How to Complain Effectively
Consumers are often faced with several challenges when they wish to complain about a product or service. A good resource to help you complain effectively is the Complaint Road Map which is featured at ConsumerInformation.ca. The Complaint Road Map is a handy information tool which helps you complain more effectively and directs you to the right complaint handling body when dealing with businesses, service providers, and retailers. Use the Complaint Roadmap’s step-by-step approach to help you present your product or service complaint to a business. If after dealing with the business your complaint hasn’t been resolved, consider using the Roadmap’s next steps to find an organization to help you.
First Things First
- Give the merchant the first chance to solve the problem. Contact the salesperson, retailer or business when you have a complaint about any goods or services you bought. When there is a complaints department, use it. When there isn't, talk to someone in authority, such as a manager. A face-to-face discussion is best. Be firm and businesslike, but polite. Calmly and accurately describe the problem and what you want the company to do to resolve it.
- If the problem is not resolved that way, ask for the telephone number of the company headquarters and contact the customer service department. Request specifics about how and when something will be done, and get the company representative's name in case you have to refer to the conversation later. Write down any details of your complaint and keep them in a file. Make sure to date your notes.
- If your call doesn't produce satisfactory results, write a letter to someone higher up, such as the general manager or owner (see sample letter). Provide all the details of the problem and explain your efforts to resolve it. Ask for action. In the case of products, send a copy of your letter to the manufacturer, and be sure to keep a copy of it yourself.
- If none of these steps work to your satisfaction, consult the key consumer contacts of this Handbook for government offices and consumer organizations that apply to your situation. If you don't know where to start, call the federal-provincial-territorial government consumer affairs office where you live. Someone there will direct you to the right organization. Or visit the Complaint Road Map.
- Taking legal action should be your last choice. If you decide to sue, remember that there are often time limitations on filing lawsuits. You may wish to check with a lawyer about the legal process and any limitations that may apply to your case in your province or territory.
Strategies for Success
- Do not be afraid to complain. Good businesses will be pleased to correct any mistake on their part. They know that customer goodwill is the best form of advertising.
- Always keep a file of important information related to your purchase, include the sales receipts, repair orders, warranties, cancelled cheques, contracts and any letters you have written to or received from the company concerned.
- Do not procrastinate. When a product is defective or unsatisfactory, it is important that you return it quickly so that you do not lose the right to get your money back or to collect damages in some cases. Always check the return policy before you buy.
(Your City, Province or Territory, Postal Code)
(Your Email Address, if you have an email address where you can be contacted)
(Name of contact person, if available)
(Title, if available)
(Consumer Complaint Division, when you have no contact person)
(City, province or territory, postal code)
Dear (Contact Person):
Re: (account number, if applicable):
On (date), I (bought, leased, rented or had repaired) a (name of the product with serial or model number or service performed) at (location).
Unfortunately, your product has not performed well (or the service was inadequate). I am disappointed because (explain the problem: for example, the product does not work properly, the service was not performed correctly, I was billed the wrong amount, something was not disclosed clearly or was misrepresented at the time of sale).
To resolve the problem, I would appreciate (state the specific action you would like: money back, charge card credit, repair or exchange, for example). Enclosed are copies (do not send originals) of my records (include receipts, guarantees, warranties, cancelled cheques, contracts, and any other documents associated with the purchase).
I look forward to your reply and to your resolving my problem, and will wait until (set a time limit: usually 10 working days is sufficient) before seeking help from a consumer protection agency or filing a complaint with the Better Business Bureau. Please contact me at the above address or by telephone at (home and/or office number with area codes)
cc: (indicate to whom you are sending a copy of this letter, e.g., product manufacturer)
What to Do When You Have Complained Without Any Results?
If you feel you have given the company enough time and that your problem has not been resolved, send a copy of your complaint letter and copies of supporting documents (not originals) to, or file a consumer complaint with, your provincial or territorial consumer affairs office or Better Business Bureau.
Small Claims Court
Small claims court can be an informal and relatively inexpensive way to resolve disputes when the amount involved is less than $3,000 or, in some provinces, up to $25,000. However, you will have to pay a fee to file a claim. Once the suit is launched, you may have costs for such things as serving orders, payments to witnesses and travel expenses.
You do not need a lawyer to go to small claims court, although in most provinces and territories the help of a lawyer is allowed. The court staff is experienced in helping consumers prepare the necessary forms, and the judges have the power to settle disputes. This court allows each side to explain its story and does not expect consumers to know legal technicalities.
For information on how to proceed, contact the small claims or provincial or territorial court nearest you (look in the government listings in your phone book). The websites of these courts also often list the procedures to follow and have copies of the forms you will need to complete.
Class Action Suits
The purpose of a class action is to permit a large number of individuals who have suffered similar losses or injuries to band together in an attempt to recover damages.
This means that individuals who might not be able to afford to sue on their own can act with others in the same situation against the same defendant. All the participants in the class action suit share both the costs and the outcome.
With a class action, consumers with legitimate cases can afford what could otherwise be an expensive legal procedure. Currently, class actions are only allowed in some provinces in Canada. There are a number of steps to a class action, including having the suit certified by a court in order for it to proceed. Seeking advice from a lawyer on the process and the costs involved is a good first step.