The ability to respond to formal complaints is a necessary part of emergency medicine practice. In spite of the significance of formal complaints there is little guidance within the medical literature to understand why patients complain or how to provide satisfaction to individuals who complain. Practitioners are usually left to their own devices in the style and substance of complaint responses even when working within a defined complaint management system. This article draws on relatively abundant literature in the service marketing field to provide an understanding of dissatisfaction, complaining and complaint handling. Having developed an appropriate theoretical framework the article provides guidance for applying these concepts in dealing with formal complaints.