How to File a Consumer Complaint

Consumers who believe that a business has failed or cheated them in a consumer transaction properly first ask the business to make things right. Here is a guide on how to make an effective consumer complaint. Following these steps should either resolve the matter in your favor or, if not, then lay the groundwork for Conn Law, PC, to aggressively and successfully represent you in recovering your full consumer loss.


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Gather Physical Evidence

Your first step is to gather and preserve the evidence of your disputed consumer transaction. A defective product—or a piece of it—may be the key evidence to prove your dispute. If the product doesn’t work, if the product has broken parts, or if the maker assembled it incorrectly or left off parts, then you may need the product or parts to prove so.

If the consumer transaction involved a service rather than a good, then your key evidence may be items that the service damaged. If, for instance, a dry cleaner damaged your clothing item, then save the damaged clothing even if it no longer has any use. If a lawn service damaged your sprinkling system, fence, or mailbox, then photograph the damage before any repair or replacement.

Gather Documentary Evidence

Be sure to save the original (not just copies of) purchase or work orders, contracts and warranties, receipts, boxes and other packaging, and any other documentary evidence. If that evidence is electronic, such as email or texts, then save or screen capture and print the electronic files. If you lose or destroy that evidence, a judge, jury, or other factfinder could hold it against you if you later decide to pursue a claim.

Organize Your Evidence

Then, put your evidence in order. Make a chronology of events, and annotate the chronology with your physical and documentary evidence. Describe, value, and sum up your total costs, losses, and expenses.

Notify the Business in Writing

Put your complaint in writing to the business, even if you have already spoken to a representative without success. Send or deliver the writing to a customer service representative, office manager, owner, or other responsible person in the business. The business’s website should supply that information under “contact us.” Be sure that your writing includes each of the following:

  • detailed information identifying the product or service such as model name, model color, weight, and other specifications, serial number, order number, and invoice number, price, and name and address of the specific provider;
  • time, day, date, and manner (online, telephone, door to door, or in person at store) of purchase, including financial terms such as cash, check, credit card, or installment payment plan;
  • a detailed description of the specific problem with the business’s product or service, more than simply that it did not work as advertised;
  • a description of any efforts you have already made to get the business to correct the deficiency and the business’s unsatisfactory response, including the names and titles of persons with whom you dealt or attempted to deal;
  • copies, not originals, of all supporting documentation including your chronologies, summaries, or other analyses;
  • the specific relief you request including such things as repair or replacement of the defective product, repair or replacement of property that the product or service damaged, and reimbursement of other loss, costs, and expense;
  • a reasonable time within which you expect that relief; and
  • your contact information, including full name, telephone, email, mailing address, and physical address.

Enlist Consumer Agencies

Unfortunately, some businesses won’t respond effectively to consumer complaints without more pressure. If the company with which you have a dispute does not provide you with meaningful and fair relief, then consider contacting one or more of these agencies, sharing with the agency the written complaint you served on the business and the business’s ineffective response:

  • your credit card company for any online purchase using the card, to dispute and potentially cancel the charge;
  • your state’s consumer protection agency (see the California agency’s complaint information here), especially if your dispute involves deceptive trade practices;
  • the Federal Trade Commission and your state attorney general’s consumer protection or anti-fraud hotline or office, if your dispute involves consumer fraud;
  • any state licensing board or regulatory agency specific to the business’s field, trade, or profession;
  • the state or local private Better Business Bureau (see information here on how to file a complaint);
  • the national Do Not Call Registry if your dispute involves a telemarketing service; and
  • the federal gov website if your dispute is online with a foreign retail business.

What Not to Do

You also face a few things not to do in a consumer dispute. The law generally discourages more-aggressive forms of self-help. Don’t, for instance, disparage the business in any false or exaggerated manner on review sites. Doing so can lead to defamation liability. Don’t threaten any form of violence or harassment. Seeking revenge in any manner or form interfering with the business may do nothing more than hand your adversary a counterclaim against you. Keep it clean. Let the law help.

Dispute Resolution Programs

You may find that the business offers some form of dispute resolution, whether it calls the method mediation, facilitation, or conciliation. Participate in these procedures only if they give you the opportunity to accept a favorable resolution, without imposing an unfavorable resolution on you. If possible, avoid binding arbitration or any other dispute resolution method that requires you to accept an outcome that someone else imposes on you. Obtain and learn the rules for participating before agreeing to do so. Consult a qualified attorney before giving up your important legal rights.

You may also invite the business to participate in dispute resolution programs available to you under state law or through local private nonprofit agencies. California’s Department of Consumer Affairs, for instance, offers local mediation programs in which a trained professional helps the parties reach an agreement. Public and private mediation services and dispute resolution centers can work well in resolving consumer disputes, especially with local businesses sensitive to local reputation and community concerns. These programs are voluntary, though. If your adversary business has no interest in participating, then you need another solution.

Unfortunately, making your own consumer complaint won’t always work.  Yet you won’t have wasted your time if you took the above steps to no good effect. You will instead have identified, preserved, and organized your evidence. You will also have documented the business’s refusal to correct their deficiency. But if none of the above steps work for you, then you’ll need qualified legal help to invoke the many civil laws, rights, and remedies that protect consumers.

The innovative San Francisco law firm Conn Law, PC, is at the forefront of law and technology in protecting consumers throughout California and the nation. Conn Law, PC, deploys state and federal lemon laws, anti-fraud and financial-abuse laws, consumer-protection acts, and other laws to make financial recoveries for clients. We take all cases on a contingency basis, meaning we never charge our clients. If you have a consumer dispute that you cannot resolve, then contact Conn Law, PC, today, online or by calling 1-877-421-9759.