5 steps for lodging an effective customer complaint

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We sometimes do not get the right service. It can be a reservation that was lost, an advertised discount not given, a promised perk missing, or just plain bad service. There can be instances too where a product you bought is defective, lacking some parts, or if it is something perishable like food, spoiled or expired. Newcomers may not know that it could be within their rights to have a replacement or refund.

Here are the steps you can take (based on the Complaint Road Map from Consumer Information.ca) to lodge an effective complaint:

  1. Be aware of terms and policies

    First, be aware of the terms of purchase before complaining. An even better practice is to read or ask about the refund or exchange policy before you buy (or avail of a service). These policies vary depending on the kind of product or service, and the conditions that you are returning the product. For example, some products on sale (on discount) or personal items like underwear or jewelry cannot be returned or exchanged. They are final sales. Some businesses accept returns or exchanges within a specific period and only if the product is defective or damaged. So don’t assume that you always have the right to a refund or exchange. Check 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 for the product or service, revisit the contract terms. See if there are instances when you can return the product, receive a refund, or void the contract. Again, an even better practice is to read and understand contracts fully before signing them.

  2. Gather files related to your purchase

    When returning merchandise, stores usually require a 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). Have documents like contracts, warranties, job orders for services, checks or letters (complaint letter or the merchant’s reply, etc.). It may be a good idea to write down dates and names as well. For instance, the names of staff you have spoken to, the date and time you availed of the service or bought the product, etc.

  3. Don’t be afraid to complain

    The next step is to approach the merchant and ask for a solution. Don’t be afraid. It is your right. Talk directly to the establishment’s representative. Going straight to your Facebook page to rant about a bad service or product (without talking to the people concerned) can be counterproductive and may not yield the results you want. You will be putting the reputation of a business in a negative light. It can also backfire on you when people learn that you did not take proper steps. Good businesses actually welcome complaints. It is a chance for them to improve on their service and build goodwill with clients as well.

    Lodge your complaint immediately after assessing the situation. If you wait too long, you might lose your right to complain – details may get hazy and you may lose witnesses (if you are complaining about bad service for example) or the limited period for returns or exchanges may pass.

  4. Face to face discussion is best

    Calling a customer service line can also have good results. But if the issue is more complicated and if you want immediate action, complaining in person is best. They cannot put you on hold, plus they are more likely to resolve the issue quickly, especially if other customers are listening in.

    Talk to the waiter, salesperson, or customer service staff as calmly as you can. Clearly tell them your concern or complaint. Be firm but polite. It is also important to let them know what you expect as a solution. But make sure that it is a fair and reasonable demand. Bring all the necessary documentation (receipts, contracts, etc.) with you.

    If you are not satisfied with their answer or if they can’t help you, ask for someone in authority like the supervisor or manager.

  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 problem. Another option is to file your complaint with the Better Business Bureau. And since you have exhausted all means, now is the time to take it to social media. Many businesses today have employees who check social media feeds. They now understand how a negative post via these channels can affect their business.

    Legal action should be your last recourse. As a first step, you can consult the Law Phone-In and Lawyer Referral Service to answer some legal questions you may have.

    Always remember to choose your battles wisely. If your issue is worth the time, effort and money, then go for it. Otherwise, just consider it as a lesson learned.

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Community Resources

The Canadian Consumer Handbook is a good site to learn all about consumer topics to help you understand the Canadian marketplace.

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