If the customer’s always right, how come so many of us complain and get nowhere? We explain how it’s done.
1. Don’t get mad
Terrible service or faulty goods may leave you seething, but keep your cool and the store will be more likely to help. ‘Be polite but persistent, and get your message across using any means you’re comfortable with,’ says Wendy Alcock, a consumer rights expert. It’s fine to call, email or write once you’re back home — or return to the store when you’ve calmed down.
2. Know your consumer rights
Your rights trump any policy. As a consumer, you have the right to:
- be heard when you have a complaint
- safe goods
- equality and protection against discriminatory marketing
- a healthy physical environment
- be informed about the details of products
- satisfaction of basic needs
- hold suppliers accountable
3. Get to the point
Irate letters or emails full of threats undermine your position. Be firm, keep to the point and mention the rights you feel have been broken. Lay out your points logically, clearly, and in chronological order. And stay calm!
4. Tell them what you want
You can choose between the supplier repairing or replacing items, or refunding you. If the product fails again in 3 months, the same principal applies. But they won’t know how to help you unless you clarify!
5. Get your timing right
‘Complain as soon as you discover a problem,’ says expert Anna Tims. ‘If an item breaks within 6 months, the shop must give you a refund, repair or replacement unless it can prove you caused the damage.’
6. Keep a log
Log dates and times of phone calls, letters and emails; keep a note of any extra costs (eg, decorating after your washing machine leaks); keep copies of correspondence; and send any letters by registered post. Make sure you write down any references you are given and the names of the people you speak to.
7. Talk to the correct person
It’s the retailer, not the manufacturer, who’s responsible when it comes to claiming your rights (unless you’re using the manufacturer’s warranty). If the store won’t help, write to the head office. And tweet the company if letters fail, as they know other customers will read their response.
Read more: How to win your next argument
8. Get extra help
‘If a direct complaint doesn’t work, try a manufacturer’s warranty or free help from an independent ombudsman,’ says Wendy Alcock. If all else fails, write down everything that’s happened in a logical order, and use this as your basis for launching a formal complaint with the help of a consumer protection institution:
- National Consumer Commission (thencc.gov.za)
- Also try your local Provincial Consumer Affairs Office