How to complain in English

How to complain in English
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You certainly know this kind of situation: you have booked a room in a hotel or ordered new office material, and something just went completely wrong. Now you have to complain about it, although it is quite difficult to criticize somebody or something in a polite and discrete way, especially if you have to do it in English and not in your mother tongue.

This is an uncomfortable situation which you would maybe like to avoid, but it is part of your job as a secretary to make sure that the same mistake will not be committed twice. You help your company by complaining properly because you need services to be provided perfectly and orders to be delivered completely and on time, and if this does not work, you have to interfere, whether you like it or not.

What is necessary?

First of all it is important to decide in which cases it is necessary to keep a complaint to yourself and at which point it is necessary to confront your business partner with your criticism. Has the mistake committed by your business partner caused a major problem or was the result of his fault not perfect, but still ok? In the first case, it is very important to inform your business partner about your complaint. Imagine for example that you have booked a room in a hotel for your boss, and when he arrived late in the evening, there was no free room for him due to an error in the booking system. He had to look for another hotel himself which was finally further away from the venue of his business meeting, so he had to assume supplementary costs and could not sleep long enough before his important meeting. In that case it would be very important to inform the hotel about what went wrong and even to ask for compensation, because it is a real lack of service and could seriously harm your company if your boss could not work efficiently. In case you are waiting for a delivery and it arrives one day too late, it might be better not to complain immediately because it was probably not your business partner’s own fault.

Ways to complain

Once you have decided whether you have to complain or not, there are several ways to do it, but mostly it is by E‑Mail or on the phone. This can already be difficult in a totally normal situation of your everyday routine, especially if you do not understand him well due to a bad phone connection or to his strong foreign accent, but it is even worse when the subject of the conversation is not very pleasant and you need to make him understand that you are not satisfied with the provided service and you have to criticize him. To avoid misunderstandings, always address the topic in a direct but still discrete way, which is mostly important if you send a written complaint. On the one hand it is important that your interlocutor understands that you are criticizing him, but on the other hand he has to see that you still treat him respectfully and also accept his excuses. Describe the situation and your complaint in a neutral way.

Classify your arguments

In general it is always a good idea to classify your arguments and topics into positive and negative and start each conversation with the good ones. For example, you can tell your interlocutor that you have previously been satisfied with his work or service, that you appreciate the communication with him and most importantly that you do not want to lose him as a business partner. This will make him listen more attentively to what you will say next: the points you need to complain about. Knowing that you are usually satisfied with his work and that you want to keep the business relation with him, he will certainly be more open for your criticism and probably even try to be better the next time, so that he will not disappoint you again. This also gives him the possibility to explain the situation from his point of view, because maybe there is a good reason for which the mistake occurred. It is also important to finish the conversation with a positive argument, for example you can name the common perspectives for the future. Tell your business partner that you are looking forward to the next project and to a satisfying cooperation with him, which will motivate him to provide a better service and to avoid mistakes.

Stay polite

It happens quite often that we are not satisfied with the quality of a provided service and we have to complain about it. In these situations we usually wonder why our service partners are not able to work correctly and we are angry about it, because everything could be so easy if they just did their work properly. However, probably it is not their intention to disappoint their clients and these errors can happen to anyone of us. Maybe you have already been in this situation? If not, do not worry – it will happen sooner or later. You often work under time pressure and in many cases the result of your work depends on many different factors and you cannot influence them all, so it is quite normal that one day someone will complain about your own work, too. As you know, it is important to stay polite and to admit and explain our mistakes, especially if the complaint is justified. Complaining is not the most pleasant thing to do, but sometimes it is necessary and in these cases it just has to be done correctly.

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Die Autorin Lina Beckmann ist Fremdsprachenkorrespondentin, Konferenzdolmetscherin und Übersetzerin für Deutsch, Französisch, Spanisch und Englisch.