How to maximise your chances of resolving a complaint with a business

Bargain Boss

As a consumer of goods and services, it is inevitable that complaints will arise at some point. We are all consumers, whether we realise it or not. The act of turning a light on in the morning, running water to brush our teeth, eating breakfast, filling petrol – these are all situations where we consume goods and/or services. The majority of these acts happen without issue, but occasionally we have a complaint to address. Here’s some steps on how to give yourself a good chance of resolving your complaint satisfactorily. I’ll also add some extra tips at the end of the article which helped me increase my chances of successfully resolving a consumer complaint when I worked as a Conciliator for Consumer Affairs Victoria.

1. Know your rights. It is very common for people to assume that they do not have any remedies available to them, or alternatively to assume that they are entitled to something which they aren’t. An example of this is the misconception that all stores must sell a product for the cheaper price if it has been incorrectly marked – I have seen people arguing loudly (and sometimes aggressively!) thinking this to be the case.

If you aren’t sure what your rights are, your best bet is to call your State’s Office of Fair Trading, check their website, or contact the ACCC. They should either be able to provide you with advice, or if the complaint relates to goods or services which do not fall under their control, can point you to the right agency to contact. They will also be able to advise if the matter may be something which they could possibly assist with (depending on the agency’s specific powers), should you be unsuccessful in resolving the dispute yourself.

2. Contact the business and/or manufacturer to discuss your complaint and ensure the person you are speaking with has the authority to resolve your dispute.

There are three key components to this step:

a.  Remain calm – no one wants to help someone who is screaming down the phone at them. While it is fine to be firm, being rude, aggressive, abusive, etc. will not help you achieve your goals.

b.  Have realistic expectations – if you have a faulty item which cost $50, seeking compensation for $200 when the item did no damage aside from not working is unlikely to occur. You are likely to walk away disappointed in the outcome. Whereas if your expectation is to receive a replacement item or a refund, you are much more likely to walk away happy.

c.  Write down the information of who you spoke with, when, and a brief summary of your conversation. This may be needed later, if the business/manufacturer doesn’t follow through with their resolution, or if you need to move to the next step, which is…

3. Send the business and/or manufacturer a letter of complaint. This can be done via email or letter, but if sending it by letter be sure to include the date, to keep a copy of it for your records, and if possible, to send it by registered post so there is a record of it being received. If you are unsure how to write this letter, check your State’s Office of Fair Trading website, as some have templates you can use. Your email/letter needs to include:

- The date

- A brief outline of what your complaint is, and why (e.g. the item is faulty, it is not doing what you reasonably expected it to do, etc.)

- How you have attempted to resolve the issue (e.g. who you spoke with, when, and what occurred)

- The remedy that you are seeking

- Copies of (never the originals) relevant documents such as the receipt, the warranty information, photos of the issue, contracts etc.)

- A fair and reasonable timeframe for the business and/or manufacturer to respond to your email/letter, or to action a resolution (I usually suggest 7-10 business days)

- How to contact you – if you are at the stage of writing to the business/manufacturer, it is a good idea to ask for their response to be in writing. This is so should you need to take the matter further; you have documented evidence of their response to your complaint.

- You can choose to include in the correspondence that should you not hear back from the business/manufacturer, or the response is not satisfactory, you will lodge your complaint with another agency. This agency could be your State’s Office of Fair Trading, another agency that handles complaints relating to your specific issue (for example a telecommunications/gas and electricity/water Ombudsman etc.), another party involved in the transaction who has their own internal dispute resolution process, like your bank (if you paid by Credit Card you may be entitled to a Chargeback), PayPal, eBay, etc., or your State’s small claims court.

4.  If you have still been unable to reach a suitable (and reasonable) resolution, you may choose to lodge your complaint with your State’s Office of Fair Trading or another agency who resolves complaints.

It is important to remember that should you reach this step, some agencies and/or companies have specific time frames which you must be within for them to assist you. This is definitely the case when it comes to applying for a chargeback with a bank. As such, it’s important to attempt to resolve the dispute at the first sign of an issue, rather than letting it drag out.

Extra tips I recommend:

- Be polite and courteous.

- Build a rapport with the person you are speaking to. Engage with them rather than just making an angry demand of them. This can be done simply by asking how they are, asking if they are busy, laughing at something funny that has been said, etc.

- Try and be sympathetic to their situation, especially if it is a small business, while still being firm on your rights – this is where knowing your rights is important, as it is easier to explain why the business should be resolving the complaint, not just insisting that they do so.

- Try not to call at times which would be busy or stressful for them. Examples of this would be 9am when they are just getting in to work, 5pm when they are closing up, over the lunchbreak period, etc. This is to try and maximise your chances of being able to speak with the correct person, and of them being open to helping you.

Good luck, and I hope this helped you feel a little more confident in resolving your complaints!

Disclaimer: The author is not a financial advisor and the information provided is general in nature and was prepared for information purposes only. This article should not be considered to constitute financial advice. Accordingly, reliance should not be placed on this article as the basis for making an investment, financial or other decision. This information does not take into account your investment objectives, particular needs or financial situation.

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