4 Surefire Ways to Sabotage Your Complaint to Customer Service

Kip Tips

4 Things You Should Never Say to Customer Service

Avoid these blunders if you want to get your problem resolved.


As we do increasingly more of our shopping online, it’s becoming common to interact with customer service electronically. But bravery builds behind the shield of email, and you can find yourself saying things you’d never dream of uttering face-to-face or over the phone. The consequences hit home when you fire off a blistering message to customer service – then get no reply.

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It’s happening to me right now as I wait for a response from online retailer Amazon. A third-party vendor of windshield sunshades is dinging my credit card because, it claims, I never returned one of its products (it was the wrong size for my car). I did, in fact, send it back via Amazon’s free return packaging. The dispute has left me hot under the collar.

It's tempting to lash out at customer service by email – or on Twitter or in a live chat – and say what’s really on my mind. Yet, you shouldn’t, advises Christopher Elliott, a consumer advocate and founder of advocacy website Elliott.org. The simple reason: It’s not going to get you what you want.


If you really need to vent, Elliott recommends writing that angry email, then immediately deleting it without sending. You’ll feel better without jeopardizing your chances of getting the problem resolved. Here’s what else I learned about successfully communicating with customer service.

Never make threats. Threats, even veiled ones aimed at garnering immediate attention and action, won’t solve anything. In fact, putting a threat in writing could earn you a one-way ticket to the company’s legal department, along with your electronic paper trail. Misguided threats are probably the biggest email “don’ts” Elliott sees.

“Instead of calmly laying out the facts,” he says, “[angry customers will] immediately launch into a tirade, ‘If your company does not take immediate action, I’ll take legal action immediately and destroy your company.’” Patience is required to lay out your case, says Elliott, who advises against contacting customer service when you’re emotionally charged.

Be reasonable. This is sage advice for just about anything in life, but let’s step into the customer-service world. All too frequently, disgruntled customers get long-winded and over-the-top with their complaints and demands.


“So often, you see emails come in that are attempts at the Great American Novel,” says Elliott, “such as, ‘Your washing machine flooded my house, you ruined my vacation,’ paragraph after paragraph, how they want a full refund-plus. That does not work. You should not put unreasonable requests, something excessive or over-the-moon, in an email.”

Instead, state your complaint succinctly and suggest realistic solutions that would solve it: a refund, a replacement item, a credit for a future purchase, and so on. (Read more about How to Complain Effectively.)

Watch your language. Sure, you’re unhappy. That‘s why you’re complaining to customer service. But think sugar instead of vinegar. A representative might overlook a snarky remark in your correspondence, but a profanity-laced rant will likely land your email in the trash or in the inbox of an unsympathetic supervisor. In the end, the only thing your salty language will accomplish is raising your blood pressure.

Avoid all caps. This is Email Etiquette 101. Yes, it gets attention, but WRITING IN ALL CAPITAL LETTERS to make a point is considered yelling. And yelling is rude. It doesn’t get you anywhere face-to-face or on the phone, and it won’t get you anywhere online.

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