How To Make A Complaint: Get To The Right Person

What You Say When You Make A Complaint

by Gene Griessman, Ph.D.

Be strategic when you complain

Who you speak with or write to can be just as important as what you say.    It’s advisable to make a phone call/s before you make your complaint in order to find out just who should hear your complaint first.

Find out who has discretionary authority, or put another way, who has the power to say Yes.  Lots and lots of people in an organization can say No, but not that many can say Yes.

That person may be a mid-level or high-level executive, but it just might be an all-powerful senior secretary or senior executive assistant who’s been there for years, and who may actually run the company.

If you’re making a low-priority complaint or request, such as asking to get a fee reversed on a bank statement, you can start at a low level and then work your way up the chain.

The next principle is…

Don’t accept the first No as final.  The person who tells you No may be new to the organization or insecure or just not customer friendly.  In a large organization, you can keep trying until you get to someone who will say Yes.  If the company keeps a log of customer phone calls, and they mention that you were turned down previously, say something like, “I know, but I sensed that Judy was a new person with your company,” or “I felt that Larry was not senior enough to have discretionary authority.”

The next principle is…

Escalate your complaint. Say something like, “Would you mind if I speak with your supervisor?” Or “Would you mind if I send an email to the vice president of your division?  Please give me his or her email address.”

If you decide it’s worth your time and energy to keep going, we’ve published a checklist you can follow when you write a business letter or email.  (See “How To Write A Complaint Letter” at

Generally you may not need to write a complaining letter or email if you make strategic phone calls first, and if you don’t accept the first No as final.

Do cost-benefit analysis

Always.  Ask yourself this question:  “How much will I gain if I do get to someone who says Yes, and how much time and energy will I spend getting there?”

As a general rule, uou shouldn’t spend an hour of your time to save ten dollars unless, of course, that’s all you think your time is worth.


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Gene Griessman is an internationally known keynote speaker, actor, and communication strategist. His book “TheWords Lincoln Lived By” is in its 23rd printing and “Time Tactics of Very Successful People” is in its 43rd printing. His training video “Lincoln on Communication” is owned by thousands of corporations, libraries, and government organizations. He has spoken at conventions and annual meetings all over the world. To learn more about his presentations, call 404-435-2225. Learn more at Atlanta Speakers Bureau or at his website. His latest book “Lincoln and Obama” has just been released by Audible.
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