The Joy of Complaining: 9 Tips for Effective Complaining

I was really hoping that the “check engine” light on my van would just “go away.”  I considered covering up the light with black electrical tape–a cheap “fix.”  But, I brought my car to my local Tires Plus and paid the $99 to have a diagnostic run.  The diagnosis?  The light came on because some leak detect lines were disconnected.   The likely cause?  Another repair shop, where I’d had some work done a few weeks earlier, had mistakenly left them disconnected.

I paid $99 because of their mistake.  I wasn’t happy.

What would you have done?

Get angry?  Sulk?  Complain to your friends?

I have done all that in the past, but I have since learned the joy of effective complaining!

So, I called the shop that had done the work, spoke to the owner (who had written up my service order), and faxed her the information she requested.  I also let her know that I expected to be reimbursed.

Here’s the follow up to our conversation that I faxed:



The second page of the fax is the invoice I received today from Tires Plus in Rogers.

To recap:  About a week after I had the work done at AJ’s (work done on 3/7), my engine light went on.  I brought my vehicle to Tires Plus today for a diagnostic.

After the diagnostic (code P0440 Evap), Tires Plus called me back and asked if I had recently had a Rack and Pinion put in, because it looked like some leak detect lines were not hooked up.  Tires Plus hooked up the lines at no additional charge.

I have had no other work done to my vehicle since bringing it there, so it does appear that this was an oversight on the part of your technician.

I know mistakes happen and I know that you would want to make it right.  Please reimburse me the $99 for the diagnostic service, which I would not have needed had there not been this mistake.

Thank you,

Diane Windingland

Phone number


A few days later, I received a check for $99 with the following letter (which is a good example of handling a complaint):

Here are 9 tips for effective complaining:

1.       Be timley. Complain as soon as possible when something goes wrong, before memories fade.

2.       Be prepared. get your facts down (dates, people involved, what happened, what went wrong).  Keep receipts.  Know what you want to achieve by complaining.  Is it reasonable?

3.       Be Positive. Assume they want to make you a happy customer or client.

4.       Be polite, but firm. Explain what happened without being emotional, demanding, threatening or abusive.   Be hard on the issue, but soft on people.

5.       Don’t start at the top.  Start at the bottom. Give the person you directly interacted with a chance to make things right.

6.       Allow the other party to talk–to ask for more information, to offer an explanation, or to refer you to someone with the power to better handle your complaint.

7.       Document. Make notes of everyone you talked with, dates you spoke and what was said.

8.       Tell them what you want. Let the other party know what it would take to make you a satisfied customer (be reasonable!).

9.       Communicate in writing. Follow up conversations with written communication, recapping the conversation.

Do you have any other tips for effective complaining?


About Diane Windingland
I speak for organizations that want their people to have better, more profitable conversations.

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