5 steps for lodging an effective customer complaint

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We don’t always get good products or services. A restaurant may have lost your reservation, or perhaps a perk or discount promised to you was not given. There can also be instances when a product you bought is defective, lacking some parts, or spoiled or expired. Newcomers may not know that it is within their rights to complain, or get a replacement or a refund.

Here are the steps to take to lodge an effective complaint:

  1. Stay calm

    Your first reaction might be to get mad. But remember – it will be to your advantage if you approach the situation calmly. Kindness yields better results than anger. The best way is to use clear and respectful language, provide proof then suggest a solution.

    Complain directly to the establishment’s representative, not on social media. This is counterproductive and unfair. It can backfire on you when people find out that you did not resolve the issue with the business first. You will also tarnish the reputation of the business without giving them a chance to explain or make up for a mistake. Remember that good businesses welcome complaints. It is a chance for them to improve their service and build goodwill with clients.

    Lodge your complaint as soon as possible after assessing the situation. If you wait too long, details may get hazy and you may lose witnesses (if you are complaining about bad service for example), or the period for returns or exchanges may pass.

  2. Be fully informed

    Check the terms of purchase before complaining (an even better practice is to know the refund or exchange policy before buying a product or service). These rules vary depending on the kind of product or service you availed and the condition that you are returning the product. For example, some items on sale (on discount) as well as personal goods like underwear, cosmetics or jewelry cannot be returned or exchanged. Also, some businesses accept returns or exchanges within a specific period and only if the product is defective or damaged. Know these limits. It would be useless if you complain beyond the deadline or if there is a no return policy.

    If you signed a contract, revisit the terms. See the provisions for replacements, repairs or refunds. Moving forward, remember to read and understand contracts fully before signing them.

  3. Gather files related to your purchase

    When returning merchandise, stores usually require the receipt (and of course, don’t forget to bring the product with you!). Others require a receipt, the original packaging, and the tag to be attached (especially for clothes). Bring documents like contracts, warranties, job orders for services, cheques or letters. For more complicated disputes, it will be helpful to note down dates and names like the personnel or service staff you have spoken to, the date and time you availed of the service or bought the product, and other details that will help you establish the conditions that support your complaint.

  4. Face to face discussion is best

    You can call a customer service line or send a letter of complaint. These can also get results. But if the issue is more complicated and you want immediate action, complaining in person is best. They are more likely to resolve the issue quickly.

    Approach the waiter, salesperson or customer service staff and communicate your concern clearly. Let them know what you expect as a fair and reasonable solution. If they can’t help you, ask if the supervisor or manager can assist you. Do this without being dismissive.

  5. Still no result?

    If your complaint is still not resolved, ask for the number of the company headquarters and contact the customer service department. If the call was not satisfactory, write a complaint letter to someone higher up (like the CEO).

    The Manitoba Consumer Affairs Office can also help. They can direct you to the right government office or consumer organization that can assist you with your specific problem. Another option is to file your complaint with the Better Business Bureau. If you have exhausted all means and still have no solution, now is the time to take it to social media. Many businesses understand how a negative post can affect their business. This can get their attention and move them to act.

    Legal action should be your last recourse. If you decide to sue them, consult the Law Phone-In and Lawyer Referral Service for any legal questions you may have.

Remember to choose your battles wisely. If the issue is worth your time, effort and money then fight for your right. Otherwise, just consider it a lesson learned.
Article updated July 7, 2020.

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Community Resources

Go to the Office of Consumer Affairs for guides on various consumer topics.

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