Life Support: How to make a proper complaint

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The Independent Online

Go American

The American service culture and mantra that "the customer is always right" has bred a generation of consumers better versed in their rights. While the British stiff upper lip might have waned, we still have a tendency to fume silently rather getting our gripes off our chests. It is about time we picked up a useful American trait.

Don't Apologise

Adopting a contrite tone will put you on the back foot. If your complaint is legitimate, then the person you're complaining to should be the one doing the bowing and scraping, not you. Whatever the problem - whether it is a fly in your soup or a shoddy resurfacing job on your drive – you are well within your rights to complain.

Know your enemy

Brush up on the complaints or returns policy of the organisation you are dealing with. Complaints and returns policies for shops differ. For example, while Marks & Spencer has famously generous returns policy, shoe shop Dune has been known to ask not only for a receipt, but also for the box the shoes came in, as sufficient proof of purchase.

Decide what you want to achieve by complaining

Do you want a refund, an apology, to prevent someone else falling foul of the same problem, or just to vent your spleen? Whatever your ambition, if you work it out prior to complaining, then you will have a much better chance of achieving your objective.

Stay calm

Be clear, calm and reasonable when setting out your complaint. If there is a long back story to, say, the breakdown of your washing machine, try and set events out in a chronological order. If you have done this and are still not getting anywhere with the person manning the front desk or the phone line, ask to speak to their superior.

Get expert advice

Complaining is the life-blood of consumer groups such as Which?, so make the most of their knowledge. The Which? website offers tips on everything from dealing with unfair phone charges, to handling energy suppliers, and returning faulty goods.

Know when to give up

At the risk of sounding defeatist, sometimes complaining is just not worth it. When you've telephoned and written, been reasonable and ranted, and are thoroughly exhausted with the whole process, it might be time to weigh up what you stand to gain, against the effort you are putting in to it. Maybe it's better to call it a day.