Learn about different ways of complaining plus useful tips on how to complain effectively!

Business Magazine - Complaining


Do the Preparation task first. Then read the Text. Next go to each Task and do the activity.

The different ways of complaining are:

  • Face to face
  • By phone
  • By email
  • By letter

Let’s first take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of each before concluding which is the most effective.

Picture this scenario: you have bought a faulty item from a shop and you take it back to complain. You go directly to the shop assistant and tell them your problem. They say they cannot help you, which makes you angrier, to the point perhaps where you start insulting the poor shop assistant. RESULT: This will do you no favours, like getting any compensation, or even a refund. If you go directly to the first person you see within the organisation you are complaining about, you may be wasting your time as they may be powerless to take any action or provide you with a solution. So the important lesson to be learnt is to make sure firstly that you are speaking to the relevant person, the one who has the authority to make decisions.

Perhaps you don’t have time to actually go and see the relevant authority in person so you decide to make a phone call. The problem with complaining by phone is that you may be passed around from department to department, making you more and more angry until you finally give up. Either that or the phone is hung up on you, which leaves you fuming even more. Furthermore, any contact can be denied.

The same applies to emails too, which can additionally be deleted, or even manipulated.

This leaves us with the traditional letter. When we first make a complaint the usual response is a request to write a letter:  “Can you put that down in writing please?”

The advantages of writing a letter of complaint are that:

  • Written records are still very important, e.g. in legal matters as opposed to a fax or email.
  • You have complete control over what is being said, and you can present evidence.
  • You can be prepared, and plan your letter carefully.
  • You are able to keep copies of anything sent in writing.
  • You have time to reflect and/or consult as opposed to complaining on the spot.

So here are some useful points to consider when writing your letter:

  • State what went wrong exactly. You need to provide concrete evidence, with documentation, for example a receipt, where possible. Make sure you keep copies of all correspondence, including relevant documentation. You also need to state where, when, who was involved, what was said or done. Photographic or video evidence boosts your case.
  • What do you expect from your complaint?  If you are complaining about a situation at work, focus on taking action to improve situations rather than spending your time complaining.
  • State a time limit for when you expect a reply.
  • Be assertive, and stay calm.
  • Make sure you address the complaint to the relevant person.

This will be more likely to ensure that you will achieve a satisfactory outcome from your complaint. Good luck!




"When I switched the radio on, it would not work"
Why we use "would not" instead of "did not"? What's the difference between them?
Can I use "did not" instead?

Thanks from Alex

Hello Alex Fung,

The verbs 'will' and 'would' can be used to say that somebody or something is ('will') or was ('would') willing to do, and that is the way 'would' is used in this context.

This meaning often strikes English learners as a bit strange, as normally we don't think of an inanimate object such as a radio as having a mind (or 'will') of its own, but these verbs are used this way not so much to express magical views of reality as frustration when a machine doesn't work. That is probably why the text says 'it wouldn't work' (which expresses frustration) instead of 'it didn't work' (which doesn't express any frustration) here.

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team

Patricia: I felt the same at my first attempt :) You just need to click on the box until it turns grey and then click to the box where you want to replace or put the answer.
Good luck :)
This task is so much fun for me, especially the preparation task. Thanks author.

I am learning very much with this exercises. Thanks! :)

Good day. Complainning is an usual situation that could not be with bad intentions, but we need to be ready to proceed in the proper way. When I have a complain, my routine include first of all talk with the sales assistant in the branch and if they don't help me I do an upscale of my complain.

Thank you for your effort teaching english.

"...You go directly to the shop assistant and tell them your problem. They say they cannot help you, which makes you angrier... "
In the above sentences, "assistant" is a singular noun; why the word "them" is used instead of him or her?

Hello ca.kulwinder,

When the gender of a person isn't clear, we often use 'they' or 'them' instead of 'he', 'she', 'him' or 'her' to show that we don't know whether the person is male or female. In this case, the shop assistant could be either a man or a woman, and using 'them' shows that we don't know which.

By the way, there is more practice of this on our personal pronouns page.

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team


I did the task quite easily. However, I don't understand the use of "would" in the phrase: "when I switched the radio on, it would not work". What about : "it did not work" ? Is it only a matter of politeness?

King regards.

Hello vapiano,

Yes, you could say 'it didn't work' and that would be correct. 'would' can be a past form of 'will', and 'will' can be used to communicate refusal. For example, let's say I asked Tom if I could borrow his car. If he doesn't want to (i.e. if he refuses), I could say 'he won't let me borrow it'. Sometimes 'will' (or 'would' for a past situation) is used for inanimate objects (such as a radio) when they do not work - and this is how it is used in this case.

It's great that you noticed this! By paying close attention to how words are used, you'll learn a lot.

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you the team so much. This web is so useful to me. It helps me to my writing so quickly.
Best regards.