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!



Wow, I am a great business writer.

Wow it has been long time ago since I open this site, surprisingly there are so many improvement things. So cool. This is my first lesson after I my break time and it make me wanna study English more and more here :)

I'd want to know the difference between these phrases "in the sale" and "prior to the sales" which extracted from the above task. I thought it was referred to the period when the alarm o'clock was sold at special discount but the word "sales" in the second phrase is in plural form. I'm so confused with the way to use "sale/sales" correctly. We have got a lot of examples here "in the sale" "on sales" "prior to the sales" "sales assistant" " a sale product".

Thank you very much in deed.

Hello Sdolphin,

'The sales' refers to the period when the prices of things are reduced, such as the period after Christmas/around New Year. 'The sale' refers to price reduction in any particular shop. It is a more general term, in that it can be used at any time of the year. For example, a shop might have 'a sale' when they are closing down. 'The sales' is a wider phenomenon in which many shops participate at the same time. Of course, during 'the sales' one shop might have 'a sale'.

Best wishes,



The LearnEnglish Team

Dear Peter,

Thanks for your clear explanation. Just another question to make this word embedded into my mind. Why do we say 'sales assistant/manager' instead of 'sale assistant/manager'?

Best regards,

Hello Sdolphin,

The word 'sales' here is used as part of a job title and it's not related to the difference between 'a sale' and 'the sales'.

Best wishes,



The LearnEnglish Team 

Hi their!
It's very interesting case: Why "Yours sincerely" is before Name_Surname?
And is it correct to write:
Sincerely yours

Best regards,

Hi Veronika,

'Yours Sincerely', 'Sincerely Yours' and the simpler 'Sincerely' are all correct. In the UK we tend the use either the first or the last of these in formal correspondence. The second is more common in the US than in the UK, I believe.

Best wishes,



The LearnEnglish Team

Is this sentence normal: "You go directly to the shop assistant and tell them your problem"? Why is the pronoun "them" is used to refer to the singular "the shop assistant"?

Hello zagros,

We use 'they' when we do not know if it is a man or a woman. 'They' in this sense means the same as 'he or she'. A plural verb follows it, even though it refers to one person.

Best wishes,



The LearnEnglish Team