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Know your stuff
Whether it's a faulty product or bad service (no matter how large the company), be sure that your complaint is a valid one. Checking the small print if you have signed a mobile phone contract, for example, is essential if you are to be clear about where the company has failed. Similarly, if you are complaining about a faulty product, read up on consumer law and if needs be, quote the regulation which you believe the company has breached.
And before you make that call or write the letter, decide what result you are looking for. Will you be asking for a refund or replacement? Perhaps you deserve compensation or are simply after an apology - whatever you think is reasonable.
As hard as it may be, try not to get bad-tempered and raise your voice - a foul-mouthed outburst will simply give the company the opportunity to put the phone down. By staying calm and polite, and offering a clear, concise complaint, they will have little option but to deal with the problem.
Writing a letter of complaint
Getting your letter of complaint right is essential if it is to have the desired effect. Ideally you should address the letter to a real person (try to get the name of the customer services manager) and if you are complaining about bad service, mention the name of the member of staff who was at fault.
Once you have written the letter, double check the spelling to ensure you are more professional than the company you are complaining to, and always include your own details (name, address, account or reference numbers).
Setting a deadline for the company to respond is entirely reasonable (14 days, for example) and be sure to send any letters by recorded delivery so that you can check they have arrived. Where possible, keep copies of your letters and any relevant receipts, bills or bank statements.
If you have complained via telephone or, in the case of a restaurant, in person but your complaint has not been dealt with satisfactorily, follow up with a letter. The Government's consumer rights website (www.direct.gov.uk) has a variety of template letters which may help.
If complaining in person, ask to speak to the manager. It takes courage, but don't be afraid to voice your concerns on the shop floor - the last thing a manager wants is a scene. Be firm and persistant - and if you don't get a satisfactory outcome, ask for the address and phone number of their head office.
Lastly, never apologise - it seems to be in our genes to be apologetic but if you are certain you are in the right, there is no need and it will only weaken your cause. Remember, the company is at fault and should respond accordingly.