How to complain and get results
Dodgy shoes? Cold soup? Bad phone signal? These are all grounds to complain – and you should always speak out if a product or service is not up to standard.
It might be the pinnacle of Britishness to keep a stiff upper lip and get on with it, but that doesn’t mean you should accept sub-standard service or goods.
Learning how, and more importantly when to complain is important. It’s something most of us could do with brushing up on.
And, because telling people what they’re doing is a pile of steaming brown mess isn’t the easiest thing in the world, we thought we’d put together a guide of how to complain effectively and easily.
Feel free to complain if it isn’t good enough 😉
On this page:
It might sound obvious, but picking the right time to complain is just as important as actually doing the deed itself.
Whatever you’re thinking of complaining about, don’t do it if you’re just looking for a freebie or five. Not only will it be obvious you’re just fishing, it will ruin it for other people, and could lead to you being banned from the store (and here’s the proof).
As a general rule you should complain when:
- You received a service (such as a massage) that was shocking and awful
- Staff were rude or made you feel uncomfortable (like in a restaurant)
- A product you bought was faulty or it didn’t work at all
- Service or goods were delivered unreasonably late
- You felt you were overcharged for something you bought
- You were unable to return an item, even though you complied with the store’s return policy
- A company hasn’t satisfied all of its contractual obligations. For example, you were promised 500 minutes and unlimited texts, but only got the airtime
There’s more details on these in our consumer rights guide.
Once you’ve decided that you really have got a case for a complaint you can get your gears into action.
Lesson one complete – now it’s time to have a really good moan.
So: you know you’ve been wronged in some terrible and heart-wrenching manner, but how do you go about fixing it? Just follow a few simple pointers and you’ll be well on the way to a solution.
Make sure you’ve got all the facts
It can be easy to become the founder of Angry Rant Central when you feel like you’ve been shafted, but you need to make sure you’ve got all the facts first.
Give a full description of the issue and be aware of what your rights are – you can check out our full guide to your consumer rights or have a quick Google for advice on your situation.
Any photos, receipts or witnesses might help with your case – and the more you know, the better chance you’ll have of resolving the issue effectively. Offer the exact time of when you were in their store or making your order, too – as that, when combined with a description of the staff member who served you, can help a company to decide whether further action needs to be taken.
Know what you’re looking to achieve
It’s all very well knowing that the hot dog you ordered was delivered by a grumpy sod that made you feel about as wanted as a steak in a vegetarian restaurant, but you need to give the company some idea of what would make it right again. After all, they do depend on your custom.
The three main methods of fixing customer complaints are offering you an exchange or fixing the problem, refunding you for the goods or service, or offering compensation.
While you might not be automatically entitled to compensation or a refund in all circumstances, it’s often achievable and a lot easier to get results if you know what you’re looking for.
Know who to contact
Yes, contacting the manager or CEO to tell them their business is shambolic might seem like a tempting and productive use of your time, but you can often sort complaints much quicker and with a lot less hassle if you start at the source of the issue.
You should work your way up like this:
- First off, contact the person who made the mistake in the first place – or, if it’s about something you’ve bought, pop back into the store. In many cases, they’ll be able to sort it out for you right there and then.
- Or, if the store has a special customer services department, it’s worth going to them first – it is their job to keep you happy!
- Your next step up is to ask to speak to a manager.
- If you don’t fancy trekking back to the store, or you bought the item online, then the first port of call should be the company’s website, or even their Twitter page. Contact them privately via email, direct message or a phone call.
- Still no reply? Send an email or attempt to contact them again.
- Still nothing? Send a formal letter to the company’s head office.
Always be polite
While you’re probably not the happiest bunny in the world after the [insert bad experience here] incident, you have to remember that the people dealing with you are humans as well.
They will be much more inclined to help you out if you treat them with respect and understanding. Even if you are fuming inside. After all, it’s highly unlikely that they were directly responsible for the problem in the first place, right?
What’s more, if you are calm, it means you are more likely to explain your situation coherently and in enough detail.
You should always complain as soon as possible to stand the best chance of getting a positive end result. This is especially true if you’re complaining about faulty goods – and make sure you stop using them as soon as you notice the problem.
After all, would you really believe someone was distraught about the service they received in store if they only got round to complaining six weeks later? Or that the new frying pan was totally unfit for purpose from day one, but then they carried on using it for a fortnight?
If there’s a reason you haven’t been able to complain beforehand, be sure to include this in your complaint.
While we’d hope that you’ve got your complaint sorted out by now, there are occasions when you feel like you’re banging your head against a brick wall.
In this instance, it’s time to get your pens and paper ready, write the mother of all complaints letters, and take your complaint to the next level.
Some of the more entrepreneurial among you might want to try and write a viral complaint or make a complaint video that could gain thousands of views. However, this is easier said than done (Hint: companies normally react to complaints on Twitter, Facebook or review sites like Trip Advisor).
Finally, if you are really struggling to get any contact with the company, then you might want to look into taking legal action, depending on how serious the claim is.
If you’ve exhausted all the options available within the company itself and still aren’t happy there are people you can go to for help.
The Citizens Advice Bureau offer free advice to anyone on money, legal or other issues and you can either call, email or show up in person.
In some industries there may also be an Ombudsman service to help with disputes, but some may require you to sort the problem yourself. For example, if you are unhappy with any public transport service in London and are dissatisfied with their response, you can escalate the matter by contacting London TravelWatch.
If you want to take your complaint to pro skill level, then have a gander at our extra tips to ensure success.
- Know who to address it to: Whether you’re sending you letter to the MD or the customer services department, find the name of the right person to send it too and it will get there quicker.
- Quote the relevant consumer law: If you really want results fast, read up on the relevant law and quote it at them.
- Don’t apologise: While it’s important to be polite, make sure not to apologise for anything. It’s their fault, not yours!
- Keep copies of everything you send: The higher up you take your problem, the more people you’ll end up speaking to. It’s always useful to be able to reference how you’ve tried to resolve the problem already.
- Set a deadline: You don’t have to be rude, but you can ask for a company to get back to you in a reasonable timescale. This makes them much easier to chase up, too.
- Check your spelling: Bad spelling doesn’t excuse a company for not dealing with your complaint properly, but it will help give a good impression and show you’re serious about your issue.
- Include your details: If the company do decide they want to send you some freebies or dollar in the post, the whole process will be much quicker if you include your full details.
- You can be nice too: If you received a great service, why not take down the server’s name and then write to their manager giving some positive feedback? You shouldn’t expect anything, but you may get a voucher.
Have you had to complain in the past after having problems with service or something you’ve bought? Let us know below.
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