Business English Complaints Lesson

Complaints are never a happy occasion, particularly if you are trying to keep a client or customer happy AND you are struggling with the language.

It is important to remember that responding to a complaint always has FOUR parts:

  Apologize for the problem – no matter if you created it or not – no matter whether the issue is true or not.  What you are apologizing for is the fact that a customer is unhappy.  That’s not good for business.

Ask for the specifics of the problem – what happened or what went wrong.

Say that you will take action [and take it!], and

Check back with the customer later to make sure the problem was resolved to their satisfaction.

*** Instructors: It is important – especially with complaints – that you ask your students for examples of the complaints they deal with.  You will be very surprised about the wide variety and the issues that come up and it is helpful for the students to use those examples in practice in class.***

Review the three parts of responses below:

1. Apologizing:   

     I’m sorry . . .       I’m sorry to hear that . . .

     I apologize . . .

     I apologize for the problem . . .

     I apologize for the inconvenience . . .

     My apologies . . .

2.  Ask for Specifics

     Please tell me exactly what the problem is

      Please tell me exactly what happened

3.  Take Action

     I will send someone to take care of it

     We will send the correct order tomorrow

     Let me check with the shippers and see what happened

     I don’t know what happened, but I will get back with you later today

     Let me straighten this out and I will get back to you today with the

4. Check back – after the situation has been corrected

     Ms. Chen, did everything work out to your satisfaction?

     Mr. Wozniak, I wanted to see if the problem has been resolved to your

     Did everything work out okay?

     Did you get what you needed/wanted?

Practice the two dialogs below with a partner.  Be sure to exchange roles so that are both the person with a complaint and the person responding to the complaint.

Dialog 1 – The missing parts . . .
A:  Hello Mr. Chen, may I help you?
B:  Yes, I ordered spare parts for my generator, but you sent the wrong parts.
A; Oh no!  Can you tell me exactly what parts you ordered and what you got?
B: Yes, I ordered two of part number B235C, but I got two B235Ds instead!  They won’t fit my generator.
A: I’m very sorry, let me check and see if we have the correct parts here right now and if we do, I can have someone deliver them this afternoon.  Would that be okay? 
B: Yes, please – the sooner I have the parts the better.
Later . . . .
A: Hello Mr. Chen, did you get the correct parts I sent over ?  Are they exactly what you needed?
B: Yes, they just arrived.  Thank you.
A: My pleasure Mr. Chen, again, sorry for the inconvenience.
Dialog 2 – Shoddy service . . .
A: Hello, Anderson Pool Service, may I help you?
B: Yes this Dolly McBride, someone was supposed to clean my swimming pool today.  No one came.
A: I’m sorry Ms. McBride, let me check the schedule and see what went wrong.  Can I send someone over first thing tomorrow morning?
B: Yes, that would be okay.
Tomorrow . . .
A: Hello Ms. McBride?
B: Yes?
A: Did the pool cleaner get over there okay this morning?
B: Yes, everything is fine now.  Thank you.
A: Thank you, Ms. McBride – and again – my apologies for the mix-up* yesterday.
* mix-up means confusion or problem

When you are finished with this lesson go to the Complaints Activities Page.


Business English Complaints Lesson