If you’re fed up over bungled bills, delayed deliveries and shoddy service but you’ve not complained, what’s stopping you? Find out how to complain effectively.
How to complain effectively
If you’ve got a problem, it’s up to the company or organisation to sort it out, but you can help yourself by making sure that you complain effectively. Here are my tips:
1. Be clear
If you’re complaining after a series of mistakes it’s easy to end up with an email or letter that’s several pages long, but which doesn’t make it obvious what you want.
SAVVY TIP: Make sure the most important complaint is at the top, that you explain it clearly and that you tell the company why they’ve fallen short of what you expected and what you’d like them to do about it.
2. Take advice
Consumers in the UK are — generally — well protected by laws and regulations, but they can be complicated. You don’t have to know the law inside out, but it helps to know what companies or organisations are supposed to do.
3. Get the complaint referred up
One of the frustrations of complaining in the age of the call centre is that it can be impossible to talk to someone who has the authority to sort out your problem. There’s no ‘one size fits all’ technique, but try not to waste your time repeating your complaint to people who can do little more than pass your details to someone else.
SAVVY TIP: In some cases, asking for the supervising manager (or similar) will help, but it may be more effective to write to the chief executive or managing director. While he or she is unlikely to deal with your complaint directly, it should be taken more seriously. Some larger companies have departments that deal specifically with complaints referred from the chief executive’s office.
4. Be organised
Keep records of all telephone calls you’ve had and all emails or letters you sent. Always get the name of the person you’re speaking to. Make a note of the date and time of call and write down a brief summary of what was said.
SAVVY TIP: If you’re including documentation, make sure you send copies. It sounds obvious but not everyone does it. Writing down the time of calls is useful as companies routinely record calls.
5. Ask for compensation for your time and effort
There’s no guarantee that you’ll get an extra payment for your time but you can ask.
6. Give them time
If you’ve waited to complain until you’re about to burst with fury you’ll want something done immediately. If it’s a straightforward complaint that might be possible, but the chances are it won’t.
SAVVY TIP: I’m not saying that you should go soft on the company and some complaints (no heating, money being taken from your bank account incorrectly) need to be dealt with swiftly, but don’t set unrealistic expectations.
7. Make the most of social media
8. Take your complaint further
There are a number of free-to-use Ombudsman schemes that will look at your complaint if you’re not getting anywhere. If they think you’ve not been treated fairly, they can order the company to give you a refund or pay you compensation. You can find out about the different ombudsman schemes in my article called What ombudsman schemes are there? Who can you complain to?
9. Use the media and the press
I’ve worked as a finance and consumer journalist for long enough to understand the power of publicity. Although I’ve worked on cases where publicity hasn’t made any difference to the outcome, in far, far more, it’s helped.
SAVVY TIP: If you’re going to threaten to expose a company or organisation in the media you have to be prepared to go through with it. They will want to be able to verify your story so you’ll need documents or evidence that can back up your claims.
10. Use the small claims courts
Going to court should generally be a last option, but sometimes it’s the only one left. If there’s a lot of money at stake, it may be worth talking to a solicitor (some still act on a no win, no fee basis). Otherwise you could use the small claims court. This isn’t a special court, as such, but you can either use your local county court or file a Money Claim Online.
If you need to make a complaint you can contact Resolver, which is a free to use complaints website.
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