Consumers Association of Penang

Giving voice to the little people...since 1970

How to make an effective complaint

Now that you know your legal rights as a consumer, how do you go about redressing your grievance? In this part, we show you how to state your case clearly, and how to deal with the other party’s evasive tactics. In addition, we show you how to seek legal redress using the small claims court where you don’t need legal representation.

Principles to follow

You may feel dissatisfied about some newly bought but defective product or unhappy with some badly performed service. But before you rush back to the shop to complain, ask yourself the following:

  •  What precisely are you complaining about? It mustn’t be some vague dissatisfaction that you can’t put your finger on. Instead it has to be something specific that you can spell out.
  •  Is it really not your fault? Are you sure you followed the instructions correctly?
  •  Is the law on your side? If you are still unsure, check with the nearest branch of the Ministry of Domestic Trade, Co-operatives and Consumerism or CAP.

When you can answer “Yes” to all the above questions, then you can proceed.

What are the steps to take?

  •  Gather all the relevant facts and evidence about your complaint: the whys, hows and whens. Evidence could include a receipt of a purchase, a brochure, confirmatory invoice, an advertisement, estimates and bills or a photograph of a botched-up repair service. If you have witnesses, get their names and addresses. If necessary, get written evidence or a report from an independent expert in the field concerned. If your complaint involves the neighbourhood, you could get your neighbours involved. Complain as soon as possible. If you delay, you might lose some of your rights.
  •  Follow the proper procedure: Try to find out first the proper channel or procedure for your particular problem. Save your complaint for the right person. By complaining to the wrong authority or body or even someone too senior, for example, you may find your complaint ignored or misdirected. On the other hand, there is no point attacking a junior staff member such as the receptionist, telephonist or shop assistant who has no power to resolve your problem. Where defective goods are concerned, in some firms an individual shop manager may not have the authority to resolve a complaint by giving a refund and he may have to contact his head office. However, it’s best to start with the shop where you bought the goods. If you start by complaining to the head office, they will often refer you back to the shop.
  • Record your verbal complaint: A simple matter can sometimes be settled by speaking to a manager or supervisor. However, should you wish to complain in person or by telephone, make sure you keep a record of what was said, as well as the date and time, the name and designation of the person you spoke to.
  •  If your complaint concerns a product bought at a shop, you should gather together any receipts, credit card slips, cheque stubs or other documents that show you bought the product from that particular shop, when you bought it and how much you paid. Take the faulty item with you, if it is easily portable, when you visit the shop. But do not give back the original documents to the seller until your complaint has been satisfactorily dealt with. You may need them later on if you decide to take further action against the seller. If the goods are not easily portable, first telephone or go back to the shop with all the appropriate documents.
  •  Be persistent: Don’t take no for an answer, especially if you know you have the law on your side. If you don’t get a response to your first letter within two weeks or so, or if you get a politely worded brush-off, send another letter to the same person, referring to the first letter. Say that you have had no response or that the response was unsatisfactory. Then say that unless the matter can be speedily resolved, you will take the complaint further to the authorities concerned. But remember if you have to reply to a letter from the firm or head office, you should give their reference, if a reference number, initials or name is given.
  •  Publicity is your weapon: If your complaint is justified and the other party is behaving obnoxiously, it does not mean that you will have to take your case to court. That process will be costly and will take a long time. You have one weapon which can be very effective and that is publicity. Companies spend millions building up an image and they will be loathe to have it tarnished. Complaining to the Press will get the companies’ attention as well as that of other consumers who have suffered the same fate. The complaint that you are making today will force companies and manufacturers to be more accountable to consumers tomorrow.