How to Complain to Customer Service (and Actually Get What You Want)

How to Complain to Customer Service (and Actually Get What You Want)
Photo: fizkes, Shutterstock

Making a customer complaint is enough of a hassle on its own, but it’s made worse with all the barriers that companies can put in your way — like automated chatbots, unhelpful customer reps, or simply not having a phone number you can actually call. But even in the most frustrating of circumstances, we have some tips on how to most effectively escalate a consumer complaint.

Prepare before you complain

Before you attempt to contact customer service, come up with a succinct, fact-based summary of your concern that’ll be easy for a customer service rep with no prior knowledge to understand. To do so, collect all written records relating to your concern, whether that’s an incorrect bill, a relevant warranty, or a tracking number for a missing purchase. Also identify how you want the issue resolved, whether that’s a refund, or a replacement for something you purchased.

By doing a little research, you can know what to ask for, as well. For example, I recently replaced a cable TV box, and to ensure that I got the newest model, I Googled the exact name of the box so there could be no confusion about what I was asking for when I made the request.

Make your complaint

The next step is talking to customer service rep, either in-person, by phone, chat, or email. For years, I worked in customer service, and I say that there’s definitely a right way to escalate a concern. As cathartic as it may seem, getting angry or venting doesn’t help you resolve your problem faster. In my experience, anger just makes people more incoherent and prone to exaggeration that undermines the legitimacy of the complaint. Instead, be polite, unemotional, and remain firmly focused on the problem.

If you’re writing an email or letter, use this template and avoid too much detail — 300 words or less should do it. If the rep has more questions, they can ask. In most cases, this should be all you need to resolve a complaint.

Escalate your complaint, if needed

Sometimes you encounter a customer rep who simply isn’t helpful. In that case, calling again and trying to get a different rep can work, or you can try another method of customer service, like using the chat function rather than calling. If you’re just not getting anywhere with a frontline support person, you can ask for a supervisor to “escalate your concern” (I’ve found that’s the most polite way of putting it).

If you’re struggling to reach an actual person, consider using www.gethuman.com to find someone who will take your call.

Social media is a good last resort

Many companies now have Twitter and Facebook accounts that handle customer complaints. It doesn’t hurt that these complaints can be seen by other customers in a public forum, although again, you don’t want to seem unhinged or make defamatory claims you can’t back up. Sometimes these channels can be more effective in getting a response to your query.

Try a formal complaint

A lot of online companies save money by skimping out on a functional support team. The worst ones are intentionally unscrupulous about dealing with legitimate concerns, and they might simply ignore your concerns. When this happens, you can make a formal complaint with non-profit organisations and government agencies, including:

  • The Better Business Bureau, which can mediate a complaint against a company on your behalf. They also grade businesses based on their trustworthiness and how they interact with customers, so your feedback will help other consumers stay clear of poorly run businesses.
  • The Federal Trade Commission, which investigates serious consumer complaints, particularly if you’ve been cheated by a business or want to expose illegal business practices. You can do so here.
  • The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which is similar to the FTC but is more focused on helping consumers deal with complaints with financial companies. You can file a complaint here.

In Australia, you can try taking your complaint to your state’s Fair Trading Commission or the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC).

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