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Episode 2: Managing Complaints In English

Episode 2: Managing Complaints in English

Welcome to Episode 2!

Unfortunately, receiving and dealing with complaints from time to time is a necessary part of running or participating in more or less any business.  In this episode, I provide some strategies for dealing with complaints and some useful phrases which non-native speakers can add to their phrase bank in order to be prepared.

Managing the right language is very important when dealing with complaints (it is important to make the situation better and not worse!) and therefore preparing beforehand and understanding what to expect in such situations is going to help enormously.

How do you find dealing with complaints in English?

Please share any advice or comments in the section below.

All the very best!


Here is the full transcript:

In this episode I’m going to be talking about how to manage complaints in English. Hi, there. I’m Paul Urwin. Welcome to the Business English Community Podcast where the world of business meets the English language. We discuss culture, strategies, techniques, vocabulary, grammar and much, much more. Find out more at

Welcome to episode number two of the Business English Community podcast. I’m your host Paul Urwin. If you are an intermediate or advanced speaker of English looking to take your business English to the next level, then this is the podcast for you. Before we get started I wanted to invite you to check out our YouTube channel. We have some really fantastic videos on there. You can find a link on our website or simply enter Business English Community into YouTube.

Today I’m going to be talking about dealing with complaints in English. First, business word of the week. This week’s word is startup. Now I’m sure many of you have heard of the word startup. That is, of course, S-T-A-R-T-U-P as one word, but what does it actually mean, or what are the different interpretations that are out there at the moment? At it’s most basic a startup is simply a new business. It’s simply a newly established company, but that’s not quite the whole store because you probably wouldn’t refer to a new bakery that has just opened up in your town as a startup. Not every new company is referred to as a startup, and why is that? That is because startups are usually focused within the tech sector in the technology sector. Most startups have something to do with technology. Also, they are companies that are designed to scale very quickly. They are designed to grow very quickly.

I don’t even think that every new technology company would be defined as a startup especially if that company was simply doing something that is already very common within the marketplace. In summary, startups tend to be doing something new. They tend to be focused within the technology sector, and they are looking to achieve very fast growth, which is why for many startups the number of users or the number of people who have signed up to a particular service is what is most important to them rather than an immediate profit. They are usually looking for a more long-term profit. I really like this definition. This definition is from Neil Blumenthal, co-founder and co-CEO of Warby Parker. His definition goes as follows: “A startup is a company working to solve a problem where the solution is not obvious and success is not guaranteed.” In other words, a company doing something different. That’s business word of the week, startup.

Now I’m going to move on to today’s main topic, which is managing complaints in English. First of all, I think we all have to deal with complaints from time to time, whatever business we are in. Obviously, dealing with those complaints in another language, in English in this case, if English is not your first language, then presents an additional challenge. I’m going to try and give you some recommendations and some phrases to help you deal with complaints as and when they come up. I think the first thing I would suggest, and of course, this is a general piece of advice, is to focus on being very patient with the caller, assuming the complaint is on the telephone, listening to everything they have to say and only then responding. I think a lot of people when they complain, they just want someone to listen to them. They just want someone to pay attention. I think the first thing that you can do is really listen very carefully and obviously, as you are listening in English, and English is not your first language, then you need to listen extra carefully. Also, try and take notes as you go along. Try and have a little notebook with you at all times, and just jot down, or take a note of the key parts of the conversation as you are listening to that particular person.

Now when you are talking on the phone or even in person for that matter, but let’s focus on a complaint via the phone. Let’s imagine that situation. To help you with that situation, it’s very useful to build up a series of phrases that you can have ready to use. I’m going to go through different sections of a complaint and give you some phrases that I think would be very useful. The first section or the first phase of the complaint is to encourage the person to tell you everything. That is really what you hope to achieve because that’s going to help them to relax. That’s going to help them to feel that someone is listening to them. Phase one is encourage the caller to tell you everything, to tell you why they are unhappy.

