How to write a letter of complaint – Business English

One of the essential Business English skills is how to write a letter of complaint.

It is a difficult task to get perfectly right because you have to make sure that you remain sounding calm and polite, but at the same time you also want to show to the reader that you are angry (or at least dissatisfied and not happy) and want some action to be taken to resolve the problem. To be proper business English, your writing should be in a formal style, with all the appropriate phrases and correct vocabulary.

It is very easy to get lost in your emotion because you keep thinking about the bad service that you received and then your writing will become too aggressive or sarcastic.

Let’s look at a world-famous letter of complaint below…

Dear LIAT,

May I say how considerate it is of you to allow your passengers such an in-depth and thorough tour of the Caribbean.

Most other airlines I have travelled on would simply wish to take me from point A to B in rather a hurry. I was intrigued that we were allowed to stop at not just one or two, but a magnificent six airports yesterday. And who wants to fly on the same airplane the entire time? We got to change and refuel every step of the way!

I particularly enjoyed sampling the security scanners at each and every airport. I find it ridiculous that people imagine them all to be the same. And as for being patted down by a large number of security staff, well, I feel as if I’ve been hugged by most of the Caribbean already.

I also found it unique that this was all done on famous “island time”, because I love to have time to absorb the atmosphere of various departure lounges. As for our arrival, well, who wants to have to take a ferry to take them home at the end of all that flying anyway? Not me! I’m glad that the boat was long gone by the time we arrived into Tortola last night and that all the bars and restaurants were closed.

So thank you, LIAT. I now truly understand why you are The Caribbean Airline.

Arthur Ashe

P.S. Keep the bag. I never liked it anyway.

It is obvious that this person became too angry and took sarcasm to an extremely high level. This letter is actually very funny, but it is not known if the airline ever responded to this customer complaint. Therefore, we cannot conclude that this was an effective letter that achieved its aim.

So, how should you write a formal letter of complaint that is effective and businesslike?

How to write a letter of complaint checklist

  1. Who am I writing to (be specific)?
  2. What is the purpose of my letter?
  3. Why are you complaining? Why are you are unhappy with the company?
  4. What evidence do you have?
  5. What would you like them to do?
  6. When/how do you want them to respond?


Let’s imagine that we need to write to an online phone shop because of a missing order.

You ordered and paid for a Samsung Galaxy phone from an online shop ( three weeks ago on 20th September.
The website gave you a booking reference of THX34827
You did not receive any email confirmation.
The product has not been delivered yet.
You want to find out what has happened to your order.

So, let’s use the checklist from above…

1. Who am I writing to (be specific)?

In this example, I don’t know the name of the person to write to. So, to start the letter (or give a ‘salutation’) I can use…

Dear Sir,
Dear Sir or Madam,
To whom it may concern,
or in this case… Dear

2. What is the purpose of my letter?

I need information about my missing order. A good opening sentence would be…

I am writing to you to complain about an order for a mobile phone that I have paid for and which I have not received.

3. Why are you complaining? Why are you are unhappy with the company?

I need to say why I think the service I have (or have NOT) received is not good enough.

I paid in full for a Samsung Galaxy phone three weeks ago in your online shop. However, I did not receive any email notification from your website. I am sure you agree that three weeks is too long to wait to receive an online order.

4. What evidence do you have?

Here you specify as many details as possible that you have which can help to the company to identify your account or order.

When I completed the order online at on 20th September at about 3pm in the afternoon, I was given a booking reference: THX34827.

I paid £209.99 for the Samsung Galaxy by VISA card (ending 3865) and using my email:

​As I have already stated above, I have received no further communication from your company to confirm my order.

5. What would you like them to do?

It is very easy to start making threats at this point, but keep calm and state exactly what the company should do, so that you will be satisfied.

I would like you to confirm that I paid the full amount by VISA and that you will send the phone to my contact address as soon as possible.

If this is not possible, I require an immediate refund for the full amount of £209.99 to my VISA card (ending 3865).

6. When/how do you want them to respond?

You can finish the letter with a standard business phrase.

I look forward to your immediate response.


I hope that helps you when you are writing a complaining letter.

If you need further help, then leave a comment below and I will do my best to give you some good English advice.

If you want to see how a business should reply to a customer complaint, then please click here for a video.

To improve your Business English skills, click here to find out details on our range of Business English courses in London

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