Liz Weston: How to complain and get results

Dec 19, 2022, 5:00 AM | Updated: 7:03 am
FILE - This undated file photo provided by NerdWallet shows Liz Weston, a columnist for personal fi...

FILE - This undated file photo provided by NerdWallet shows Liz Weston, a columnist for personal finance website At any given time, you likely have a handful of reasons to reach out to a company and lodge a complaint. But if you really want your voice — and your requests for how you want the problem remedied — to be heard, you need to be strategic. (NerdWallet via AP, File)

(NerdWallet via AP, File)

If you feel you have more to complain about these days, you may be right.

The products we use are increasingly complex, which often means they have more ways to malfunction. Companies are still struggling to hire and retain workers, so the customer service representatives who are supposed to help you may not know how. And that’s if you can even get through to a human being after navigating websites, automated chatbots and phone systems that seem designed to thwart you at every turn.

“You’re searching for where to call. Once you get through, you’re going to yell ‘agent!’ in the phone 12 times, and then they send you to the wrong place,” says Scott M. Broetzmann, chief executive of research firm Customer Care Measurement & Consulting in Alexandria, Virginia.

On average, customers made 2.9 contacts with a company while attempting to resolve problems, according to the firm’s 2020 National Customer Rage Study, which polled 1,026 consumers about problems with products or services in the past 12 months. A whopping 58% of respondents who complained got nothing — zero, zilch — as a result of their efforts. So perhaps it’s not surprising that 65% of those who had a problem experienced consumer rage.

If you want to improve your odds of getting results, and lower your blood pressure, consider the following tips for complaining effectively.


Broetzmann urges people to “pick their battles,” given how much effort is typically required to solve problems and how often they occur. The 2020 study found 66% of American households had at least one problem with products and services they purchased during the past 12 months, compared with 56% in the 2017 version of the survey.

“You will put yourself into a place of exhaustion and depression if you complain about every single thing that went wrong,” Broetzmann says.

Kevin Doyle, an editor at Consumer Reports, suggests people gather all the documentation they might need before reaching out to a company. That could include account, confirmation and order numbers, warranties and notes from previous interactions with company representatives, for example. Missing information could force you to start over on whatever phone or digital system you’re using to complain.


People who make complaints are about as likely to use digital tools such as email, live chats, company websites and social media as they are to pick up the phone, the 2020 study found.

Social media platforms such as Facebook or Twitter have the advantage of being public, which puts some pressure on the company to resolve the problem. Posting your complaint on social media also bypasses the chatbots, phone trees, hold times and malfunctioning voice recognition software that can make customer service such a trial.

But of the 14% of respondents who used social media to complain about their worst problem, nearly half didn’t receive a response from the company, according to the study. So if you’re tempted to turn to social media first, be ready to have a backup plan that involves connecting with a human by phone, email or chat.


Part of your preparation should be boiling down your complaint to the essentials, including what happened and — more importantly — how you want the company to fix it. Too many consumers aren’t specific about what they want from the company, Broetzmann says.

Just make sure the remedy you suggest is commensurate with the problem, Doyle says. If the seatback TV didn’t function on your flight, don’t ask for a free ticket; ask for a credit for a drink or a meal on your next trip, he suggests.

“Are you going to get it? Who knows? But chances are, you’re not going to get it unless you ask,” Doyle says.

Resist the urge to explain every twist and turn of your journey, or to overstate your distress for dramatic effect. Extraneous details and exaggerations could make you easier to dismiss.

“Stick to the facts,” Doyle says. “Embellishing it is going to diminish your credibility.”


Being civil or even nice can win you points with weary reps too often exposed to abusive or aggressive customers. Doyle suggests building on that connection by asking the rep to put themselves in your shoes.

“If you invite them to imagine how they would feel, it can be effective,” Doyle says.

If the rep can’t seem to help you, try asking for a supervisor or simply calling back to get a different agent. (I recently had to call a bank three times before I found a rep who was willing to connect me to the department that could finally solve my problem.)

Anger is an understandable response when you get the runaround. But try to remember that the customer service rep is a human being too and didn’t cause the original problem, Doyle notes.

