Sunday, May 5, 2013

Simply Satisfied: How to Resolve Simple Consumer Complaints


Pure serendipity. That’s the only way I can explain finding A Jolly Good Dime last week when I intended to write “How to Write a Complaint Letter,” but had only a disorganized outline for the subject. And that’s still the case. Hopefully next month ....

For now, let’s start with the simple complaint like finding a dime in a package of frozen green beans. When Pat Edwards wrote A Jolly Good Dime, most complaints sent out of town were delivered by the postal service. Unlike 1978, companies today encourage consumers to call their toll-free numbers.   

Since I've actually been paid to make complaints on behalf of others, I feel comfortable coaching you on the subject. And learning to make an effective verbal complaint is good practice in learning the basics of a written one.


Have paper and pencil ready before you dial the number. Since the number is often hard to see, write the company’s phone number on your paper. If calling about a packaged product, note the product’s identification number—the tiny digits under the bar code.

If you have the receipt, clip it to the note, and highlight information company reps often ask for—date purchased, price, store name and location.

If you are angry, cool off first so that your attitude is professional. If diplomacy is not your forte, check a thesaurus to help you find appropriate words or phrases to express the problem. If the smell of a can of soup told you it was not safe to eat, there’s no need to say it smelled like an outhouse or wet stray dog. “Unpleasant odor” will do.

Be ready to describe your complaint. Did you try something for the first time, and simply experienced dissatisfaction? What did you expect from your purchase? What exactly displeased you about it?  

Did foreign matter in a food product alarm you? Be sure to keep anything like that, even if it’s made more gross by spitting half chewed contents of your mouth into a plastic bag. The company may want their lab to examine it.

Its often helpful to peruse a company’s website before calling them.

Know what you want in the form of a resolution. A simple thank you for contacting or an apology? Product replacement? You may be happy with a coupon for one of their other products.

The telephone call

If the laws in your locale permit it, record the call. As a communicator, it’s good to have recordings for self-critique. Also if you ever need it, you have the word-for-word conversation with voices as well as proof of any long, annoying waiting times.

If an actual person answers the phone, and especially if done in a timely manner, express your appreciation for telephone courtesy. 

Briefly say you have a comment about their product, and want to speak to someone in quality control. You may need to answer questions in order to be connected to the correct person or department. Be sure to follow your answers with queries as to who your call is being transferred to, correct spelling of that person’s name, and extension number. This will save you time should a disconnect occur.

Introduce yourself, and get the name and position of the new person you are speaking with.

Begin with a positive. Things you might mention: how long you've used a product or items in that company’s product line, the easy navigation of their website, the courtesy of the receptionist.

State the purpose of your call—your product expectations and in what way they were not met. Do not exaggerate.


Typically companies will thank you for your business, and offer to send you coupons to replace the defective product.


The handling of more complicated complaints will be the subject of a future blog.

(c) 2013, Bernice W. Simpson


  1. I'm a dissatisfied customer more that I care to admit. My discontent comes not only from substandard products but also inferior customer service. Thanks for the tips.

  2. I hope they help you. When you receive less than you expected in customer service or product quality, most companies want to know. For your time and courtesy, a company may give you no more than a thank you. But most grocery product producers show their appreciation with coupons. It's often a win-win. By having a good coupon, I've tried new products, discovered I liked them, and now purchase them regularly.