How to Complain Effectively
Consumers are often faced with several challenges when they wish to complain about a product or service. 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.
Provincial and Territorial Consumer Affairs Offices
Service Alberta, Consumer Contact Centre
Edmonton, Alberta T5J 4L4
Consumer Protection BC
Victoria, British Columbia V8W 9J2
Consumer Protection Office, Manitoba Justice
Winnipeg, Manitoba R3C 0B6
Financial and Consumer Services Commission
Fredericton, New Brunswick E3B 1E1
Newfoundland and Labrador
St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador A1B 4J6
Consumer Affairs, Department of Municipal and Community Affairs
Yellowknife, Northwest Territories X1A 2L9
Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations, Public Enquiries
1505 Barrington Street
Halifax, Nova Scotia B3J 3K5
Consumer Affairs, Department of Community and Government Services
Baker Lake, Nunavut X0C 0A0
Consumer Protection Ontario, Ministry of Government and Consumer Services
Toronto, Ontario M3M 1J8
Prince Edward Island
Consumer Services, Department of Justice and Public Safety
PO Box 2000
Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island C1A 7N8
Office de la protection du consommateur
Québec, Quebec G1K 8W4
Consumer Services, Department of Community Services
Whitehorse, Yukon Y1A 2N1
Better Business Bureaus
Better Business Bureau of Mainland B.C.
Vancouver, British Columbia V6B 2M1
Better Business Bureau of Vancouver Island
Victoria, British Columbia V8V 4A1
Better Business Bureau of Southern Alberta and East Kootenay
Calgary, Alberta T2E 0S9
Better Business Bureau of Central and Northern Alberta
Edmonton, Alberta T5P 0L3
Better Business Bureau of Saskatchewan
Regina, Saskatchewan S4R 2P7
Better Business Bureau Serving Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario
Winnipeg, Manitoba R3G 3H4
Better Business Bureau Serving Western Ontario
London, Ontario N6C 4Y7
Better Business Bureau Serving Central Ontario
Kitchener, Ontario N2H 3W5
Better Business Bureau of Eastern, Northern Ontario and the Outaouais
Ottawa, Ontario K1G 0Y9
Better Business Bureau Serving the Atlantic Provinces
Halifax, Nova Scotia B3L 2C2