“You want to keep your cool,” Doyle says. “Because that’s the old adage: You really do catch more flies with honey.”

Methodology: The 2020 National Customer Rage Study is an internet survey interviewing a nationally representative household panel of 1,026 respondents with a ±1.8% – 3.0% margin of error at 95% confidence. Respondents were interviewed from Jan. 24 to Feb. 1, 2020.


This column was provided to The Associated Press by the personal finance website NerdWallet. Liz Weston is a columnist at NerdWallet, a certified financial planner and author of “Your Credit Score.” Email: Twitter: @lizweston.


NerdWallet: Deep breath and dial: How phone calls can save you money

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Artis Stevens, CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, talks to a reporter in New York, Thursda...
Associated Press

Q&A: Big Brothers Big Sisters CEO recruits alumni as mentors

NEW YORK (AP) — Big Brothers Big Sisters America CEO Artis Stevens says the 119-year-old nonprofit long known for mentoring schoolchildren is now diversifying its programming. Stevens, who took over the organization two years ago, said the fastest growing demand for its services is among young adults, ages 18-25, and he wants to expand its […]
7 hours ago
Police officers escort Andrew Tate, right, handcuffed to his brother Tristan Tate, to the Court of ...
Associated Press

Andrew Tate awaits ruling on appeal of detention in Romania

BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) — Andrew Tate, the divisive influencer and former professional kickboxer who is detained in Romania on suspicion of organized crime and human trafficking, appeared at a court in Bucharest on Wednesday to appeal against a second 30-day extension of his detention. Tate, 36, a British-U.S. citizen who has nearly 5 million followers […]
7 hours ago
A worker is seen welding on the construction of the intersystem gas connection Bulgaria-Serbia in t...
Associated Press

Bulgaria and Serbia diversify energy supplies

SOFIA, Bulgaria (AP) — The presidents of Bulgaria and Serbia on Wednesday launched the construction of the Bulgarian part of a gas link that is designed to diversify the energy supplies of a region that until recently was almost fully dependent on natural gas deliveries from Russia. The 85.5 million-euro ($93.2 million) project is one […]
7 hours ago
In this Feb. 11, 2019, photo, snow piles up on a street as a car maneuvers down the street in Seatt...
Associated Press

Edmunds: Why you need winter tires

It’s obvious that when temperatures drop and winter weather arrives you’ll need to put away your shorts and T-shirt and go for pants and a thick coat. But the decision to swap out your vehicle’s all-season tires for winter tires isn’t so clear-cut. Some drivers put too much faith in a single tire type to […]
7 hours ago
FILE - U.S. Loyce Pace, Assistant Secretary for Global Affairs at Department of Health and Human Se...
Associated Press

Top US official urges WHO to address sexual misconduct

LONDON (AP) — A top U.S. health official urged the World Health Organization to address allegations reported by The Associated Press that one of its doctors repeatedly engaged in sexual misconduct. “There are many of us who stand with survivors and stand with those who identify as victims and are truly committed, but also frustrated […]
7 hours ago
Associated Press

Free hotel breakfasts are getting bigger and better

Kimberly Button normally skips breakfast. But on vacation, the hotel breakfast buffet is a highlight. She’s drawn to the oatmeal bar, where she transforms bland grains with an array of toppings — chocolate chips, coconut flakes and berries. Sometimes she grabs fruit to take with her and nosh on throughout the day. At Disney World, […]
7 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Company looking for oldest air conditioner and wants to reward homeowner with new one

Does your air conditioner make weird noises or a burning smell when it starts? If so, you may be due for an AC unit replacement.
(Pexels Photo)...

Sports gambling can be fun for adults, but it’s a dangerous game for children

While adults may find that sports gambling is a way to enhance the experience with more than just fandom on the line, it can be a dangerous proposition if children get involved in the activity.
Quantum Fiber

Stream 4K and more with powerful, high-speed fiber internet

Picking which streaming services to subscribe to are difficult choices, and there is no room for internet that cannot handle increased demands.
Liz Weston: How to complain and get results