News & Politics

Be Polite, Keep Records, and Other Advice on How to Complain

By Lisa Shroder 

Government and nonprofit agencies request that you try to deal with a problem company yourself before contacting them. Here are tips on how to do that, adapted from the Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition’s Web site.

Before Complaining

• Organize your information: receipts, canceled checks, warranties, and service invoices and agreements. If your complaint is about a product, it’s good to know the model number, date of purchase, and name of the person who sold it to you. If your problem is with service, know who performed the service and when.

• If a warranty is involved, read it to understand what’s covered.

• Figure out what you want to happen. Do you want something repaired? Do you want a refund? If it’s a service problem, do you want the work redone? Try to be flexible, as the company may come up with a solution you haven’t considered.

When Calling to Complain

• Ask who is authorized to deal with customer problems. If you find yourself in automated-voice-system hell, check out, which offers a way to reach a human being at many companies.

• Try to remain positive and pleasant—it can get you better results. Remember, the person you’re dealing with likely had nothing to do with the product or service failure you’re reporting.

• When you reach someone who can help you, introduce yourself and record his or her name and the date.

• As simply as possible, state the problem and what you’d like done.

• If you reach an agreement on a solution, repeat it back to the person to make sure there’s no misunderstanding.

When Writing to Complain

• If calling doesn’t work, write a letter. This lets the company know you’re serious and ensures that it knows your side of the issue. The letter also starts a paper trail.

• Check the product label or warranty for the manufacturer’s name and address, or look up the contact information online.

• Direct your letter to the customer-service department or the company president. Sample letters are on the Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition’s Web site, (click on “consumer advice,” then “complain directly to the business”) and at (under “business,” click on “consumer resources,” then “consumer protection”).

• As with the phone call, keep it polite. State the problem and the date it occurred, enclose copies of supporting documents, and say what resolution you’re seeking.

• Say how best to contact you and when you’d like a response before you contact a consumer-protection agency or the Better Business Bureau.

• Keep a copy for your records.