Thursday, September 20, 2007

How to File a Complaint -- and Win

In a perfect world, everything that we purchase would work exactly how we thought it would and there would never be any problems.

Unfortunately, we don't live in a perfect world, and the chances are that there are going to be times when things we spend money on move us to make a complaint.

The news and Internet are full of examples of problems between businesses and their customers. Consumer complaints with airlines more than doubledin July to a five-year high. And if you check your local Better Business Bureau, it will likely have plenty of complaints about businesses near you.

Initial Steps

If you find yourself in a situation where you are unsatisfied with the product or service you received, you need to know how to act before you even consider a complaint:

Stay calm: No matter how upset you are, remain calm (but firm). Getting angry and shouting isn't going to solve your problem any quicker and will likely make resolving it more difficult.

Remain polite: Again, even if this is difficult, always remain polite. Being rude is not going to win you any points and will make it much more difficult to resolve the issue.

Get names: Be sure to get the name of every person you talk to at the beginning of the conversation and have them repeat or spell it, so they know that you have recorded it.

Keep detailed notes: Write down key details of any conversation you have with particular emphasis to any promises that are made. Before ending the conversation, repeat everything of substance to confirm that what you've written is correct.

Know what you want: Let the company know exactly what you want to resolve the issue. By letting them know, they don't have to guess, and it is more likely that you will be offered a resolution that you expect.

Be flexible (when appropriate): If you know exactly what you want and nothing else is going to satisfy you, stick to your guns, but realize that in many situations, being flexible can go a long way toward resolving the issue faster.

How to Complain

With these in mind, here is how to go about effectively complaining to resolve the issue:

Act quickly: Your best bet to resolve a problem is to act as soon as you see the problem. That means if the problem comes to light while you're still at the store, take up the complaint then and there. If it happens at another point, don't wait a week before doing anything. The sooner, the better.

Contact the company: If it is a situation where you cannot solve the issue immediately on the premises, then contact the company's corporate consumer-affairs department by email, online form or phone as soon as possible. You may want to take a few minutes before contacting to write down all the pertinent information that you have so you can give it quickly and efficiently.

Ask for a manager: If you don't seem to be getting anywhere with your complaint at first, ask to speak with a manager. Generally, the higher the position of the person you talk with, the more authority they will have in solving the issue.

Write a letter: The next step to take if a phone call doesn't resolve the issue is to place your complaint in writing. Be concise (keep it to a single page) with only the relevant facts, and state what you want. Make sure to include a time period you expect to receive a response to your letter and ask that they reply by written letter. Send it to the company by registered mail and keep a copy for yourself. If you aren't sure how to write a quality complaint letter, there are plenty of free templates on the Internet.

Take It to the Next Level

If the previous steps have not resolved the issue, then you will need to decide whether it is worth the time and effort to continue to pursue it. If you do decide to escalate the issue, you need to understand what it will take to get the company to listen to you.

"The most important thing a consumer can do to help quickly resolve a dispute is to figure out a way to let the company know it will cost them more to ignore you than to solve your problem. The book Unscrewed by Ron Burley contains a veritable arsenal of effective techniques on that subject," advises Ben Popken, editor of a consumer-focused blog.

If it is necessary to take it to the next level, here are some additional steps you can take to try and resolve the problem.

Contact relevant organizations: Contact any relevant organization that might have influence:

These complaints can have an effect on local businesses, and most will want to resolve the issue so it doesn't damage their reputation.

Contact online Web sites: There are a growing number of Web sites and blogs, like The Consumerist, that let consumers make public, online complaints, which can generate publicity that helps to get the problem resolved:

Contact your local media: Many local TV stations and newspapers now have consumer reporters who are always looking for a good story in which someone has been wronged. They can use their media clout to help resolve the issue. In Malaysia, we have TV3, berita harian, NSTP, utusan, AFP, Reuters, etc.

Small-claims court: If all else fails, consider going to small-claims court to resolve the issue. You will need to do a bit of research to make sure that you can actually make a claim there, but if you can, it is relatively inexpensive (usually under $100) to file a claim, and you will get your day to convince a judge that you deserve what you have been demanding.

Unsatisfactory service or buying a product of disappointing quality is never a fun experience. But knowing what you can do to resolve the problem can help settle the dispute as pleasantly and efficiently as possible -- while still making sure that your voice is heard loudly and clearly by the offending company.

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