How to Complain -- And Get Results

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The only thing that frustrates the ABC News Fixer more than watching people get the runaround is not being able to help every person who has a problem. If we don't choose your consumer problem for the column, here's how to tackle it yourself:

If it's a local problem, start local. Take a deep breath and use your nicest language. Get the store clerk or front office employee on your side by calmly explaining what happened and asking, "How can we resolve this?"

If you're dealing with a call center, have a notebook and pen ready and write down everything – the time and date of the call, the phone number you called, the case or reference number and the call center representative's name and ID number. Take notes on everything and before the call ends, ask the rep to read aloud the notes that he or she typed into the system.

Suggest a concrete, fair way to resolve the problem – a specific refund, credit, exchange or other resolution.

Remember that clerks and call center workers are human. Establish a respectful rapport and you'll get much further.

Ask how soon you can expect to hear back. If you don't get a satisfactory response in the allotted time, it's time to move up the ladder.

Ask for a supervisor, and if necessary a supervisor's supervisor. Again, keep your cool. If you're a longtime customer, say so. Tell them you hope the problem gets resolved so you can continue being a customer.

If you're still not getting anywhere, you'll have to write a letter. Be concise while including relevant details and suggesting a resolution. Tell the company that if you don't get a satisfactory response within a set period of time – say, two or three weeks -- you're going to file a complaint with a consumer agency (your state's Attorney General, a regulatory agency, the privately-run Better Business Bureau system, etc.) – and then be sure to follow through.

Here's a sample complaint letter from the Federal Trade Commission:

(Your address)

(Your City, State, Zip Code)

(Date)

(Name of Contact Person)

(Title)

(Company Name)

(Street Address)

(City, State, Zip Code)

Dear (Contact Person):

On (date), I purchased (or had repaired) a (name of the product with the serial or model number or service performed). I made this purchase at (location, date, and other important details of the transaction).

Unfortunately, your product (or service) has not performed well (or the service was inadequate) because (state the problem).

Therefore, to resolve the problem, I would appreciate your (state the specific action you want). Enclosed are copies (copies, NOT originals) of my records (receipts, guarantees, warranties, cancelled checks, contracts, model and serial numbers, and any other documents).

I look forward to your reply and a resolution to my problem, and will wait (set a time limit) before seeking third-party assistance. Please contact me at the above address or by phone (home or office numbers with area codes).

Sincerely,

(Your name)

(Your account number)

Include with your letter copies of relevant documents. Never send originals.

Send your letter by certified mail, return receipt requested.

Keep the master letter on your computer and tailor it as needed to file complaints online. You can find direct links to various consumer agencies here.

Don't dillydally. Time usually doesn't heal consumer problems, and in some cases you'll need to meet a deadline. For example, you have only 60 days to dispute a false credit card charge.

Stay strong. Many consumers win their battles – and there's a good chance you will, too.

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