Complaints About Products and Services: Some Hints for Getting Results

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Almost everybody at one time or another has had a legitimate complaint about a defective product or poor service. And a lot of people get frustrated about getting the run-around instead of getting results.

Most reputable firms - like - be it a financial institution or your local drycleaner -- depend on repeat business and customer referrals for a large share of their business. They want to know if their products have been found faulty, if a mistake has been made, or if employees dealt rudely or ineptly with customers. Companies not on the up-and-up -- the fly-by-night scams or frauds -- generally aren't in business to satisfy customers, so complaints about disreputable firms should go to law enforcement officials.

Needless to say, it's in the customer's interest to get a positive response to a legitimate complaint. Here are some pointers to help you get results.

  • When you have a serious problem, it's important to complain in writing rather than to depend on telephone calls and messages. With a written complaint, both you and the company have a clear record of your report of a problem.
  • First, make sure that what you're complaining about can be expressed clearly and specifically. Prepare a short summary of the problem, whether you're complaining in person, by telephone, or by letter.
  • Pull together the records you need -- bills, service records, warranties, transaction receipts -- and make copies of the originals. Take the copies with you when you are complaining in person or enclose copies with your complaint letter.
  • Know in advance what you would like the company to do to resolve the problem. Do you want the product repaired? Do you want a replacement of the same product or another manufacturer's similar product? Do you want a refund?
  • A complaint about poor service should let the company know whether the bad service caused resulting problems. If poor service caused an increase in your costs, specify what those costs were. For instance, if a plumbing leak was not properly repaired and caused water damage, you might ask the company to cover the cost of repairs needed.
  • As soon as you discover or encounter a problem, try to resolve it immediately by telephoning a company representative or visiting the store or service outlet. Have copies of your papers -- receipts, warranties, dates of service or delivery -- readily available. Write down the name of the person to whom you complained, the date, and the result, that is, what steps the company will take to resolve the problem.
  • If you're not satisfied at this level, request the names and addresses of customer service representatives and top executives of the company. If this information is not readily made available, consult your packing documents, warranty information, telephone directory, internet searches or local library.
  • Prepare a formal letter to these people outlining the problem, the steps you've already taken, and the resolution you're requesting. Include copies of the papers previously noted. Also, mention a reasonable deadline for the company to resolve the problem.
  • There's a much greater chance of resolving your problem if the complaint letter is sent as soon as possible and if it is sent registered mail. It lets the company know that you are serious about the problem and provides a dated and signed record of your formal complaint that you might need in the future.
  • Follow up with another letter if your deadline is not met. Mention further steps you plan to take, such as complaining to a local Better Business Bureau or government agencies. Enclose a copy of your previous letter.

Most reputable businesses plan to be around for a long time. They know that the key to their continued viability is customer satisfaction. Your complaints alert them to product and service quality control problems that can cost them future business. That gives you the clout to get your legitimate complaints properly resolved -- so don't be afraid to use it when necessary.

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