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Would you complain about a shoddy service or problematic product?

make a complaint

New stats suggest that not nearly enough of us are complaining when we have reason to. Our guest author, Oscar Webb, joins us to ask: what’s stopping you from making a complaint?

According to the Ombudsman Services’ annual Consumer Action Monitor report, UK consumers experienced 173 million issues with products and services last year.

Yet only a quarter of these were raised as complaints. So what’s stopping you from making a complaint about a poor product or a shoddy service?

Problem products

Despite problems with products and services, the report has also highlighted that consumers ignored around 78 million issues last year, an increase of three million from 2016.

And that may well be because only 29% believed they could get a problem resolved by raising it, with a further 20% saying that complaining doesn’t work because they’d done so previously and achieved nothing.

While businesses may think they’re getting let off the hook, this unwillingness to complain is actually proving more detrimental – with people voting with their feet rather than formally registering a complaint.

According to the same report, 40% of shoppers walked out of a shop or gave up on an online purchase before buying last year, up from 29% the previous year. And another 30% chose to switch providers or spend less because of disappointing experiences, while 33% said they’d stopped buying from a specific brand.

Making a complaint

So why aren’t people complaining? Two scenarios where you fail to complain when something isn’t right spring to my mind: the first involves large, impersonal, organisations – phone companies, train operators, and the like – where lodging a complaint takes ages over the phone and just doesn’t seem worth the effort.

The second is a bit trickier to put your finger on, but it usually involves small businesses – such as family-owned shops or restaurants – where making a complaint is simple and quick, but you feel you may personally offend the person you make it to. In a very British way, it can just feel too awkward to complain in these situations.

Wanting to go against type, I sent back a drink while eating out recently. The barman came over to our table – the offending drink in hand – and, in quite a challenging way, asked what was wrong with it and how I would make it better.

It tasted awful, but I was stumped for words, so awkwardly backed down, and mumbled something about it being fine. That taught me to complain!

Do you complain about problem products or shoddy services? Have you ever been challenged when you’ve made a complaint? What puts you off of making a complaint?

This is a guest contribution by Oscar Webb. All views are Oscar’s own and not necessarily those also shared by Which?.


I do complain and quite often get results, however I currently have an issue with John Lewis. I applied for a price match on a fridge freezer which was approved by John Lewis but subsequently the fridge was not delivered on the day in question. I was given no notice or reason whatsoever. I contacted customer services only to be told to reorder the item, which I tried to do but my credit card was not accepted.

I phoned the card company and they said there’s no problem and I should call J.L.. On to J.L. again to ask what’s happened and they blamed the card company and suggested I contact them again and get a release code and a time, which I did. Back to J.L. yet again, who blamed the card company yet again and suggested I reorder in a few days time – which the card company advised me not to do in case of a double sale. I reordered the fridge, for a third time, a couple of days ago and guess what – it hasn’t arrived!! I had a call from a young lady (customer services) this afternoon about her applying the price match. She said she couldn’t apply it until after the item had been delivered (14.00 – 21.00). I said I’d had an update text to say it will be delivered between 14.45 and 16.45 to which she replied ‘I’ll call back at 5pm then’. A trio of questions:- If she couldn’t apply the price match until after delivery, which she said would call at 17.00, why did she phone in the first place at 15.07? – Beggers belief! The second thing I’d like to know is, where is that call as it’s now 17.45? Thirdly, where the ******* is the fridge freezer that had a confirmed delivery between 14.45 and 16.45?

Now, to sum it up. I’ve been dealt with by various people on the phone and by email and each one didn’t appear to realise the extent of the situation. Each one only dealing with the facts in front of them at that given time. I’ve had emails asking me confirm my details, which were actually sent to my email address and quoted my name – idiotic to say the least. There has been plenty of promised confirmation emails and phone calls that never even materialised and the communication between J.L. departments seems to be none existent. How can I complain more when the recipient – JOHN LEWIS – simply does not listen?

