Tuesday, 15 June 2010

How to complain effectively in life and everything

In my practice as a litigation solicitor over the last 25 years many people have come into my office with a bundle of papers representing a complaint about some service they have received and told me how frustrated they have become with the process of complaining.. From their experiences I have distilled twelve basic tips to help you on your way to effective complaint.

• Find out if there is a complaints procedure and if so get a copy of it. Many industries are now obliged to have a procedure and many others chose to have one. If there is no procedure work out to whom you should be sending your complaint which, if in doubt, needs to be someone who has authority to deal with it
• Write a summary of the background to your relevant dealings with the company (chronologies are often useful, but only key dates are necessary) and of the reason for complaining. Except in the most complex of complaints this should be no more than a side of A4. This will be your letter of complaint
• Be firm in your language but don’t get emotional, ‘personal’ or abusive. We can’t help it when we’re very cross but believe me it won’t help you to let this spill over and may make it less likely that you will be taken seriously. Calling someone a ‘bare-faced liar’ is unlikely to be necessary for you to succeed in your complaint and you probably can’t prove it anyway. Rather say they have made a mistake where possible. . We all make mistakes occasionally and establishing a mistake is often all you need to succeed in your complaint
• By the same token avoid irrelevancies e.g. it may be that one person in the company did spell your name wrong ‘on top of it all’ but is that relevant to your core allegation? All including it does is slow down the resolution process as the company tries to investigate and answer each item, relevant or not to the desired outcome
• Set out in the letter what you would regard as a successful outcome. Set out your losses although on the subject of compensation it may be best at this stage to keep the figure open to allow negotiation ( it is possible in some cases to get compensation for distress and inconvenience but usually this is a ‘negotiating issue’)

• It’s useful to remember and to articulate that you and the company have a common cause: to improve the company’s service for the future
• Let someone else check your complaint letter before it’s dispatched. Make sure the letter is dated and copies of all relevant documents are attached. Keep a copy of your letter and retain all original relevant documents
• Pace any chasing up. Companies are busy and you are not their only problem. Only the biggest ones have complaints departments. Make sure that they stick to their own procedure, but otherwise as a rule of thumb, unless your case is urgent, or alternatively very complex and time-consuming, it would be reasonable to expect an acknowledgement in 7 days and a substantive response in 28 days
• Take seriously any response, even if it rejects your complaint as long as reasons are given. After all, you may have been mistaken yourself.
• If you make progress, be prepared to negotiate. It is rare for one party to be wholly in the right, still rarer for them to be able to prove it. It is usually sensible to accept a deal as long as its reasonable, even if not ideal
• Decide whether to take legal advice. For very small value complaints this may not be an economic option. However many legal firms offer a fixed fee interview which may be a useful check on whether you are going about things the right way. A good lawyer will tell you whether he thinks you could do better or worse in court which may well determine whether you should settle. He/she may bring you down to earth or find a way to make your complaint more effective with some tweaking or see a way to get higher compensation. In some cases legal costs can also be claimed, depending on the type of complaint and its value.
• Finally, don’t let the complaint dominate your life, even for a second. There’s more to life than complaining