who's had a similar problem. This allows you to inquire as to how they were able to resolve it. Nearly all large companies monitor the Internet to head off potential problems.

"Bottom Up" Vs. "Top Down" Complaints

It is not procedural to take your complaint directly to the top. Most organizations, whether public or private, respect the pecking order. A complaint that lands on the desk of a busy executive will quickly be bounced back to a subordinate. That subordinate will almost surely be angry and less likely to listen with a sympathetic ear to your complaint than if you'd pursued the process from the bottom up. A patient, step-by-step approach will be more likely to yield the result you are seeking.

Help With Complaints

If, after calmly and patiently making your consumer complaint through proper channels to no avail, the final step is to file an official complaint with the Better Business Bureau. If it's legitimate, BBB will send your complaint to the company in question. For the company to maintain its BBB accreditation, it must respond. To insure the integrity of its trademark, the BBB aggressively investigates and tracks consumer complaints about businesses that violate these standards. If you still come up short, contact your state Attorney General or the Federal Trade Commission Bureau of Consumer Protection -- either of which can conduct investigations in response to your complaint and even sue companies that break the law.

About the Author

Mike Gonyea served as an account manager and strategic planner at a Detroit advertising agency for 20 years. He has covered automotive finance, state and local government and interfaith issues for publications and websites including “The Detroit News,” American Thinker and A Common Word.

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