rule number one
Make it in writing- perhaps the most important rule. Use email or a typed letter. This will give you a clear record of what you have said and when you said it. Never underestimate how important a clear written record can be.
who are you writing to
Ideally you know the name of the person you wish to complain to. Address the letter to them personally, using the business address you have. If you do not know the name of who to complain to address it to "Customer Services" or "Customer complaints department".
prepare your letter or email
Always date your letter (unless you are using email) Use numbered paragraphs.
It makes your letter easier to read. When you get a response you can then easily refer to each numbered paragraphs to ensure they have dealt with everyone point you have raised.
Always use a timeline starting with the date you bought the goods or services you are complaining about. Say what is wrong with the thing you have bought and why it does not meet with your expectations. Keep it factual and concise and above all polite, using phrases such as, "I am disappointed...." things have "not met my expectations" and similar phrases.
After you have said what's gone wrong, say what you want to happen -i.e. You want some or all of your money back, or you want a repair and replacement.
Finally say you would like a written response within 7 days from them with their proposals to resolve the situation. It's really important to ask for their response in writing.
Keeping it polite and non aggressive is really, really important. Do not use bad language. Do not threaten or mention court at this stage, it's not usually necessary, certainly at this stage! If things have gone wrong, most decent businesses will accept the complaint as justified and any well-meaning business will want to keep you happy. After all if they don't handle it well they will lose your custom and it will effect their reputation, especially if you tell all your friends.
If it is polite , factual, to the point and is non threatening, you are more likely to get a better response from whoever reads it. No one likes to receive a harsh or nasty complaint letter. Such a letter will always create a bad feeling immediately between you and the other party, making them immediately adopt a defensive position. It's hard for people not to take it personally! So don't start off on the wrong foot.
If you follow these rules it will stand you in good stead with a judge, if you have to go to court later, but above all it's more likely to receive a positive response from the person handling your complaint.
If you are not using email, send your letter by recorded delivery. It's inexpensive and the post office website provides a good service to help you prove letters have been sent, when they where delivered and who has signed for them and when.
Always keep a copy if you are sending a letter
If using email when sending request a delivery and a read receipt if your email account permits, this will prove the email has been received and read.
Don't delete your sent email, if using email.
Create a subfolder in your email account to keep all emails sent and received about the complaint and give it a clear label-i.e. Complaint with Tesco
Or create a paper file for everything sent and received.
Put a note in your diary for 7 days after you have sent it. Allow an extra day or so if you are using the post to allow time for them to receive it.
Roberta Mason is a mediator. She was a solicitor for over 20 years and knows a thing of two about disputes and going to court. She has a real sense of social justice for ordinary people and small business owners