4 Steps to Getting Your Way When You Complain

by Gary Foreman

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Don’t walk away from consumer complaints. Get maximum results with minimum effort by following these four steps.

All of us have complained about a product or service at one time or another. We’ve purchased a defective item, been the victim of bad advice, or were promised more than was delivered. If the problem is big enough, we’ll pursue a solution with determination and perhaps legal counsel. If the problem is small, we’ll likely grumble a bit and get on with our lives.

But, what do you do about those complaints that aren’t really big, but aren’t small enough to overlook? Most of us will just send out a nasty tweet or post something on Facebook and then drop it.

Sometimes that’s not a satisfactory answer. If we’re unhappy with the product or service, it’s much more likely that we’ll spend additional money trying to get what we originally expected. That’s rarely a good frugal strategy, especially when finances are tight.

You don’t have to walk away from those consumer complaints. There is a way to get maximum results with a minimum of effort. Try following these four steps to getting your way when you complain.

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1. Write It Down

A written record does a number of things for you. It forces you to mentally walk through the events and recall what happened. It allows you to organize your thoughts into a powerful argument. It also allows you to put both the damage and your requested solution into proper perspective.

The written record can be used in a variety of ways. You might find yourself sending a registered letter or putting it into an email. Even if you choose to visit the store in person or call in your complaint, it will be helpful to have your facts at hand. You’ll avoid missing details and overlooking important points.

2. Stick With the Facts

It’s hard for a business to ignore undisputed facts. If you have them on your side, your case is much stronger. Try to avoid opinions. They’re not worth nearly as much as something taken from your receipt, the product warranty statement, or a mission statement from the company website.

You’ll begin by stating what happened, what was promised to you, and who made the promise. Then you’ll state what was delivered and how it differed from the promise. Be clear on how the promise differed from the results.

Include details like dates, names of those present, and where it happened. Be as precise as possible. That precision will help show the other side that you’ve thought about the situation and will also let them know that you’re serious about a resolution.

3. Know Who Can Resolve Your Complaint

There’s no sense complaining to someone who won’t or can’t give you what you want. You’ll need to decide who to contact. That might take some detective work. You may need to make a phone call to the store to find out the manager’s name or do an internet search to identify the CEO.

Be realistic when you choose your problem solver. A $10 problem should be resolved by the store manager, not a corporate officer. Don’t hesitate to aim high though. You’ll waste time if you choose someone who isn’t authorized to help. If you’re a level too high, they can always refer it to a subordinate or make a quick decision.

Despite your best efforts, you might find that you’ve chosen the wrong person. If that’s the case, you should ask who you should be dealing with. Regroup and try again.

4. Know What You Want

Unless your goal is just to be heard, know exactly what you want to resolve the issue. Are you looking for a replacement product? A refund? An apology from the company?

Don’t wait for them to make an offer. Be clear about what you’re asking them to do. Being specific relieves them from guessing what you want. They may see your request as reasonable and simply say “yes.”

On the other hand, they may offer something less than your request. Be prepared for a counter-offer before you speak with them. Know in advance what is the minimum that would make you happy.

It’s also possible that they won’t offer anything. They could choose to just blow you off. At that point, you’ll need to decide whether to pursue it any further.

You could contact one of the complaint sites available on the net, or share a message with your social media friends and ask them to pass it along. That’s unlikely to bring your original resolution about, but it might make you feel better.

Most of us are not born complainers. We don’t even like to complain. But with these four steps, you can get positive results when you feel you’ve been mistreated by a store or company.

Reviewed August 2023

About the Author

Gary Foreman is a former financial planner and purchasing manager who founded The Dollar Stretcher.com website and newsletters in 1996. He's the author of How to Conquer Debt No Matter How Much You Have and he's been featured in MSN Money, Yahoo Finance, Fox Business, The Nightly Business Report, US News Money, Credit.com and CreditCards.com.

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