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Responding to a Complaint.

Updated: Jan 15, 2023

These materials are designed to help you to prepare for a lesson on: Responding to a Complaint.

Dealing with complaints from customers or other Businesses is an inevitable part of business, as such, being able to do it properly is essential.


  • Firstly, look at the preparation tasks that I have chosen to help you to develop this skill.

  • Then, look at the materials provided to help with your preparation tasks and in terms of your general understanding of this particular skill.

  • Lastly, complete the tasks prior to the lesson*. (Starting by having the student complete a preparation tasks gives me an understanding of the learners ability with this task to effectively ensure and build on their understanding of appropriate language and vocabulary, good use of grammar and clear communicational skills to communicate clearly, confidently and professionally in English).

*If it's not possible to complete the tasks outside of the lesson, then we can do this as part of a lesson. I prefer to give student the option of doing as much work in their own time as possible to be more cost efficient and to maximise learning.


The Preparation Tasks

Your task has arrived via email below;

*The first complaint to respond to is here; (I'll add more later...)


The Materials

We'll start with a couple of broad guidelines, then have a look at a video of the CEO of Starbucks giving what is a very good apology which we will use to expand on some useful language to know what responding to your own complaints. A sample written complaint response is then given before ending with a practice exercise.

The key things to remember:

  • Identify and respond to each of the points made in any complaint.

  • Make sure that your apology is believable - this might seem obvious in your native language, but the tone of the way we say sorry in English is very important.

  • State specifically what you have done to resolve the issue, or, in the case that it has not be resolved, explain why not.

Watch an apology made by the CEO of Starbucks below. The apology was issued when Starbucks was faced with a public backlash following the arrest of two black men waiting for a friend in a Philadelphia branch. Because they hadn’t purchased anything, the manager allegedly deemed the two men to be suspicious and called the police. The arrest caused public outrage. The CEO, Johnson, not only apologised but closed 8,000 US stores while 175,000 employees underwent training in unconscious racial bias. This kind of policy change is important in inspiring and motivating employees while reassuring customers and helping to restore the company’s reputation.

Anyway, it's a great example of giving a sincere apology. The transcript is underneath.

The full transcript is here;

Hi, I'm Kevin Johnson, CEO of Starbucks. I want to follow up on the letter I published yesterday to all Starbucks customers and my Starbucks partners regarding the incident that occurred in the Philadelphia area store last Thursday. I want to begin by offering a personal apology to the two gentlemen who were arrested in our store. What happened in the way that incident escalated and the outcome was nothing but reprehensible and I'm sorry. I want to apologize to the community in Philadelphia and to all my Starbucks partners. This is not who we are and it's not who we're going to be. We're going to learn from this and we will be better for it. Now certainly as I've been reviewing the situation, understanding that with 28,000 stores around the world, that in certain circumstances local practices are implemented. In this particular case, the local practice of asking someone who is not a customer to leave the store. And unfortunately then followed by a call to the police. Now certainly there are some situations where the call to police is justified. Situations where there's violence or threats or disruption. In this case none of that existed. These two gentlemen did not deserve what happened and we are accountable. I am accountable. Now going through this I'm gonna do everything I can to ensure it is fixed and never happens again. Whether that is changes to the policy, in the practice, additional store manager training including training around unconscious bias and we will address this. Now, there's been some calls for us to take action on the store manager. I believe that blame is misplaced. In fact, I think the focus of fixing this, I own it. This is a management issue and I am accountable to ensure we address the policy and the practice and the training that led to this outcome. Now today I've been on the phone with the mayor, the police commissioner and other leaders in the community. I'm looking forward to spending the next two days meeting and visiting with them personally, and you have my commitment we will address this and we will be a better company for it. Thank you.

Underneath I have pulled out several sentences that were used by Johnson, each of them performs a particular function and I will give a series of additional sentences that can be used in a variety of scenarios.

  • I want to begin by offering a personal apology. (He outlines immediately that he is apologising, setting the tone for the rest of the message).

  • I would like to start be offering a sincere apology,

  • I would like to start by sincerely apologising for this,

  • Please accept my apology on behalf of our company / our department / our store etc

  • What happened… was nothing short of reprehensible / This is not who we are (This is a bit of damage limitation here, it separates the negative experience from what the companies values actually are).

  • What happened was unacceptable.

  • What happened does not reflect the standards of service that we strive to offer as a company.

  • What happened was not in line with our company's high standards.

  • We're going to learn from this (this is where we outline how the situation will be resolved).

  • I will / I am going to, send a replacement, offer a full refund, offer a partial refund...

  • We will make sure that all staff are aware of the policy on _____________,

  • We will thoroughly investigate what happened,

  • we are accountable. I am accountable (here he takes responsibility for what happened).

  • We take full responsibility for this,

  • I am responsible for ensuring that, __________.

  • I'm gonna do everything I can to ensure it is fixed and never happens again.

  • We will take steps to make sure that this doesn’t happen again.

  • We will make sure that this does not happen again.

Naturally, if you are responding to a complaint about a faulty item that a customer was sold, the response will probably be a lot shorter. Consider the written response underneath, how many new expressions/ phrases can you see in it?

If you want even more examples of well written complaint responses then this article gives a couple of good examples to complaints which could be used as a template for your own response.

Grammar: Expressions based around Participle Clauses.

Another publicly made apology came his week from Ezra Miller, and is as follows;

Having recently gone through a time of intense crisis, I now understand that I am suffering complex mental health issues and have begun ongoing treatment. I want to apologise to everyone that I have alarmed and upset with my past behaviour. I am committed to doing the necessary work to get back to a healthy, safe and productive stage in my life.” The full story is here.

Notice the opening sentence structure "Having recently gone through a time of intense crisis, I now understand that..."

Highlighted in Bold is a good example of a Participle Clause (having + past participle), it is used to describe a completed action that has either caused or allowed something in the present to happen. So, he went through a difficult time, and that has allowed him to understand more in the present.

Look at a couple more examples below to see how this structure can be used;

  • Having looked into your complaint, I can see that we made a mistake”.

  • "Having spoken with the employee dealing with your order, I now understand that they didn’t understand the request fully".

  • "Having investigated the complaint, It is apparent that we have made a mistake"

Grammar: Use of Passives:

Be careful here, but it might be useful to be able to describe an action taking place without drawing too much attention to the person doing it. Consider the following;

  1. The person who packs the items before they are sent didn’t pack it properly. (Active).

  2. The item wasn’t packed properly before it was sent. (Passive).

  1. The cashier filed your request under the wrong name by mistake. (Active).

  2. Your request was mistakenly filed under the wrong name. (Passive).

The important information is in there, but we don’t point the finger at one of our colleagues.



Having looked at the materials and completed the preparation tasks, you are ready for the lesson. Send anything you have prepared to me if you would like me to look at it before the lesson -

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