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How to Make an Effective Consumer Complaint

by Dollar Stretcher Contributors

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How to Make an Effective Consumer Complaint

I need to learn how to make an effective consumer complaint. It seems like products always fail shortly after the warranty expires, or the services promised aren't delivered. Is there any way to get companies to do what's right? I'd love to find a way to complain that would get results.

Stay Polite

My good fortune in this area recently has come from my politely expressing concern about the quality of merchandise I'd purchased. In one case, I was given a gift card in the amount of my purchase. Another time I was gently helped past my own misunderstanding of proper use of the product.
Anna Marie

Know Who Can Help You

Most everyone starts a phone call to a company by saying, "Hi, I have a problem with this item" and then proceeds to tell the story of where they bought it, how long they had it, what happened, etc.

The right way is to ask who to contact for help resolving the issue. In other words, say, "Hi, who do I contact in order to get a replacement for my item under warranty?" Often you go right to the person who can actually help, rather than re-telling your tale half a dozen times.

Let This Information Guide You

I keep a copy of the free Consumer Action Handbook from the Government handy and use the information in there to guide me. It comes out every year with new updates and I have used it in the past with positive results.

Go to the Top

One of the best tools you have to make an effective, successful consumer complaint is the reference librarian at your local public library. Librarians love to look up things, and they have access to databases that would cost an individual a lot of money. The most effective complaints should go directly to the president of the company. His/her name and address may be very difficult to determine. That's when you call the reference librarian and ask for help. I needed to file a complaint with the president of a large national insurance company and his name and address were simply not to be found in any company literature or on the internet. It took the librarian about an hour to find this information for me. With the name and address in hand, I was able to get a huge national corporation to hand deliver me a check they owed me! In my letter, I quickly outlined the problem, gave the solution (this part is very important), and informed the company of what I would do if my demand and deadline were not met, including letters to the state's attorney general, the Better Business Bureau, the state insurance commission, and a local TV reporter contact I have. Apparently they believed me! I have used this method for years and have only been turned down once. And, I do not make threats I am not willing or able to follow through with. Keep your letter brief, unemotional, and to the point, stating clearly what the problem is, what solution you will accept, and what steps you will take if your demand(s) is not met. They take this sort of thing seriously.
JD in St. Louis

Advice from Someone Who's Been on Both Sides

Having been the complainant and the complaint taker, I feel I know a little about this task.

  1. You want to get the right information to the right person, so ask to speak to someone who can do something about your complaint. The person answering the phone or at the front desk may not be that person. Introduce yourself, speak clearly, and stay calm.
  2. You want to be able to give details as to why you are not satisfied with the product or service, so make a list of what you expected and what you got instead. (I expected the blender to make smoothies, but I got large pieces of fruit and ice instead. Or I expected the wash machine to clean my clothes but I got clothes that were still stained and dirty.) With this information in front of you, there is less chance of you getting off the subject as to why you are not satisfied.
  3. Ask the name of the person you are speaking to, especially if you are on the phone or online. Ask if they have an employee ID number, in case you get cut off, so you can call back and reach the same person. As I said before, ask if they are the decision makers when it comes to your complaints being handled. If they are not, then ask to speak to the person who is, even if it means waiting on hold for a few minutes to do so.
  4. Take notes as you are speaking to this person, you may have to refer to them if the first encounter does not get your needs met. My notes generally include the name of the person I am speaking to, the ID if they will give it to me, and the date and time of our conversation. Remember that in most cases, they will be recording you (another reason to speak clearly and stay calm). If you have to come back for a second time about promises made but not followed through on, you can give them this information, which they can double check with their recordings. Having this information has gotten, not only my complaint taken care of but a few extras thrown in, more than once.

Also giving them the information lets them know you are serious about getting your complaint heard and handled in the right manner, which is satisfying you, a good customer.

Get Your Pertinent Information Together First

I write companies if the product falls short of my expectations. In fact, I just wrote Old Navy and received a $20 gift card. I, as the consumer, expect that I will receive a good product, and if things fall short, I just go to the website or use the 800 number and complain. 95% of the time I get the item replaced, get a free item, or something of that nature. These companies do not want you to bad mouth them and are very willing to make you a satisfied customer. Always have all of the pertinent information, including lot codes, UPC codes, receipts, date purchased, etc.

Keep It Nice and Respectful

I've had great results by being nice and respectful. First off, you should state that you understand that the person you are talking to did not cause the problem. Second, praise the company with compliments on past experience with their products, etc. Then, very calmly explain your problem. A little humor helps also. Ask who can you speak to that can solve the problem. If you are referred to someone else, repeat steps one, two, and three. You will find that help will be forthcoming.

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Frame Case with Positive Outlook

For effective consumer complaints, always frame your case with a positive outlook. I usually start by saying how much I love the product and how disappointed I am that this particular one failed to live up to the manufacturer's usual standards. If the product comes with an additional warranty extension, which, of course, I never buy, I point out that I didn't feel that I would have needed it since I had such faith in the company's products. Even if the warranty has expired, this approach usually has very good results.
V. McLean

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