How to Effectively Complain to the Manager


One of the basic tenets of business is that it’s cheaper to retain an existing customer than to acquire a new one. Many companies view customer complaints as a way to gauge what works and what changes they need to make to keep customers happy. Good managers take this to heart and strive to provide the most favorable solution to a customer’s problem. However, an ineffective complaint can actually hurt your chances of getting the issue resolved. How you approach the situation can make all the difference, so using the right methods can greatly increase your chance of satisfaction. (See also: How to Get What You Want on Customer Service Calls)

Remain Polite and Calm

Although you are likely annoyed or even angry about the situation, it’s very important to keep your emotions in check when you speak to the manager. People often lose their ability to empathize when they feel like they’re being verbally attacked, and the manager can easily go into a less-than-helpful, defensive state if you come off as overly upset or aggressive.

Don’t Point Fingers

People react better and are more willing to help you if they do not think you are blaming them directly for the problem. If a service rep, salesperson, or restaurant server is the problem, using a phrase such as “I’m sure the person in question does not represent your policies” tells the manager that you’re not attacking him or the company as a whole. This also keeps management from becoming defensive and less willing to resolve the matter in your favor.

Blunt Your Criticism

No one wants to hear everything they do is wrong, and this is especially true for mangers who are trying to solve a customer’s problem. Stating what you enjoyed about the meal, product, or service and then offering your criticism softens the blow and tells the manager that he may be able to keep you as a customer. Use the company’s desire to retain you as a customer as leverage. Say how often you visit or use the service and tell the manager that you would like to return. Failing to point out the good points about the establishment or service will make the manager think you won’t be returning anyway, and it may make him less inclined to honor your request.

Propose a Solution

The most effective complaints offer a specific solution. Telling the manager exactly how you want the issue to be resolved gives him a direct course of action and increases the likelihood of a positive result. It also takes away the need for the manager to guess at what you want, which can quickly turn into dickering for “fair” compensation instead of fully resolving the issue. If you desire a refund of a purchase or payment for a service, read your service contract or check the store policies online or on the back of the receipt to determine the refund policy and ensure that you are not out of the refund or return time frame. If you are, you may only be able receive store credit or an exchange, no matter how well you craft your complaint.

Be Reasonable

While your request should make you feel adequately compensated, demanding a free meal because your drink order was wrong will make you seem unreasonable and can make the manager less willing to help you. If a product or service you ordered was damaged or incorrect, give the manager adequate time to repair, replace, or redo it.

Staying polite and reasonable gives you the best chance of initiating an effective complaint. Not only will you be more likely to receive the outcome you desire, you’ll also be able to return to the store or restaurant or keep using the service with confidence.

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Guest's picture

This is a great article. There's an old saying that you catch more bees with honey than vinegar, and I have found this to be very true.

I love to give compliments when it's due, but occasionally I have had the need to complain, and I have always included what I DID like about my experience along with the complaint.

My last complaint was to a new store in my area, and had to do with my very frustrating shopping experience. I included what I liked about my experience along with my issue, and surprisingly I received a couple of telephone calls to get my input, and actually saw some of my suggestions put to use! I also unexpectedly received a gift card for triple my "loss" in the mail a week later with a handwritten thank you note!

When I spoke to the district manager on the phone, they told me that input from their customer's is very important, and that they feel something can't be corrected if they don't know about it. They also told me that they do not view complaints negatively, and that they wonder when they receive one, how many others have had the same problem and didn't say anything.

Kentin Waits's picture

In my experience, proposing a solution is the key ingredient. It helps to show that you're willing to work it out and not just complain for its own sake. Great article!

Guest's picture

Great suggestions. I can see a lot of people taking advantage of the idea that "a customer is always right". The important thing is resolving the issue as fast as possible and that can best be done by proper communication and cooperation.

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