How to take your complaints further
Q I RECENTLY paid for a service that I felt was poor and did not match up to what had been promised.
When I complained, I was not offered any apology, explanation or compensation. As it was quite an expensive purchase, I feel that I should take the matter further. What is the best way to deal with this situation? A Without the particular details, it is hard to give specific advice or to judge if you have a case to make. However, there is a statutory body in Ireland called the National Consumer Agency (NCA), which was set up by the Irish government in 2007 to help defend consumer interests and foster a strong consumer culture.
The NCA offers a wealth of advice to consumers, such as you, who feel that they are not being treated fairly. There is an advisable process to follow when making a complaint and following are some points to consider:
Make sure you have grounds for a complaint. Before getting involved in a time consuming complaints process, it is advisable to be as clear as possible on your consumer rights. Be aware also that there are some types of transactions that are not actually covered by consumer law. There are guides to help with this on the NCA website (www.consumerconnect.ie), such as your rights when buying online or in a shop or in other particular situations, or you can call the NCA helpline for advice.
UNDERSTAND WHAT WAS PROMISED
Read any written contract or description of goods/services bought, so that you are clear on the terms and conditions involved and what you actually signed up for. Against this, be clear on the reasons for your dissatisfaction. For example, did the service meet the terms of the contract? Or was it a case that you were treated unfairly as a customer? You need to identify the gap between what was promised and what was actually provided.
BE CLEAR ON YOUR EXPECTATIONS
It is important to understand what you expect the company to do in response to your complaint. You mention a range of responses, from an apology through to explanation and compensation. What would be an acceptable response for you, or do you want all three?
(a) Don't delay. It is important to act quickly or the service provider may take it as a sign that you accept the service that was provided. Also, it may impact your consumer rights. Some types of goods and services have a limited timeframe within which complaints must be made, such as package holidays.
(b) Try to ensure you are directing your complaint at the right person, which is the person with the authority to deal with the situation. Start with the person with whom you originally dealt or the customer care team, if there is one. If you are not getting a satisfactory response, try speaking to the "person in charge." Don't just send a letter – at this stage you might get better results over the phone or face-to-face if feasible.
(c) Be polite, yet firm. Don't get angry or rude. Explain the situation clearly and outline what you expect.
(d) Document everything. Keep note of what was said, by whom, when and how (phone calls, visits, emails, etc.).
CONSIDER A MORE FORMAL ROUTE
If you still haven't had a satisfactory response, then you may need to make a formal complaint in writing as the start of a formal complaints process. If you are unsure how to structure a letter, the NCA has complaint letter templates on its website. Keep a copy of the letter along with your other documentation as evidence.
MAKE IT OFFICIAL
If your complaint is still not dealt with properly, you may wish to consider taking your case to the Small Claims Court, which is for complaints involving amounts up to €2,000. It is designed to be a quick and easy way for consumers to resolve some types of dispute without having to use a solicitor. For larger amounts, you may need to visit a solicitor, or there may be an ombudsman or regulator that covers the industry involved. For example, there is a financial services ombudsman.
The local Citizens Information Centre should be able to point you in the right direction (www.citizensinformation.ie). If you feel that the supplier is not treating consumers fairly, you may wish to make a complaint about them to the NCA.