Writing an Email of Complaint

The Basics

Every email that we write should be professional, friendly and polite. We do this by using clear, plain English (see here for more details).

When writing an email to complain, we also need to make sure that:

- we have a clear objective
- we use the correct tone

Mrs Dyson owns a pet store and she orders supplies from a company called BestPetCo. Recently, the supplies that she ordered arrived late. Examine these two emails.

Sample A

Dear Sirs,

The last two times that I ordered pet food supplies from your company, the items arrived late.

This is totally unacceptable. I will not be using your services anymore.

Best regards,

Mrs Patricia Dyson
Petland Ltd

Sample B

Dear Mr Penwirth,

We have been ordering pet food supplies from you for several years. Unfortunately, we have had several problems with the recent shipments.

Generally, when we place an order, the shipment will arrive within three to five days. The past three orders, however, have all taken at least two weeks to arrive. This left us without stock for our customers. This is a serious situation as it means our customers will go elsewhere and this could be a major loss of business.

Could you explain what has caused the recent delays and could you offer a guarantee that future shipments will arrive on time?

Best regards,

Mrs Patricia Dyson
Petland Ltd

Sample A strikes an angry tone and informs the company of Mrs Dyson's dissatisfaction. However, there is no clear objective to the email. If Mrs Dyson has already made up her mind to stop using the service, then what is the point in the email?

Sample B has a polite, but firm tone. In the first paragraph, Mrs Dyson establishes that she is a regular customer (and thus her feedback is more valuable than a casual customer). She mentions that there have been several problems.

She gives the details of the problems, which will help the company to understand what went wrong. She also explained that it is a serious problem and described the consequences (loss of business). This will help the pet supply company to empathise and understand her position.

Most importantly, she has a clear objective for her complaint. She wishes to get their explanation and some form of guarantee that it will not happen again. We understand that if she does not get this guarantee, she will begin sourcing supplies from elsewhere.


Let's look in more detail at how we can structure this kind of email. We can generally use a three-part structure for any short email:

Part 1: Reason for writing
Part 2: Details
Part 3: Request action

This is the layout of Sample B above. Let's see how this layout is applied to another sample email. In this one, Mr Andrews has a complaint about a burglar alarm:

Sample C

Dear Sir/Madam,

I am writing to complain about a product that we recently purchased from you, the ZX20 office alarm system. The receipt is attached here.

We have two issues with it:

No matter how we adjust the settings, we cannot seem to fix these issues.

Please help us to solve these two issues. If you need to send a technician, you can contact me at this number to arrange it: 603 2323 1000.

Best regards,

Mr Thomas Andrews,
Assistant Manager, Security,
Verve Suites Ltd

Section 1

Mr Andrews states his reason for writing very directly: I am writing to complain about...

He gives some background information - the model of the alarm - and states that he has attached the receipt, for reference.

Section 2

Mr Andrews lists the two problems. The use of bullet points breaks up the text and also makes it easy to quickly reference each issue. At a glance, we can see that there are two problems. The problems are explained simply and clearly.

Section 3

Mr Andrews restates that these two issues need to be solved. He suggests a technician may need to come and help deal with the issue.

Sample writing tasks

Here are some sample writing tasks for practicing this kind of email:

1 You have signed up for a six-month gym membership only to find that the gym will be undergoing renovations during this period. You complained at the front counter but they told you to write an email to the company HQ if you want a refund.

2 Your company uses a local webhosting service for the company website and email server. Recently, the website has begun to load slowly and the email service is down for five to ten minutes at a time. Write an email to sort this out.

3 There is a food court on the first floor of the building where you work. It is the only place around your office to eat. Unfortunately, it is not a nice place to eat. It is dirty and hot. In addition, one of your co-workers is vegetarian, and there is no vegetarian option available. Write to the management to complain and offer suggestions for improvement.

4 You recently ordered a batch of 2000 company t-shirts to be printed. Unfortunately, the company slogan, 'delivering the future' was misspelt as 'delivering the futur'. Although, the misspelling came from the order form which your company submitted, you feel the printers should have used common sense and should not have gone ahead with the printing without checking the spelling with you. You would like the t-shirts to be reprinted free of cost.

Learn how to write a reply to an email of complaint here.