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The power of the written word – don’t suffer in silence!

Woman writing letter of complaint on her laptop

Ever bought something that’s fallen apart within days? Or spent hours in an airport after a delayed flight? Both would be a day Mr Bean would be proud of. But if it happened to you, would you write a letter of complaint?

If the idea of complaining brings you out in a cold sweat, you’re not alone. It can be difficult to know what to say, and to know what your rights are – especially in the face of a company insisting they’re not doing anything wrong.

But it is worth it – after all, complaining may lead to refunds and even compensation.

Why writing is worthwhile

Putting pen to paper can be your best option. This gives you a record of correspondence and you can clearly articulate your exact reasons for complaining. Complaining over the phone or in person can put you under pressure, and emotions can sometimes get in the way.

Take the blog Lettersofadissatisfiedwoman.com as an example. Ingrid Stone has written to various companies, complaining about everything from pens that don’t work properly to dental floss that made her gums bleed. Her calm and collected letters of complaint have resulted in refunds and often compensation, whether this is in cash or gift vouchers.

Examples of her complaints and compensation include one free night’s stay in Corus Hotel in Hyde Park due to a poor hotel room, six complimentary return Club Europe plane tickets from British Airways for a delayed flight, and a £35 Moneycard from Tesco for poor quality balloons.

Impressive! Just shows the power of a letter when companies have been in the wrong – and you don’t have to be angry to get your point across.

But what should I say?!

We have nearly 100 template letters on our Consumer Rights website, put together by our team and legal experts. Over the last six or so months there have been over 7,000 letter downloads from our site – the most popular being our letter before a small claims court claim.

One person who went to the small claims court is Helen, aka The Complaining Cow, who took Tesco to court for not honouring vouchers. She won to the tune of £166. Helen never lets any complaint go and has gained redress from companies like Mothercare, Virgin, Natwest, Easyjet and BMW.

So, if you’ve had an unfair parking ticket or your shoes have fallen apart after one trip, how do you complain? Do you believe in the written word, or do you never get round to writing a letter?

How do you prefer to complain to companies?

By letter (hand-written or email) (66%, 63 Votes)

Over the phone (17%, 16 Votes)

In person (9%, 9 Votes)

On social media (6%, 6 Votes)

I don't complain to companies (2%, 2 Votes)

Total Voters: 96

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I always complain when I don’t receive what I have paid good money for. The one thing that really annoys me is when businesses mandate awkward forms of communication (e.g. postal letter) for complaints when they use telephone, messaging or e-mail for other purposes. It seems that many businesses try to discourage customers from complaining by making customers jump through hoops in order to do so.

Regulation 6(1)(c) of the Electronic Commerce (EC Directive) Regulations 2002 mandates that where a company sells its goods or services via a web site, it must provide an e-mail address for communication “in a direct and effective manner”. Many businesses fail to do so, but the authorities take no enforcement action.

Marks and Spencers supply a link in their website to send an ’email’ message. This allows you to contact them but you can’t keep a copy of what you said. When they reply it is from a ‘do not rely’ email address so you have no option but to go back to the site and use the email link to reply to their email. No proper record of your complaint or their response – nothing direct or effective about their system of communication.

It is a disgrace that a company like M&S behaves like this.

I totally agree. It’s a disgrace that so many large companies, even reputable ones like M&S, flout the law on this. I don’t believe that web forms comply with the legislation.

However, the web forms that I do like are where you submit all the information on the company’s web site, and it then immediately sends you a copy of your message by e-mail including a reference number, so that it’s all properly tracked at the company’s end with the facility to reply like a normal e-mail. In this instance, I don’t mind the initiation being done by a web form, because proper records are immediately given to both parties.

Unfortunately, not all companies appreciate that customers need a copy of correspondence. My solution is to save my Web page as a pdf, which is easy on a Mac. Alternatively, print the page before sending it or copy/paste into a word processor file.

I have just sent an email to customer.services@marksandspencer.com asking for an email address to be put on their website, and have explained the reason. I received the following automated response:

‘Thank you for contacting us, a member of our customer service team will respond to you shortly. This is an automated response, so please do not reply to this e-mail as it will not reach our inbox.

M&S have moved to a new email system. If you need to contact us in the future, please click the following link and pick the relevant subject title from the drop down menu: http://www.marksandspencer.com/contactus .’

I will be interested to see what they have to say if a member of their team does reply.

Helen Dewdney (@ComplainingCow) says:
20 February 2015

I have complained to them several times about that, including to the CEO. Appalling customer service. The responding to emails from different people is awful. Shame on M & S. Dreadful.

Helen, you have clearly had a very different exerience to myself. I use the customer services email and have always had very helpful responses from M&S to sensible complaints or queries, whether for example about quality of food (extremely rare, but resulted in compensation on a card), or about campylobacter when a director gave me comprehensive and straightforward information.
Only yesterday, my daughter commented to M&S that what was presumed to be a bouquet of white roses for our anniversary was delivered in two sealed packs, not the arrangement as shown. We were delighted, she slightly disappointed. M&S immediately offered a refund to her account, a refund on a store card, or a replacement bouquet. No argument.
I wish that sort of treatment and customer engagement was offered by all traders.

I have shopped in M&S since I was a teenager and only had a single complaint, though I don’t believe they offer very good value for money these days.

Since Malcolm mentions campylobacter, I think it is disgraceful that M&S is continuing to sell chicken after its abysmal performance in the survey of campylobacter in chicken last November. At one time M&S had a very high reputation for food quality.

Their service is good I get good refunds and service – but their system is dreadful and doesn’t help them. If you only get one response fine. But if you need to reply the system is not set up for ease for the customer and in addition different people reply which means no continuity. That is poor.

richard says:
25 June 2013

Found the poll impossible to truly answer – If I buy an item locally – I complain in person – Have found in the tiny number of complaints I’ve made in person – I’ve always had a refund and replacement with apology. If I have a complaint about a mail order item – I complain by post or email – never had a refusal – If I buy on the Internet – I complain by email.- again never had a refusal – But I always complain very politely in all circumstances to all members of the company concerned.

Barry Cashin says:
23 October 2013

You could do well by contacting me. As Kevin Cotton (my alter ego and pen name), I wrote a consumer champion column in Bella magazine between 1996 and 2007. In that time, I won back over £10 million in compensation and refund settlements for British consumers. Using the art of the written word, humour and verse, I love bringing rogue companies to their knees when they rip off genuine complainants.

Anthony says:
28 November 2013

Please atke a look at the complaints collection at http://dearcustomerrelations.com