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How to Write a Complaint Email in 8 Steps

Updated on January 5, 2023Writing Tips

Sometimes things don’t go your way. You felt you weren’t treated well at the car rental agency, or an item you ordered was damaged in the mail, and you’d like a refund. Maybe the contractor you hired did a subpar job on the bathroom tiling, or you didn’t feel like your doctor really heard what you were trying to tell them.

All these situations are different, but they all call for a similar kind of communication: a direct and polite message that explains what happened and how you’d like to proceed. This article outlines how to do just that.

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What is a complaint email?

A complaint email is a piece of written correspondence expressing dissatisfaction with a product, service, or experience. A compelling complaint email will explain the problem you’re having and how you’d like to resolve it.

A complaint email is an effective way to communicate grievances politely. This form of communication gives you time to plan your response and choose your words carefully. It’s important to be clear, concise, and levelheaded when you write your complaint email.

When to write a complaint email

There are many situations in which a complaint email is the best response. Broadly, you may write one to a company or organization, a colleague, an elected official, or a friend or family member. Each situation may differ, but the process is similar.

In your workplace, you might need to formally address an issue that has been difficult to resolve with a coworker. In this case, you can send a complaint email directly to the coworker, or you can address your colleague but use the cc function to include your manager and human ressources. This is an easy way to have a paper trail in case you need it later.

Sometimes, a complaint email can be the best way to communicate with a friend or family member. If you’ve been estranged, need some distance to address an issue, or have a serious problem that you can’t address in person, email is a formal medium that can get the point across.

How to write a complaint email

The exact steps you take to write your complaint may vary, depending on who you’re writing to and what you’re writing about. But these steps should cover it all. Before we dive in, here are the basics.

A complaint email should include the following.

  • A summary of your experience
  • Details about your issue
  • How you’d like to resolve the issue

1 Address the recipient

To begin your email, address the recipient politely and respectfully. The salutation typically begins with “Dear” and the recipient’s name. Use title capitalization and end with a comma.

The person you choose to contact will depend on your situation. If you’re writing to a colleague, friend, or family member, then you probably know who you’re writing to.

If you’re writing the email for a business you work for, you might have a known point of contact or support representative. If you’re unsure, your manager probably knows, or you may be able to contact a general department like customer service or tech support.

Do you still need to decide who should receive it? You might send your complaint email to one of the following.

  • A customer support or customer service department
  • Tech support
  • A point of contact
  • Your point of contact’s manager
  • A sales department
  • The communications officer of an organization
  • A manager
  • A friend, family member, or colleague

If you can’t address a particular person by name, you can put “To whom it may concern.”

2 Outline the fundamental information

Get to the point as quickly as possible. In the first paragraph of your email, you should concisely share the basic details of your issue.

The first part of your complaint email should include the following:

  • The issue
  • How you discovered the issue
  • Any logistical details you can include (date, time, location)

3 Summarize your experience

Using plain language, describe how this issue impacted your experience. Don’t beat around the bush; most people don’t have time to read a long, emotional letter. Stick to facts.

This part of your complaint email might include these:

  • How the issue affected you or your business
  • What you’ve done to try to resolve the issue on your own

4 Describe your desired results

Unless your only goal is to get the incident off your chest, include a way to fix the issue so the recipient understands what actions can be taken to reach a resolution. Consider what you want to come of your complaint: Are you looking for a replacement, a conversation, a policy change, or compensation? Be direct about how you’d like to resolve the matter.

Try to include these details to get the best response.

  • A clear and specific outcome that would satisfy you
  • Constructive comments
  • A time frame in which to resolve the issue

5 Include attachments

Support your claims with evidence wherever possible. You can simply explain your evidence in writing or, more compellingly, attach supporting files to the email.

Supporting documents may include the following.

  • Receipts
  • Order or tracking numbers
  • Pictures
  • Videos
  • Screenshots
  • Audio recordings

6 Sign off professionally

Complaint emails should be professional. Writing “Sincerely” and then your name is usually sufficient. Include a professional email signature if you’re writing your email in your workplace or on behalf of a business.

7 Edit and proofread

When you’re done writing, it’s time to edit and proofread your email. First, read through it and remove any sentences where you got overly emotional, were impolite, or could’ve written a more concise message. Check your grammar, punctuation, and spelling as well.

8 Get your tone just right

Make sure your email lands the way you intend. Tone rewrite suggestions, a Grammarly Premium feature, identify sentences where tone may be misinterpreted by the recipient, and offer emotionally intelligent rewrite options so you can make adjustments to avoid miscommunication before hitting send. Because tone plays a vital role in effective communication, tone rewrite suggestions give you greater control over your message.

3 examples of complaint emails

Here are three complaint email examples to help you write your own. Notice the professional tone and concise length.

1 Complaint email to a contractor

Dear Mr. Jones,

On November 21, 2022, I hired your company to repair the floors in my hallway after a pipe burst in my crawl space at 1205 Colorado Drive.

Unfortunately, your service has not held up well. I am dissatisfied because the floorboards you installed are coming loose after just three weeks. I’ve also noticed that you did not install an underlayment beneath the boards, and there is mold from the water damage that was not mitigated.

To resolve the problem, I would appreciate it if you would fix the damaged flooring at no extra cost to me. Attached are photos of the damaged areas, the invoice you gave me, the estimate, and information about the flooring.

I look forward to your reply and resolution. I’d like this to be completed no later than January 31. Please let me know if that is possible.

Sincerely,

Michael Harrison

2 Complaint email to a company

To Whom It May Concern,

On December 1, 2022, I received a shipment of damaged goods through your freight service. The damaged shipment was on pallet number 27 from truck number 2705 at our Santa Fe, New Mexico, location. The order number was O-6744035.

I expected to be able to put these seasonal items out for our holiday sale. Not only are we losing revenue on potential sales, but we also invested thousands of dollars to meet customer demand in a specific time period.

To resolve this issue, I would appreciate your cooperation in compensating us for the damaged products and shipping a new order as soon as possible. Attached are images of the damage, our receipt, and the truck it arrived on.

I look forward to your reply and a resolution to my problem. I will wait until December 15, 2022, to receive your reply before taking further action. Please reply to this email as soon as possible or forward it to the proper agent within your company.

Sincerely,

Malia Magenta

CEO, Magenta Beauty Supplies

3 Complaint email about a colleague

Dear Mr. Tremaine,

I’m writing to complain about how my manager, Jared Molton, behaved during our annual review meeting. He made belittling jokes and attempted to intimidate me.

I’ve spoken with Jared on multiple occasions (1/12/22, 3/15/22, and 6/27/22, among others) about his behavior, but these conversations have not changed his behavior. These encounters are documented through Slack messages, emails, and recorded Zoom calls. You can find these attached to this email.

His actions have made me feel deeply uncomfortable and isolated at work. I am concerned that his evaluations of me, my performance, and my place on this team are biased and unfair. Amber Dreyfus, Claire Powell, and Eric Bingham were also present during many of these interactions.

I’d like to speak with you and a representative from HR to discuss how we may resolve this conflict. At the very least, I’d like to be transferred to another department under a different manager so I can continue to work on software development. I’d appreciate it if you’d get back to me soon with the next steps.

Sincerely,

Jada Rowen

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