How to Complain and Get What You Want

There is a right way and a wrong way to complain. The Public Speaker has 10 steps to complain and actually get what you want. 

Lisa B. Marshall,
January 30, 2015
Episode #282

For the past couple of years, I’ve been in a partnership with Hewlett-Packard. I provide articles to them and they deliver the content to customers through their printers.

I have no control over the delivery of the information, however, since my name is on it, I get voicemails and emails from HP customers demanding that I stop sending the articles to their printers.  .

Some of the messages I've received are just mean and nasty. Here’s my all time favorite:

Dear Ms. Lisabmarshall:

I don't like you very much. Spontaneously, from time to time, my new HP printer prints out an unsolicited commercial ad from you. It wastes my ink, my printer and paper. I don't know how you do it, but it is highly offensive to me. I want it stopped now. I mean right now. I don't want it to happen again. If it happens again and/or if you don't immediately email me that you are discontinuing the practice, here's what I'm going to do:

I will publically, over the internet, complain to every Federal and State agency having any semblance of regulatory power over intruders like you. I will report your invasive actions and rude behavior to the appropriate offices of the BBB as well as to the attorneys general of all fifty states. I will demand that Hewlett-Packard give me a new printer that doesn't malfunction by sending your crap to my printer.  As far as I'm concerned HP is in complicity with your shoddy business practice by allowing you to use their product to further your unorthodox, if not illegal, activities.

[name deleted]

Attorney at Law

Here's the thing - there are much better ways to complain. So I thought I'd go over 10 steps to complain and get results. Hopefully the cranky ccmplainer will read this and reconsider his approach next time:

  1. Stay calm. This may mean walking away from your computer or phone until you’ve calmed down. When you respond to someone with anger, you immediately put them on the defensive.

  2. Don’t start out with a threat. Eventually you may have to threaten legal action or threaten to post a poor review online. But a threat like this should never be part of your first request. Give the company or individual a chance to make things right first.

  3. Be polite. Be overly polite. A formula I use that works well is to start with a statement of gratitude, next state the concern, then ask for appropriate action, and end with a thank you.

  4. Get your facts together.  Before you contact anyone be sure you have read all the rules and regulations and have all your dates and figures correct.

  5. Make a specific request. State your problem, what has been done and what you want done in plain, concise language.

  6. Negotiate with the right person. If you’re not sure who that is, you can say something like “Can you help me find the right person to discuss this issue with?”

  7. Use neutral language. Don’t make it personal.  Describe the behavior you want stopped or the action you want taken. Leave out the expletives and don’t resort to name-calling. In the example above, starting with “I don’t like you very much” when the writer doesn’t know me, and calling my content “crappy” and my business practices “shady” did nothing to help the complainer get what he wants. 

  8. Escalate only as needed. Go systematically through the appropriate levels. For example, start with the supervisor, then the next level supervisor. If you’re not satisfied, you can write a letter, post to their website, or an online community such as Yelp, TripAdvisor, Angie’s List, etc.

  9. Document everything. If you come to agreement, repeat everything verbally with dates, who is responsible for what costs, and any other pertinent information. Send an email or letter to the company with everything documented.

  10. Don’t pretend to be an attorney. If you still haven't come to agreement after taking all the previous steps, then perhaps consider contacting a lawyer.  A lawyer should be your last resort and shouldn’t be taken lightly.

There certainly are times when we have to complain. Following these 10 steps will help you complain constructively and get the results you’re looking for. 

Incidentally, I hope the angry person who wrote that email was able to contact HP (the originator of the content he was receiving on his printer) and get the issue resolved. I trust also that he realized there was nothing nefarious or illegal in this arrangement. 

This is Lisa B. Marshall, Helping you maximize sales, manage perceptions, and enhance leadership through keynotes, workshops, books, and online courses. Passionate about communication; your success is my business.

If you want even more success in your life, I invite you to read my latest book, Smart Talk and listen to my other podcast, Smart Talk: Inspiring Conversations with Exceptional People.