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credit & debt

The Right Way to Get a Complaint Resolved

Venting on consumer complaint sites may help you let off steam, but it won't solve your problems. You're better off following these steps.

So that camera, television, refrigerator or (fill in the blank) you just bought already is having problems. You're mad and you want to complain. There are loads of free Web sites that will let you. But don't expect a resolution to your grievance if you follow this route.

That's because there is little evidence that consumer complaint sites actually help consumers resolve their complaints, according to a new study by the Consumer Federation of America (CFA). Most don't even provide consumers with complaint resolution resources, such as links to state, local and federal agencies.

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The CFA looked a the six most popular and credible complaint sites: complaints.com, my3cents.com, complaintsboard.com, pissedconsumer.com, consumeraffairs.com and ripoffreport.com. For the most part, they just give consumers a chance to vent, according to the CFA study.

So what's the value of these sites? Well, they're actually a good resource for shoppers, according to the study. The information on these sites -- especially my3cents.com, which has the largest number of complaints -- can help consumers choose which companies to do business with and which products to buy. For more balanced information about products (not just complaints, that is), CFA recommends checking Consumer Reports or Consumers' Checkbook.

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If you want to lodge a complaint and get a resolution, follow these steps:

1. Be prepared. Have documents, such as receipts, contracts, etc., to prove that you purchased a product or received a service. Know what type of resolution you would accept: replacement item, money back, store credit.

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2. Contact the seller, service provider or manufacturer. Call first and ask for an appointment with the appropriate person who can hear your complaint. Explain the problem politely. If that person doesn't resolve the problem to your satisfaction, ask to speak to that person's supervisor.

3. Put it in writing. If the merchant doesn't resolve your complaint, write a letter with your name, address, phone number and brief statement of the problem and what you've already done to resolve it. Tell the merchant or service provider what you want done and give a reasonable time period for a response. Keep copies of all correspondence.

4. Get help from the government or nonprofit agency. The Better Business Bureau can help negotiate a solution (but it can't force members to resolve complaints). Or you could complain to the appropriate agency -- such as a contractors licensing board, state securities division or state insurance regulator -- local or state consumer-affairs bureau, or state attorney general's office.

5. Go to court. If all else fails, file a claim in small claims court or pursue a civil suit.

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