Here are a couple of phrases. Okay, please tell me exactly what has happened. Okay, please tell me exactly what has happened. How about this one? Please tell me how this issue started. Please tell me how this issue started, so a couple of phrases to encourage the person to tell you everything. Then I would suggest that you guide them through that conversation. If they only respond with one or two short sentences, then ask one or two questions to try and encourage them to open up even more. This is a key part of the process of dealing with a complaint. That’s phase number one, encourage them to tell you everything.

Phase number two is to show empathy and understanding, to really make it clear to the caller that you understand their situation, that you get exactly why they are a little bit upset or why they feel that they didn’t receive a good service from your company. Be on their side. It’s not one person against another. You should try and see this is as two people trying to find a solution together. What kind of phrases can you use for this situation? How about these two. I am very sorry to hear that. I am very sorry to hear that, or a phrase of admission. That definitely should not have happened. That definitely should not have happened. You’re positioning yourself on the side of the caller. You are understanding or trying to understand exactly where they are coming from. That’s phase two to show empathy and understanding.

Phase three, once you’ve gone through phases one and two, is to try and provide some kind of solution. Phase three is to help the customer or client to find a solution and to move on. We don’t want to be stuck in this complaint for a long period of time. That’s not going to help anyone, so we really want to find a solution and move on. Here’s a couple of phrases. I’m going to help you to find a solution. I’m going to help you to find a solution. I’m going to make this right for you. I am going to make this right for you. Or if you would like to offer some kind of compensation how about, I would like to offer you da, da, da? I would like to offer you da, da, da, something to put it right.

Essentially, I would suggest apologizing for any mistakes that you or your company have made and then offering some kind of compensation to make up for it even if that compensation is only a few kind words. It might not always be monetary compensation, but you just really need to show your interest in that person. You need to show that you understand their situation, and then really at the end of the call try and do something to put that situation right. Of course, it’s even more difficult if you don’t feel that you have actually done anything wrong, or that your company has actually done anything wrong. That makes it even more complicated, but you should still follow the steps, encourage the person to tell you everything. That’s phase one. Show empathy and understanding, that’s phase two. Help the customer to find a solution or at least help them to move on. We don’t want to be stuck in this complaint for too long. Everyone has got too many things to be getting on with.

Remember, most people complain not with the expectation of getting something back immediately. Most people complain because they want someone to listen to them. Are you prepared to listen to that person? Are you going to take the time? Do you have the patience to listen to them carefully? Once again, I understand that this is not your native language, so you do need to be extra especially careful and just listen ever so intently to make sure that you don’t cause any misunderstandings on the call because that could cause further issues. I hope those couple of tips there will help you, and I hope those phrases will help you to deal with any complaints that come up in English.

That wraps up this week’s main topic. I’m now going to wrap up the podcast with our phrase of the week. This week’s phrase of the week is, a close call. What is a close call? A close call, what does that mean? It means that something bad almost happened, but it was just avoided perhaps at the very last minute. Something bad was almost, or almost happened, and was somehow avoided at the last minute. In a business context and remember, I try and always give examples of these phrases in a business context. Let’s take a look at this sentence. That was a close call. Luckily, Mark had made a back up of the project files, or there would have been a real problem. That was a close call. Luckily, Mark had made a back up of the project files, or there would have been a real problem. In this example, a real problem was just avoided.

That’s it for today. That’s it for this week. Thank you so much for downloading this episode. I really, really appreciate all the feedback that I get from the listeners, from you, the listeners all over the world. We do have listeners in practically every country around the world. I really, really appreciate that. If you’ve enjoyed today’s episode, I invite you to check out our online learning platform and community at The Business English Community is the essential resource for intermediate and advanced learners who want to take their business English to the next level. We offer extensive audio and video libraries, live webinars, and ask me anything calls, and very importantly, an active community where you can get the answers to all of your business English questions. If you really want to take action to improve your level quickly, then sign up at That’s it for me. Thanks very much for listening. All the best, and until next time.

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