On the case: Our sleuth knows the best ways to complain
To have any chance of getting your complaint resolved, you need to find the right person to speak to. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? Well, often it turns out to be far trickier than you’d thought.
It really is surprising how shy and retiring (I’m being polite) some organisations are, and don’t publish the relevant contact details on their websites, even for customer services. Luckily, I enjoy the detective work and relish the challenge of tracking down these elusive souls. But it shouldn’t be this hard.
Today, while I don’t want to do myself out of a job as Money Mail’s regular Readers’ Champion, I am sharing my top sleuthing — and complaints-solving — tips. It means you can try to get your case settled before the last resort — contacting Sally Sorts It.
Detective tip 1: Cast the net far and wide
First up, if you’re not sure who to talk to about a complaint, or customer services isn’t responding, a determined dig around on the internet will be necessary.
This usually involves a little lateral thinking on internet search terms. I often look for press releases or reports hidden away in cyberspace that reveal, buried in the depths, an appropriate person’s direct email, landline or mobile phone number.
A few of the contacts I have unearthed this way have expressed surprise when they learn that it’s me on the end of the phone.
Companies House is also a good source of names and locations of firms, and these details can help with your search.
I often find that the online professional network LinkedIn can throw up the names of individuals I want to speak to, in communications departments, for example.
The website saynoto0870.com —set up to provide alternatives to premium phone numbers that won’t cost a fortune to call — lists an array of options you can dial for companies and organisations.
If you don’t have access to the internet, enlist a tech-savvy friend to help with the groundwork. Or ask at your local library. Many have computers where you can access the internet, often at no charge.
If you get nowhere with customer services, then go to the top. The website ceoemail.com publishes a list of email addresses for chief executives of many companies.
Problems are often dealt with quickly and successfully using the contacts gleaned from this site.
It won’t necessarily be the chief executive who sorts things out, but it might mean your complaint gets bumped up the queue.
If your endeavours are met by silence, consider Twitter, though I have had mixed results this way. And CC email@example.com when complaining. That can pack quite a punch.
Detective tip 2: Gather your evidence
Ensure you have all of your ducks in a row to support a complaint, such as booking emails, references and receipts and any evidence to show that something has gone wrong.
For example, if an item you’ve ordered arrives broken, take photographs. If a train or plane is cancelled, take a shot of the information board.
Prepare: Ensure you have all you need to support a complaint, such as booking emails, references and receipts and any evidence to show that something has gone wrong
When contacting customer services, keep a record of what is said and when. Get it all down in chronological order.
If possible, follow up everything in writing, ideally by email since it is less likely to go astray — or at least easier to refer to and re-send, if necessary.
It can strengthen a case if the same issue is affecting other customers. Look at reviews on websites such as Feefo and Trustpilot for similar complaints, because these can provide useful ammunition when demanding redress.
Companies often monitor posts on these sites and message individuals with promises to look into their problem.
Detective tip 3: Understand your rights
Knowing your rights can help to smooth the path to a speedy resolution.
If you quote the rules accurately to the offending organisation in an initial complaint, it will know that you mean business.
There are strong laws in place to protect consumers when things go wrong. The Consumer Rights Act 2015 provides several forms of protection if products and services are not up to scratch, or an item breaks sooner than it should.
Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act is a highly effective piece of legislation for anyone who buys something for more than £100 and less than £30,000 using their credit card.
Know the law: The Consumer Rights Act 2015 provides several forms of protection if products and services are not up to scratch, or an item breaks sooner than it should
The rules say the card company must help out if there is a problem, such as if the item does not arrive or is faulty.
A similar arrangement for purchases made for under £100 or on a debit card is ‘chargeback’. Although it is not legally binding, banks often abide by it.
Another important law for those who purchase anything online or over the phone is the Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013.
Because a shopper hasn’t seen or touched their purchase as they would in a shop, they get a 14-day cooling-off period in which they can return the items for a refund of the purchase price, quibble-free.
Exceptions include perishable purchases such as flowers, bespoke items, copyable products such as DVDs and software, and travel tickets.
Detective tip 4: Be patient or change tactics
A good gambit in getting results is to be patient and polite. I get better results treating individuals as I’d like to be treated myself.
Being courteous to a call handler is more likely to yield rewards.
It’s no secret that many firms have cut back on their customer services in recent years.
This hangover from Covid is still being felt, with many people directed to online robot chat services instead of a real member of staff. These are anathema to me.
They rarely understand the most basic question I ask, such as: ‘Can you tell me the phone number of your press office?’
If you do succeed in obtaining a customer services phone number, be prepared to wait in long queues.
Put your phone on loudspeaker so you can carry on with other tasks while you wait.
If you are being held in a queue for an hour, only to get cut off when you get to position three from the front (yes, this has happened to me), try another tactic.
Call back on the main number, listen to the other ‘options’ and select something different from customer services.
By trying ‘sales’ or ‘advertising’, I have occasionally got through quickly to a helpful person who then escalates my query.
It doesn’t always work, mind you, as some companies bizarrely do not allow their sales or even customer services operatives to pass on messages to other departments or to divulge their contact details.
Make sure you log call waits in a notepad for more ammunition. Jot down the time you called, the length of wait, whom you spoke to and which number you dialled.
Detective tip 5: Make a clear case for recompense
So, you know your rights and you have your documents, now it’s time to put your complaint in writing.
My No 1 rule is to stick to the facts and not let emotion get the better of you.
There is a plethora of template letters available online to help you keep your arguments concise and professional. Try citizensadvice.org.uk.
It’s worth asking for a response by a certain date, and explain how you want the complaint resolved.
Make sure you include as many contact details as possible so it’s easy for them to get in touch. Ideally, these should include your home phone number, your mobile number, email address and home address.
Detective tip 6: Seek out ‘Sally Sorts It’
If you hit a brick wall with your complaint, then it’s time to write to me.
Emailing firstname.lastname@example.org is best, but you can also send me a letter in the post. For my address, take a look at this week’s column.
Please always provide permission for me to speak to the offending organisation, and don’t forget to include your phone number and email address, if you have one.