How to complain...

Customer service, customer satisfaction, customer care.... When you deal with a large company, it's natural to expect a certain level of customer service, but when you don't get it, what do you do next?

We've all been the victim of...

  • Technical support companies who'll charge you £1 a minute while they ask a colleague
  • Banks, who'll charge you at every opportunity
  • Mail-order companies that fail to deliver what they promised, when they promised.
  • Utility companies with so many departments you get shunted around, at your expense, and still can't get your query resolved

Phone calls

If you're on the phone, get the name of the person you're speaking to. I've worked on the phones for a major credit card company, and when customers have asked for my name, it means "be careful, they're taking notes... if I make a mistake here, they could make trouble for me."

If you're not happy, ask to speak to a supervisor, and don't take no for an answer. Also, if it's their fault, get them to call you back. Why should you wait while they find the right person and explain the problem at your cost?

You may want to record a copy of any phone call you make. If you have a PC with a sound card and a mic, you could make the call over Skype, recording the call with some audio software such as Audacity. Another option is to use a service called Complaint Copy - although note that per-minute charges apply.

Dealing with online companies

Your first approach should be by email, although in many cases, you'll be fobbed off with an automatic reply, or get a mail from someone low in the command chain, not able to help you. If the reply is unsatisfactory, or non-existent, try another email address. Sending a message to or is a good way of getting a message to a different part of the building. If things get really bad, have a search through their site and collect as many email addresses as you can find.

Personal addresses, rather than department addresses, are obviously best. If things get really bad, fine out the MD's name, and try to guess his address -, or maybe - The boss isn't going to want your complaint clogging his Inbox, so may escalate the matter for you, to get you off his or her back.

Making the complaint

In the first instance, write to the branch/department that have caused the problem. They should have the facts at their fingertips, and should have the authority to get the matter sorted. Take time to address the letter correctly - "Dear sir or madam" carries a lot less clout than a letter personally addressed to Mr Smith, the Customer Service Manager, and if you take a complaint to an individual, they're far more motivated to deal with you fairly.

Do some homework

If you're having a problem, chances are, you're not alone. Try the following:

  • Search engines. Some disgruntled customers put up pages to publicise contacts details of companies that are hard to get hold of. Pages like this often offer a good collection of phone numbers, email addresses or postal addresses. Others contribute to complains forums. Again, searching Google should help.

Taking it higher

If you can't get satisfaction from your initial letter, there are several ways forward:

  • Write to Head Office . A look at the company's website should give you the address, and a quick call or email should get you the name of the person to write to.

  • Write to the regulator . Does the company have an regulator or watchdog? If you've been treated unfairly, they may take up the case for you. Write, with details, dates and names.

  • Trading Standards . If you've been mis-sold something, a company's changed its contract, prices or tariffs and left you at a disadvantage, Trading Standards may be able to help. For more, see Consumer Direct



Companies dislike negative publicity. If things get bad, tell the company what you plan to do. This is important for two reasons, one, it'll make the company believe you're serious and may make them rethink, and secondly, if you've given them adequate warning, there's less chance of comeback on you if they take offence to your brand of publicity.

  • Comment in a forum. By commenting in a consumer forum, you're preaching to the converted - people who are used to bad service. Posting your story here is unlikely to scare a large company, but may enlist some support, tips, or good contact names at the offending company.

  • Website. If you have a website, post a summary of your case online, including details of the contact names/numbers you've collected. This helps others by saving them some work, and if your site's well listed with search engines, means there's a good chance of your page getting spotted by those searching for the company name with the word "complaint". (Alternatively, add to our list of who to complain to)

  • The Media. Consider submitting details of your complaint to BBC Watchdog, Radio 4 You and Yours, and to Which? They may decide to take up your case, act on your behalf, or highlight bad practises

Ways to complain online:

  • - Log your complaint online, plus details of the right way to complain to a specific company
  • Consumer Direct - Complain to your local Trading Standards online
  • - leave complaints and comments about companies you have used
  • Grumbletext - Send a complaint by text message
  • If it's a major story, BBC's Watchdog might just take up your cause.

So, what can you achieve?
  • A refund of any charges applied in error
  • Occasionally, a "gesture of goodwill" payment, or a voucher for discounts against future purchases
  • Satisfaction that you've caused a company to spend time, effort and resources dealing with little old you!
  • Satisfaction in knowing you've had your say. If you've stirred up a fuss, or some publicity, maybe you've spared other customers from the hassle you've had to go through!

Don't settle for poor service - they're bigger than you, so don't let them get away with it.

Mark Nelson

See our Who to complain to section to see the list of company contact details we've collected so far, and those to be wary of!

Other useful sites: Watchdog's Consumer Law

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