Alan's Blog




The Art of Complaining

Unlike many countries, the UK usually provides customers with very good service in the event of a complaint being received. However, this doesn't always happen or it may be limited at a local level. If you feel that you haven't received the service that is due to you, there are still ways of getting your complaint resolved.

There is a very important fact that you need to bear in mind. The local person you complain to may have very limited power to do anything about your complaint. Also, they don't make the rules and therefore they have to apply those that are most applicable to them and often there is little flexibility for them to work with.

Case study 1:
Many years ago, I was having problems with an insurance company. I knew that I had paid more premium payments than were required by the policy. I informed my local representative who did everything he could to resolve the problem which had been caused by my account being transferred to another of their offices and certain things had obviously not got as well as they should have done. He explained this to me but he couldn't resolve the issue for me, although I know he'd done his best to do so.

I found out the name of the CEO and wrote a letter to him at their head office – marking it "Personal". A few days later, I received a letter of apology from a senior manager who said the problem with my account had been resolved. Also included with the letter was a cheque for the overpayments I'd made. If you go to the most senior person you are able to contact, they will make sure your problem is sorted out – when the CEO says "Jump", it has the required effect. You may not get a letter from the top person as he will often delegate someone else to deal with it – but you'll still get the result you need, and that's what matters.

Case study 2:
Back in the mid-1980s, mortgage interest rates were painfully high – around 11 % was the norm. This was of great importance to me as I wanted to move home. My bank then came out with a special offer where the interest rate would be only 9 %, fixed for four years. I grabbed the offer. What I didn't understand at the time was that it was only applicable for the particular property that I'd stated on my application form to buy. After obtaining the very comprehensive report on the property from my surveyor, I decided not to buy this property after all. I very quickly found another property and had it surveyed – and the report indicted that the property was sound – no problem. I contacted my bank who then told me that I couldn't have the (same amount of) money as it was for a different property. I explained that it was me that was borrowing the money; not the property, but it didn't make any difference.

I toured all the banks and building societies in town (no real internet in those days – just Prestel) looking for a good deal and never found anything below about 11 %. I was mortified as the monthly payments were way higher than the 9 % interest rate. I went home very disappointed, to say the least.

I found out the name of the CEO of the bank and wrote to him, again marking it "Personal".
A couple of days later I picked up the mail early in the morning and found a letter from him. The letter stated that I could have the required sum of money. He also wrote very kindly hoping that I'd be happy in my new home and hoping the move wouldn't be too stressful.
As soon as the local branch of my bank opened that morning, I received a telephone call from the sub-manager whose opening words were "I guess you know why I'm calling Mr. ……..". He then went on to state that the money was available to me. Great! What a result.

By communicating directly with the top person, I was able to reach the person who made the rules – and who could also 'bend' them; something the local personnel couldn't do. Another advantage of communicating with the boss.

We can learn from these two cases by remembering to:

  • always go to the top if local personnel can't solve your problem
  • where appropriate, state what you action you require that would resolve your problem

When you write to a senior manager / CEO, you must also remember to consider their feelings, as well as yourself.

You can do this by:

  • never write threatening them in any way – you won't get anywhere. If you threaten to take them to court they will just laugh at you – they can afford better lawyers than you!
  • never write abusively – it is unlikely that you'll even receive a reply.
  • always write using good English – and always be polite. They are human too.
  • state the facts of your case clearly without excessive wordage – they won't want to wade through ten pages of rubbish that you could have explained in one paragraph!

There are also times when you can't complain to local staff as you may be too far away or too long a time period has passed.

Cast study 3:
My wife came to me one day saying that the handles on a set of saucepans had either fallen off or were very loose and in danger of falling off. The saucepans were a few years old so were well past any guarantee period. However, this was a safety issue. I took some photographs of the handles which were riveted to the pan. The rivets were giving way after a lot of use. I removed the rivets and replaced them with stainless steel nut and bolts – which I also photographed.

In this case, it was a manufacturing problem, not one the retailer could deal with satisfactorily. I found out the name of the top person of the manufacturing company and wrote the following e-mail to them:

Dear M…………,

Some time ago I bought a set of three of your saucepans which, in the main, I've been very pleased to have purchased.

However, I believe I've found a potentially serious design flaw with regard to the securing of the handles to the pan with the rivets you're using.

Two of our set of three pans have had the handles fall off and the third is also on its way out.

Instead of throwing the pans in the bin, I've resorted to some good old fashioned engineering by re-fixing the handles using stainless steel bolts, nuts and washers which, whilst they are very practical they certainly aren't pretty.

My main concern is that your original fixings could suddenly fail under load and the handles could fall off which, if being used to carry a full load of boiling liquid, or very hot fat, could cause serious injury to anyone in the vicinity.

I have attached a set of photographs showing you the fault and my attempt at repairs.

I would appreciate your thoughts on this matter.

Yours sincerely,

As you can see, I haven't asked for anything materially – all I have done is to state how pleased I am with the product and how I've fixed it. I have also stated that this is a potential safety issue. Companies don't want hassle, let alone litigation regarding anything to do with safety. Not only could it cause them a lot of money but it could also harm their reputation.

I received the following reply:

Dear ……..,

 Thank you for your reply. (sic – I hadn't replied to anything)

I am sorry to see the issue you have reported and I appreciate you having taken the time to email and inform me.

I do sympathise with the incident that you have reported and thank you for bringing this to my attention. So that we can look into this case further, could you please supply my colleague (name given) with any model or purchase information you have so that he can investigate your case further with our housewares supplier. I have copied him in on this reply so that he has the full information up to date.

 Again, I thank you for contacting me and for your patience while dealing with this matter.

Kind regards.

After another couple of e-mail exchanges, I was sent a new set of saucepans, free of charge.

Of course, I then wrote expressing my appreciation for their generosity:


I'd just like to say a big 'thank you' for the set of new saucepans that have just arrived.

It was most kind of you to send them.

Kind regards,

As you will now have realised, making a complaint to the senior person of a company, in a polite manner, almost always produces the result you need to resolve your problem. I could have published other examples where I've had success in resolving issues but there is no point in doing so as the above case studies will have been sufficient to provide you with what you need to complain.

One more thing: always proof-read your letter or e-mail before you send it – or get someone else to do so for you. Make sure there are no mistakes, typos or ambiguities and that the facts are expressed accurately, clearly and concisely without excessive wordage. Senior personnel are extremely busy people and have limited time to spend on your complaint. Help them help you! They will almost always be pleased to do so.



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