How to effectively complain without being suckyon April 20, 2008 at 8:38 am
How to stand up for yourself without being a sucky customer
Sometimes it’s not the customer who’s sucky, it’s the company. When this happens to you, you can actually get what you need and deserve without becoming a sucky customer yourself. It just takes knowing how.
First, you should do some preparation work
1. Find out what your legal position is. In most places in the first world, there are consumer rights organisations which can help you with that. Use the phrase ‘consumer rights’ in a search engine to help you find them.
This is a list of government consumer rights bodies in some first world nations:
Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.
Canada’s Office of Consumer Affairs.
The European Union’s Consumer Affairs commission. Also see the Consumer Rights departments of the member nations’ governments.
New Zealand’s Ministry of Consumer Affairs.
The United States’ Federal Trade Commission. Also see the state Departments of Consumer Affairs.
2. Find out what your moral position is. This frequently, but not always, matches your legal position. There aren’t any strict codes here: you may want to check with friends and family to see what they think. Be aware that they’ll be biased towards you.
3. Decide what correction would be within your legal rights.
4. Decide what correction would be within your moral rights.
5. With those corrections in mind, choose a correction which would satisfy you, and a correction which would make you blissfully happy. Make sure both corrections are within your rights. Then choose something in between ‘satisfactory’ and ‘blissfully happy’ to ask for.
6. Determine how much it’s worth to you to fight for your legal and/or moral rights about the situation; and at what stage you’ll back off and let the other side have whatever they have. There’s no point in fighting for an hour over two cents, and there’s no point in backing off after a day if you’re out several thousand dollars.
7. Collect your supporting information. Receipts, a written history of the situation as it developed, repair documents, whatever you have or can get.
With your prep work completed, start complaining
Only go as far through this sequence as it takes to reach a correction that’s at least at ‘satisfactory’, or until you reach the point you decided was far enough. Remember that you’ll probably get upset as you go through these steps, so you’ll want to continue beyond what’s reasonable: stop at your pre-determined point, at least long enough to calm down and make a new decision whether or not to carry on trying.
At all times, keep your tone calm and polite, but as firm as necessary. It’s perfectly okay to say things like ‘this situation is frustrating me’ or ‘I’ve been working on this for a week now and it’s still not resolved’ or ‘I really hope you and I can get this done’. It’s perfectly okay to be politely stubborn, too. It’s not okay to yell and scream and swear at a rep.
Keep control of the conversation if you can; but be aware that the customer service rep is also expected to keep control of the conversation and does this all day, every day. Be willing to let them lead – especially if they’re being helpful – but use your prep work to make sure you don’t agree to a correction that’s less than satisfactory.
If offered an unsatisfactory solution, feel free to say things like ‘that is not an acceptable solution’, or ‘according to my research, I’m legally entitled to X’. But try to remember that the rep you’re talking to may not be permitted to give you X, even if that’s what you’re legally supposed to get. In a situation like that, ask the rep for the next level of customer service up – and if they offer it, thank them graciously. They’re doing the best they can for you.
Keep records. You can write the details of the contact on your most recent bill, or on a piece of paper filed with your bills. (It makes the bills look a bit messy, if you use them.) Write down the representative you contacted, the date, and what the call was about. (By the way: don’t push for the rep’s real name or their surname. All you need is a way for their supervisor to identify the rep if things go wrong. ‘The only Mandy in the BigTown call centre’ is plenty.)
The steps to take
1. Start with a verbal complaint to the basic ‘customer service’ level. This may be the customer service desk in a store, or it may be a customer service phone line, online chat room, or email address.
Lay out your complaint clearly. A good format is this:
- A one- or two-sentence summary of what happened.
- The correction you want.
- A politely-worded ‘please give it to me’.
Have your supporting information at hand, and show it to them if they ask.
If they take any items from you, request a receipt. 90% of the time you won’t need it, but if you do need it and don’t have it, you’ll have real problems proving a genuine complaint rather than a scam.
2. If the basic ‘customer service’ team can’t or won’t help, ask for a supervisor. Repeat the same process.
3. Escalate to the highest level of supervisor available in store/on the phone. If they can’t/won’t help, ask for an address to write to.
4. Write a good complaint letter. Keep a copy of the complaint letter for your own records. When you actually put the letter in the mailbox, write on your letter (or on a post-it stapled to your letter) the date on which you actually posted it.
- Make sure the top right of the letter has your contact details and the date on which you wrote it – which should be no more than two days before you post it. Preferably the same day you post it.
- Your first paragraph should include a two-sentence summary of your chief complaint, a two-sentence summary of the correction you decided to ask for, and any customer id or item ID numbers.
- Your second paragraph is a description of what went wrong – not anything that’s irrelevant (like a sob story), just the information they need to understand the complaint. If it’s long, break it into multiple paragraphs – don’t hit them with a Doom-Wall Of Text.
- Next, provide any detailed information about the supporting documents, if necessary. Receipt numbers, dates, and cashier numbers or IDs can be helpful. So can item serial numbers, repair documents (or the invoice #s so they can see their copies), and the like.
- After that, summarise the failed verbal attempts to correct the problem.
- Finally, in a separate paragraph or paragraphs, provide them with exactly what you want as a correction.
- To close the letter, thank the reader for their time and say something a bit sneaky like ‘I look forward to resolving this with you’.
- Sign it, and if it’s gone over multiple pages, put some sort of contact details on the bottom of the page under your signature.
5. Be prepared for a little bit of back-and-forth with whomever receives your complaint letter, but don’t stand for it taking an unreasonable length of time to resolve the dispute. Keep detailed records of every attempted resolution, if it’s come this far.
6. If the complaint letter doesn’t resolve it, go talk to Small Claims court, Legal Aid, or someone like that. Ask for their advice, and follow it. In your prep work, you found out where your consumer affairs bodies are in your part of the world – contact them.