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What is a Consumer Complaint?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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A consumer complaint is a report from a consumer providing documentation about a problem with a product or service. Consumer complaints typically represent an escalation in the complaint process, as consumers file them with a third party to register a grievance with a company that fails to resolve a complaint internally. Organizations like the Better Business Bureau and Federal Trade Commission both accept consumer complaints and assist people with customer service issues, as do government representatives like attorneys general.

Agencies that accept consumer complaint filings usually ask people to use an internal form, or to draft a letter that follows very specific guidelines. Consumers need to provide names and contact information for themselves as well as the company, and describe the complaint in detail. Representatives of the agency will review the document, determine if they can take any action, and advise the consumer about the next step.

Consumers often manage to resolve problems with products and services by persistently complaining to the offending company. They may need to document any steps they took to solve the problem if they file formal complaints, making it a good idea to take notes on all contacts with the company. If this is not successful, the customer can file a formal consumer complaint. This will enter the records kept about the company, and enough complaints can trigger an investigation, a downgrade in a company's rating, and other penalties.

Causes for consumer complaint filings vary. People may have issues with returns and repairs, warranties, unauthorized disclosures of information, or violations of consumer protection laws like do-not-call lists. If an agency receives a complaint and cannot do anything with it, it needs to provide information to the consumer about why it reached a given conclusion, so consumers can appeal or refile. Resolutions can include refunds, issuing compensation or replacement products, or negotiating a meeting between a consumer and company representatives so the consumer can air a grievance.

Before filing a consumer complaint, it is a good idea to read the guidelines carefully to make sure an organization or agency is an appropriate choice. It is also important to make sure that the complaint meets the guidelines; leaving off contact information or failing to document the complaint properly can result in a time delay as the agency seeks more information to be able to better aid the consumer. Consumers should keep copies of their complaints and any correspondence with consumer rights organizations or agencies for future reference.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a SmartCapitalMind researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By discographer — On Mar 23, 2014

@donasmrs-- That's a good question.

It's a good idea to report to local and state agencies first. I went to the consumer protection agency in my area. I think that's a good place to go to first. Better Business Bureaus are another good agency to go to initially. These are not government agencies, they are non-profits but they can help resolve problems between businesses and consumers.

If you can't get results with local or state agencies, then you should proceed to national agencies like national consumer agencies and trade associations.

Also, you can file a complaint with multiple agencies at the same time. So if you want, you can file a complaint both locally and nationally. Another option is contacting the media like local radios and newspapers. They can be very influential.

By donasmrs — On Mar 22, 2014

@discographer-- How do I know which third party to file a complaint with?

By discographer — On Mar 22, 2014

It's great that there are third party authorities that consumers can go to when a manufacturer is not resolving a problem.

I had a problem recently, where an electronic I purchased online was not working properly. I called the company and they sent me a new one, having me mail the one I had to them. I paid for shipping. The new product had the same exact problem and when I called them again, they refused to take any action.

After numerous phone calls without results, I ended up complaining to the local consumer protection office. They were excellent and helped me get a refund from the company.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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