The Art Of The Complaint Letter

The Art Of The Complaint Letter

In this post, Writers Write looks at how complaint letters should be written.

We have all been there: dissatisfaction.

An issue is raised, and we have to say a word (or two) about it. Complaint letters can be to managers, companies, or publications.

Here is how to complain the right way.

Why Complain?

 Complaints are useful, and inevitable for democracy. An average complaint has three purposes:

1. Voices An Issue

Complaints spot an issue (or flaw), and lets someone know. Without this, issues can be undetected.

2. Begins A Discussion

Every complaint gives an opportunity to respond to its writer. Discussion starts, and that is the point.

3. Asks For A Final Resolution

Complaints ask for a final response. Usually, the last step is a suggested solution to the issue first raised.

7 Tips For A Good Complaint Letter

A complaint is just another business letter, with its own rules. Bad complaints are not effective, don’t get noticed, or use the wrong tone. A good complaint is careful and clear.

1. Use The Right Department

A complaint has to arrive at the right department, or face a dead-end. Most companies have specific addresses for customer complaints, and ones for internal issues. 

A complaint that gets to the wrong place is sometimes forwarded, but you can’t  count on it. Get the right address from the start!

2. Be Clear

Complaints, like most business writing, should be clear. Start the first paragraph with the issue you would like to raise. Answer one question: why are you writing this letter?

It’s possible to complain about almost anything.

It’s also possible to lose the point. Include relevant detail, but remember the reason why. 

Say, ‘We enjoyed the experience, but the chicken from this branch was raw.’ 
Don’t say, ‘We got up at five, had a shower, listened to Eminem, and then had some raw chicken from the branch.’ 

3. Avoid Negative Language

Negative language is off-putting, and stonewalls a further discussion. Even though complaints are about negative points, you still want to avoid trigger words with associations. 

Words like ‘frugal’ and ‘stingy’ are similar, but swing the tone around. Words like ‘expired’ versus ‘rotten’ do the same. 

Rude language has no place. Studies have shown that rudeness can create judgment bias. Writers beware: spam filters sometimes omit them from a complaints-inbox automatically.

4. Keep Calm

Anger or irritation is easy, but tact takes more care. Remember that who is on the other side is only the messenger, and is often not personally responsible for the issue.

It’s good to be passionate, and it’s fine to be angry, but always keep calm when you file a complaint.

A complaint department already knows that you are frustrated or angry. That’s why they exist.

One of the most important factors of business communication is mutual respect.

 5. Get A Reference

Complaints should almost always come with a reference number. If you haven’t been given a reference, then it’s your right to ask. 

Reference numbers allow both sides to keep track of the discussion.

A complaint without a reference (or a customer who doesn’t quote one) can easily get lost in the pile.

6. Go Further (When Necessary)

Complaints don’t always result in a solution.

If you feel that a complaint hasn’t been resolved (or answered), then you have to find the next department.

For consumers, the appropriate service ombud or authority is the answer. For companies, a department head is the next step, and the state-run labour department the next one.

There is always someone in charge after the complaints department. The same rules still count: state the issues, and be clear.

7. Be Reasonable

International complaint laws often mention the same word: reasonable. Reasonable is a literary term, but also carries legal weight. A complaint is always judged by the same measurement, and that is whether it can be called reasonable.

According to The Free Dictionary: ‘The term reasonable is a generic and relative one and applies to that which is appropriate for a particular situation.’ A complaint has to make sense.

Example Of  A Complaint Letter

The Last Word

 In this post, Writers Write explored the art of writing a complaint letter. We hope that it helps you when there’s an issue you’d like to voice!

By Alex J. Coyne. Alex is a writer, proofreader, and regular card player. His features about cards, bridge, and card playing have appeared in Great Bridge Links, Gifts for Card Players, Bridge Canada Magazine, and Caribbean Compass. Get in touch at

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Posted on: 4th August 2022