10 steps to an effective complaint

Complaining Effectively

by Joanne Guidoccio


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Emma likes to complain about everything. She always manages to find a flaw or deficiency in her latest acquisition. Her family and friends have learned to turn a deaf ear to her complaints, knowing that she will soon stop ranting and move on to her next purchase.

While most of us are not as negative as Emma, there are occasions where complaining is justified. If you are not satisfied with a particular product or service, take action by learning how to complain appropriately.

Start with a telephone call or visit to the offending retailer or service provider. Speak to the right people in the right order. Start with the sales associate and then move on to the Customer Service Manager. In a calm and rational voice, state your concerns and listen carefully to the response. Avoid any threats, undignified rants, sarcasm or inappropriate language. If you are not satisfied with the responses, thank the individuals for their time and take note of their names and positions.

Record all details of these encounters in a notebook or journal. In addition to their names and positions, include the date and what was discussed. Update the journal as you continue with the process.

Collect and organize all documentation related to your complaint. This includes bills of sale, warranties, licenses, cancelled checks, contracts and any letters you have received from the organization.

Compose a complaint letter. While most companies prefer emails, a well-written letter will have more impact. It serves as a permanent record of your grievance and may motivate the company to ensure that you and other customers do not experience these problems in the future.

Address the letter to a specific person. Do not use "Dear Sir/Madam" or "To Whom it May Concern." Use the internet to access the management structure of the organization. Most large companies have public affairs departments, which deal with consumer complaints. Alternatively, you could telephone the company switchboard and ask for the name and title of the appropriate manager or supervisor. Confirm the correct spelling of his name.

Begin the letter on a positive note. Use the first paragraph to discuss at least one positive aspect of the organization. For example, "I have always enjoyed shopping for appliances at your store. Many of the sales associates greet me by name and go out of their way to ensure that I am satisfied with my purchases."

State the nature of your complaint in the second paragraph. Include any details that the reader needs to know in order to process your complaint. For example, "On October 7, 2011, I purchased an oak fireplace stand for my flat screen television. It was delivered to my home on October 12, 2011. After the service people left, I noticed that part of one side was chipped. Enclosed are copies of the original receipt and delivery order." Do not send original copies of any documents in the mail.

Use the third paragraph to clearly state your expectations. For example, "Since the juicer does not perform as indicated by the manufacturer, I expect a full and immediate refund of $82.73 plus the postage I paid for the return of the juicer. I will wait two weeks for your response. If I do not hear from you, I will contact the Better Business Bureau." Do your research and learn about any consumer protection legislation that may impact your complaint.

Be realistic in your expectations, especially when dealing with high-ticket items or services. Do not demand free cable for life; instead, ask for two months of complimentary cable. If you are dissatisfied with a particular mechanic, but still wish to bring your vehicle to the shop, ask for another mechanic and one or two free tune-ups.

Ask a trusted friend or relative to proofread your letter. In addition to checking spelling, punctuation and grammatical errors, she must ensure that the tone of the letter is appropriate. Remember that you are writing a letter to an individual who is not responsible for your problem.

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