I'm dealing with people from different nationalities (Indians, Pakistanis, UAE, UK...etc). When they tell me that they have an technical or a financial issue and the would like to submit a ticket/request. I asked them: what exactly is your complaint? When they tell me, I like to repeat to confirm the issue so I say: So you're complaining about...

Somebody told me I'm not complaining. Another one laughed. What's wrong with this word? how can I ask professionally?

  • I don't think we have enough context to answer this question. But perhaps you have already answered it. What is wrong with "issue". Please clarify.
    – James K
    Aug 23, 2018 at 21:10
  • No, it is unprofessional. If you are supervising a help line, were you not given any training? Issue, difficulty, problem. Do you see all queries as complaints? You are supposed to be receptive, but perhaps come across as defensive. Aug 23, 2018 at 21:11

3 Answers 3


Avoid "complaint", "problem" and, most of all, "you".

People take it that it's they who have the problem.
Customers are twitchy, impatient & quick to ire.
The word 'entitled' springs to mind, frequently.
They start from the premise that it's your fault that whatever they're trying to do isn't working for them.
We all know - anyone who's ever worked helpdesk - that it's usually something dumb the user did... but you can't make it sound like that's the case.

What is your problem?

is often used as a precursor to a pub brawl.

What exactly is your complaint?

has a similar connotation.
They are both defensive/aggressive openers, avoid them. They imply you are standing your ground, that the fault is the user's.
They just have the wrong tone for a customer service department.

Remove the personalisation entirely. It's not the customer's problem, it's the software/service/device that has an issue.

Issue is the new global determiner for any customer service rep.
It depersonalises; prevents the user from feeling you think it's their fault - even if it usually is ;)

What is the issue?

Simple, to the point, puts the blame nowhere, on no-one.

If you need to clarify you have correctly recognised their intent, then

So, to clarify, the issue is that...

which still manages to avoid apportioning blame.


This is technically correct. That's the best kind of correct, except when trying to communicate with people. While "what's your complaint?" could mean "what's your issue?", people take it to mean "What do you take issue with?". "Complaining" is confrontational.

The laughing could have been because they thought you were joking that a lot of people take issue with whatever the phone conversation is about. Alternatively, it could be because the tone of "what exactly is your complaint?" is probably quite accusatory.

A safer substitute is "problem".

What is your problem?


So your problem is that you need a flobble reservation for... Joseph Bloggs?

For the former, make sure you don't put the emphasis on "is" or "your" because then it's idiomatic for the insulting rhetorical question "what is the problem with you?".

  • 2
    Rather than take a chance on "What is your problem?" it might be better to depersonalize the problem. For example, "What is the problem?" Or "What kind of problem are you having?"
    – user3169
    Aug 24, 2018 at 4:52

There could be many, but one of the mildest ways is to say...

Okay, so you are concerned about...

I think this magic word go with complaints, suggestions, wish...and anything!

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