Complaining in English

Complaining in English

Listen to BBC Podcast

Dan and Alice talk about complaining in English, and how British people may be getting better at it.

This week’s question:

According to the Wall Street Journal, what was the cause of most airline complaints in the US in 2010? Was it:

a) Delayed or cancelled flights

b) Rude staff

c) Lost luggage

Practice the vocabulary connected with complaining with your Skypeclass English Conversation Teacher.

Advice to help you complain

Make sure your complaint is valid

If early termination charges prevent you from defecting to a cheaper mobile service provider, tough. You should have read the small print and realised you are committed to a specific contract. If, however, you have received poor or non-existent service you are justified in requesting early release.

Work out what you want to achieve

Do you want a refund, replacement, compensation or simply an apology. If it is the first you have to act quickly or you will lose your entitlement. If you complain by telephone keep a note of whom you spoke to and when, and follow up the call with a letter reiterating your complaint and the telephone response. Do the same if your complaint is sent by a company’s own webmail so you have a record of it. Consumer Direct publishes template letters covering various categories of complaint.

Always address a letter to a specific person

It is best to start with the customer services manager. (If you aim too high – for example, the chief executive – you will suffer a delay while your letter is passed back down the ranks.) Find out the manager’s name and use their full title – Dr, Mr, Mrs, Ms etc.

Include your details

Remember to include your full name, address and any account, order or reference numbers, preferably near the top of the letter. If a company cannot easily find you on their systems they may leave you in limbo.

Do your homework

Mug up on consumer law and quote the relevant regulation so you can show you know your rights. If a faulty cooker breaches the Sale of Goods Act 1979 say so.

Keep copies

Photocopy all relevant documents – such as receipts, bank statements, order forms and advertisements – and attach them to back up your complaint. If you are seeking redress for a leaking boiler or a new but soiled sofa, include a photo of the damage.

Check your spelling

Poorly written letters suggest you are as sloppy as the company you are complaining about.

Be polite and reasonable

Whether you are writing or telephoning, stay calm. Intemperate outpourings will give companies an excuse to refuse to deal with you.

Name names

If you mention the unhelpful attitude of, for example, a shop manager or customer services operative, try to include their names.

Don’t apologise

Embarrassing as it may be for we British to complain, don’t apologise. The grievance is all yours and the company should be grateful to you for pointing it out.

Set a deadline

Give the company a deadline for sending a useful response – 14 days is fair. Make a note of the date so you can increase the pressure if it is missed. If, after a reasonable deadline, you have made no progress consult Consumer Direct on your rights and options.

Make sure your complaint arrives

Send all letters by recorded or special delivery so the firm cannot deny receiving them, and keep a log of whom you wrote or spoke to and when.