We walked out of a restaurant a few months ago after the waitress ruined an anniversary evening before it even started. I asked to sample the wine before ordering a glass. She let me have one very small taste but I didn’t like it. She was extremely rude and told me to buy one if I wanted to try another. She then ignored us for half an hour so we got up, paid for my husbands drink and left. She did ask why we were leaving so I told her she had ruined our evening, but she didn’t care. We have put up with her ignorance before, but this time I left a rather scathing review on Trip Advisor and will never to there again.

If you have a niggle with a company it is always worth contacting them, and giving them a bit of praise along with suggestions for improvement, they tend to take you more seriously. One person might not make much difference, but if several people say the same thing they can listen.

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Today I went to B&Q to return a product that was guaranteed for two years but had failed after 15 months. Two members of staff wanted me to contact the manufacturer but since the product had been advertised as having a two year guarantee I wanted the retailer to deal with the problem. Of course, the retailer is entitled to examine the product to check for evidence of misuse or abuse but after the senior member of staff had failed to contact the manufacturer by phone I was told to go and get a replacement.

That was much easier than my recent hassles with Currys-PC World, where a product that was guaranteed for two years had failed early in the second year of the guarantee period.

What grieves me is that few of the people I know are prepared to ‘go to the bother’ of pursuing their rights. I certainly don’t enjoy it but I cannot afford to waste money on replacing goods that have failed prematurely.

I think a lot of people just don’t know their rights wavechange.

Then if your only option is legal action, or taking the retailer or service provider to court, the cost and hassle can far outweigh the problem. Unfortunately, this allows too many to get away with their shoddy services.

I have never had problem of returning things to B&Q There are other companies the same Many question the return but if you know your rights and inform them of them you usually have no problem especially if you ask for the manager and tell him of your rights

I had no difficulty until yesterday, but this was the first time I had a problem with goods more than a year old.

I bought an electric lawn scarifier from B&Q – inexpensive. After doing quite a large lawn I found many of the metal spring tines had snapped. I took it back and it was refunded without any question. I then bought a slightly more expensive one from them with the confidence that if that failed to do its job I was likely to be fairly treated. No need as it has performed admirably.

We criticise some retailers for failing to treat customers well, but in my experience many more do the “right thing”.

How well you are treated by the retailer can depend on how you approach them.

Always try being nice and polite first and generally they respond likewise. Approach them with all guns blazing, and you are likely to get their back up before you start and that does not bode well for negotiations.

Years ago when a heel fell off a week old shoe, the retailer refused me a refund. So I stood in the shop doorway waving it around shouting don’t buy shoes here….. I soon got hauled back in and my money refunded. Being polite didn’t work on that occasion.

I rarely have a problem with retailers providing goods are within a year after purchase.

I believe that it helps to be polite, though I have not tried the aggressive approach. When I was trying to get B&Q to accept the faulty goods for repair or replacement I chatted about the Easter weather and other trivia while the supervisor was waiting for the manufacturer to answer the phone. Eventually she said to ‘go and get another one’ and when I offered to leave my contact details they were declined. I put this down as someone being helpful rather than complying with my rights regarding faulty goods.

Put yourself in the place of the member of staff you are dealing with. How would you like a customer to approach you?

If they are either unhelpful or do not seemingly have the knowledge (CRA requirements say) or authority then ask to see a supervisor or the store manager. You gain nothing by being aggressive or losing your cool. If a personal approach doesn’t work I’d email the CEO. I’ve always found the nice approach, firm if necessary, but armed with all the information necessary, has worked.

Alfa’s approach is outstanding – literally – and the approach many will take with regard to the which.net cancellation. Bleak times ahead.

That is my approach. If I worked in customer service I might be more helpful to polite and professional customers. 🙂

If someone is being uncooperative and passes me on to a supervisor I patiently start again. I prefer to let the assistant request the supervisor rather than doing this myself, so that I am not branded as a difficult customer.

