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Image: Travelers stuck in airport terminal
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Is your flight delayed? If you want results when you lodge your complaint, stay calm and be specific about what you want.
By Laura T. Coffey
TODAY contributor
updated 11/6/2007 6:15:02 PM ET 2007-11-06T23:15:02

The airline failed to set aside the special meal you requested. The dry cleaner didn’t press your suit on time. The online retailer bungled delivery of a gift that really mattered to you.

When confronted with such situations, do you sometimes think it will end up being too much hassle to speak up about it? Or do you swing in the opposite direction, getting so overheated and going so ballistic that you can never do business with the erring company again?

Here’s the problem with those approaches: They frequently result in unpleasant consequences for you, either in the short term or in the long term. Take heart, though: There is another way to proceed. The following tips can help you lodge complaints in an effective — rather than a futile — way.

1. Stay calm. Make a genuine effort not to get emotional. Doing so could damage your argument and your credibility. Behave as professionally as possible, and always remember this: You’re talking to a fellow human being. In many cases, the person on the receiving end of your complaint may not have had anything to do with what went wrong.

2. Don’t dally. If you want a quick resolution to your problem, don’t wait weeks and weeks to complain about it. Immediate action can get the ball rolling and help the customer service representatives in question take your situation more seriously.

3. Seek special treatment if warranted. Do you do lots of business with the company in question? If so, be sure to mention that in all of your conversations and correspondence about the complaint. It really should count for something.

4. Try the easiest approach first. Call, e-mail or visit the company’s customer service department. Explain your situation clearly, and say how you would like to see it resolved. This step alone could make the problem evaporate. If the first customer service representative you reach turns out to be unhelpful, ask to speak with that person’s manager.

5. Keepgood records. If none of that works, start writing down notes about each encounter you’ve had with people at the company. Your documentation will demonstrate your efforts to resolve the problem.

6. Writeto the right person. Draft a concise letter to the president or chief executive officer of the company. You can get that person’s name by calling the company, visiting the company’s Web site or going through Hoover’s or Vault. In some cases you’ll be able to e-mail the person directly; in others you might have to mail your letter to the person’s attention at corporate headquarters.

7. Be polite. Whether you e-mail it or snail-mail it, your letter should open with a sentence that captures your reader’s attention, perhaps by saying you are dismayed or shocked. But be courteous throughout the letter, thanking the person in advance for what he or she is going to do for you.

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8. Be specific. Describe what occurred without any exaggeration or embellishment. Depending on the situation, consider attaching copies of your records and receipts. Let your reader know that you expect a resolution to the problem, and say what you hope that resolution will be. Don’t be unrealistic or demand too much, and set a reasonable time limit for the company to get back with you.

9. Know where else you can turn. You can file online complaints with the Better Business Bureau and the Federal Trade Commission. You also can file a complaint with your state government. To start the process of figuring out which agency to contact in your state, click here . In addition, you can contact the state consumer affairs department, state attorney general’s office and county district attorney’s office where the company is located.

10. Maintain your momentum. If your issue is serious, be aware that it could take months for it to be settled. Be persistent, and be prepared to send more than one letter.


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