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Planning Retirement Online

How to Complain

In broad terms, there are two types of complaint. The first one is the spontaneous complaint, which we make when we're in the middle of a situation in which we're not getting what we should. A good example is poor service in a restaurant.

Couple complainingThe second type is when we complain as a result of something that has happened and we have plenty of time to decide how we're going to make our complaint. Clearly, this type of complaint is usually (but not always) less emotional because we're not in the heat of the situation and therefore we can approach it more rationally. We can also plan how to be most effective with our complaint.

Spontaneous Complaint

In some ways the first type of complaint, when we are in the middle of a situation, is more difficult to get right because we have no time to plan it. On the other hand, the immediacy and emotion of the situation often mean that whoever it is you are complaining to is much more inclined to accept your complaint to avoid other people overhearing your unhappiness. In many ways, therefore, we are in a strong position. To take advantage of this position, consider the following strategy:

1. Stay calm. Although we might be feeling angry, losing one's temper in the first instance can very often be counter-productive. It's usually better to be calm and in control  - as in the laws of Physics, any action causes a reaction, so to start a complaint by getting into a noisy argument can be counter-productive.

2. Be assertive without being aggressive. Be very clear about what you want whilst remaining polite. It's usually much more effective to clearly state what's gone wrong and to explain how you would like it rectified without being offensive. Being aggressive usually means not allowing the other party to explain their side of the case or to explain what they will do; if you don't allow people to do this they will very often dig their heels in and become more intractable than they might have been.

3. If, after being calm, polite and assertive you still don't achieve what you think is right, then we can escalate the complaint. Depending on the circumstances, we can ask to see the manager, say that we're going to complain to some form of higher authority or even say that we'll report them to the appropriate watchdog or television programme.

4. The last resort is to say that we're very tempted to start creating a scene so that everyone within listening distance will be able to hear our complaint. This will be embarrassing for whomever we are complaining to and will probably not be good for future business. However, threats like this should only be used if all else fails and we feel that we have no options left.

After the event Complaint

For the second kind of complaint, when we have the time to consider carefully what we are going to do, we should be in a good position to make our case effectively. On the other hand, because it's not so immediate, in some ways it's easier for the organisation to whom we are complaining to ignore us. Therefore, we need to make our case persuasively and well. The following ideas may help with this:

1. Be clear about the nature of your complaint - what exactly went wrong and how and why are we dissatisfied? We need to have all the facts and provide as much detail as we can.How To Complain

2. Decide what it is that we want to happen as a result of the complaint, so that we can be explicit when we tell them what we want. Do we want an apology, a replacement, better service in the future, compensation? We need to decide before we complain.

3. Try to ensure that we complain to the right place. By this we mean that we should direct our complaint to the person or body whom we think will sort the problem out for us the quickest and most effectively.

4. Gather any evidence that we can so that we can be factual and back up our complaint with physical resources. We should provide as much detail as we can when we complain and if we are sending physical evidence we must ensure that we keep a copy ourselves.

5. Act as quickly as we can; complaints that are made some time after the problem occurred are always considered to be less important, unless there are extremely good reasons for the delay.

6. If in doubt, we should check our legal rights before we complain. For help with this, go to How To Complain.

7. Whether it's a verbal or written complaint, follow the advice above and stay calm, being assertive not aggressive.

8. If we complain over the phone we should follow it up with a letter to provide written proof of the complaint.

8. Keep a complaint diary so that, if we have to escalate it, we can provide chapter and verse about what we have done.

9. If we do have to escalate a complaint, make sure that we contact the most appropriate people. There is a list of regulatory bodies to whom we might complain on How To Complain.

10. Be persistent and don't give up if we genuinely feel that we have a valid cause for complaint.

Guide to Complaining links

When we complain, we want to see an end product to the complaint; we want it resolved to our satisfaction so that we feel that we haven't been hard done by. We shouldn't complain just for the sake of it and we don't want to portray the image of the grumpy old man, or woman, just for the sake of it. However, if we genuinely believe that we are not getting what we should, then we have a right to express our dissatisfaction. Indeed, it could be argued that we have a duty to do so in order to prevent other people having a similar experience (see the Why to Complain page of the Guide).

So read the rest of the Guide to find out how to be as effective as possible when the need arises to assert your rights as a consumer. If you have any hints or tips that you would like to share in order to make us all better at complaining, please do so through the feedback form or by going to our Forum.

This Guide is written by Retirement Specialist Dave Sinclair supported by members of the LaterLife team. As well as writing on retirement matters Dave is Training Director at LaterLife and responsible for the content and continuous improvement of LaterLife's Retirement Courses.
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