Back in the late 80s or early 90s, Comet tried three times to get me to buy an expensive extended warranty so I turned round and addressed the other customers waiting at the checkout and in my best lecturing advice I advised them not to buy extended warranties because Which? regarded them as very poor value for money. It was unplanned and I have never done the same again, but I’m glad that I did it. The item in question were a small stereo system for my kitchen and that was still working 25 years later.

Excellent about the shoe Alfa. I wondered why you did not ask to speak to the manager at the restaurant as its reputation may being ruined by a single member of staff. I think there is a danger in damning the “whole” by going too early to the internet.

It is unfortunate that sometimes you do swallow the bad service because the aggravation of standing up for what is right and proper simply is not the right time. Thinking about it now in the cold light of day I am beginning to think that taking the waiter/resses name and going about it later is better. Or simply taking the name and doing nothing so that they stew gently would soothe my savaged breast.

I would usually agree with you about speaking to the manager Patrick, but the waitress is part of the family that runs the restaurant and the owner does know what she is like. Similar reviews have been left about him. I am not the first person to write about her and probably won’t be the last. It is the sort of place where you like the food, but don’t go there very often because of the service and atmosphere. Memories fade after time, you hope things have changed, so you try it again and regret going until the next time. We have ignored her ignorance in the past, but this time was the last straw, hence the scathing review.

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Currently of course Which?Ltd closing down its Which.Net email service at short notice would seem a good example of something deserving of complaint. One might feeel that with some users having been using it for 22 years changing the conditions now and then announcing complete closure by May24th that this is less than friendly service. From the “consumer champion” ????

P.S. for primary utilites Which? in the past has suggested 65 working days ….

Perhaps one of Which? Ltd’s management team could contribute to this conversation, rather then leaving it to the nice people who look after these Convos?

I am disappointed in reading the Interim Review to 31 Dec 2017 a bit that says (p10) “In light of bringing our charitable and commercial arms closer together, all staff are now incentivised to meet a mix of charitable and commercial objectives”.

I think the consumer protection that Consumers’ Association is supposed to champion should be kept quite separate from the commercial activities, with appropriate staff dedicated to each. I wonder what the “objectives”are that determine financial incentives in the consumer protection part.

I also thought it had been recommended that a charity’s commercial work should be substantially separated from any of its commercial activities? Is Which? looking at becoming a totally commercial organisation perhaps?

Money is a delicate topic but I see a potential £392k is payable to a member of staff this year.

The phrase “incentivised to meet a mix of charitable and commercial objectives” is interesting. Isn’t that the approach taken by your average loan shark?

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Which? have already decided not to sell for the most specious of reasons. Still, the day is young and there are miles to go…

I recently complained to Tesco customer services about carrot-fly holes in their carrots: good response from Tesco.
I have also complained to Walkers Crisps about disease marks in the Deli crisps. They sent vouchers for £5

Bissell Carpet Cleaner – I saved and bought a carpet cleaner at great expense. It worked for the 1st year, but then every time I try to use it, it breaks down and I have to send it in for repairs. When it comes back, i try it and it breaks down again – and round I go. Each time I phone I’ve asked for a replacement for my ‘lemon’, but get a polite “I’ll send your request upstairs”. I eventually made a complaint which has been ignored. I’d like to contact the Trading Association or someone who will help me as its so unfair for big companies to sell expensive items and then ignore things when their items dont work, but cant seem to find anywhere where the customer gets any real help. Now my machine is out or warranty and I’ve got a machine which doesnt work. Any help would be gratefully appreciated

I complained to GSK about Sensodyne Pronamel toothpaste which was watery and hardly stuck to the toothbrush. Their complaints process was long, involving form-filling, a legal declaration, and their sending to a returns envelope and surrendering the product back to them to check. After many weeks, I have had a response saying that the product was manufactured to their standards and that there are therefore no grounds for the complaint to be upheld. I am treated like a litigant rather than a dissatisfied customer. I was to even given an apology for a product I had found unsatisfactory. All for the sake of a product which cost £3-4. Such disdain for the ordinary consumer.