How to complain effectively? – consumer SOS
There’s nothing like a good old moan with mates about a bad shopping experience, a dodgy website, or the holiday from hell. You’ll see friends huddled together, nodding very seriously, while the competition for ‘who has had the worst consumer experience?’ goes on and on. However, how good are we really at actually making a complaint, in the right way, to the trader? Do consumers know where to start, what to do, and how to do it? This month’s eBulletin will look at how to complain?
ECC Ireland also took part in the National Ploughing Championships which was recently held in Tullamore. We spoke to a lot of consumers about their EU cross-border consumer rights, had some prize draw giveaways, rubbed shoulders with farmers and political representatives alike, and survived (barely) the influx of pen fanatics – they love their pens, like, really!
This month also saw the launch of our new 10 Tips for Online Selling Guide which aims to help traders, particular SMEs, keep up to date with their obligations under EU consumer legislation. The guide was officially launched at a morning seminar held at Dublin Chamber of Commerce which gave attendees the chance to learn more about Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) legislation and the new ODR platform for resolving online consumer disputes.
As always, we also have the consumer query of the month which involves a consumer who downloaded a game which turned out to be not as advertised. The success story of the month looks at how we assisted a consumer with unexpected car rental charges.
To find out more read on below or download your free copy of ECC Ireland’s October 2016 eBulletin How to Complain?
How to complain? The not-so-secret formula of complaining
When we have a bad consumer experience, either when buying a product online or from a shop or when not getting the type of service that was promised and paid for, we sometimes don’t know what to do or even think it’s not worth the bother. Or, it’s the opposite, we march right over to the manager (who is trying desperately to hide behind a coat rack) or hollar down that phone, kill the keyboard with ferocious typing (because the force will make the email that more scary) and our use of language is not often the best.
Psssst! In the immortal words of ‘Allo ‘Allo!’ fame Michelle Dubois: “Listen very carefully. I shall say this only once” – well actually, I’ll say this a few times.
It’s very hard to get someone to help you (yes, even the trader that you’re annoyed with) if you use insulting language or get angry. I know, I know, the situation can be very frustrating but try to remain calm at all times. We could go ahead and call it the 3 P’s – Patience, Persistence, and Politeness. It can actually get you further than flying off the handle and potentially insulting the person who, by the way, you are trying to convince to help you. Now, of course, consumers have quite a lot of rights under EU and national consumer legislation and traders should abide by these if it is clear that you have a good case. However, as with all situations in life, isn’t it better to get them on your side, help them understand, and not make a bad situation worse?
‘Where is my refund, you gangster?’ and ‘you are not just a liar, you are a thief as well’, are not the type of comments that should be included in any complaint correspondence. Unfortunately, it does happen but to what avail? A trader who may have been inclined to his/her uptmost to help will certainly now be less enthusiastic to engage.
Of course, the same is true for the trader – it is far better that they handle your complaint in fast, fair, and friendly manner so that they retain your custom and everyone can forgive and forget the nasty little incident with the melting toaster, the wedding dress that was more like a Halloween costume, or the express delivery that arrived three months later. Hopefully, if done right, by both parties, the problem can be resolved in the time it takes to say ‘exploding mobile phones’.
Another area where complaints can lose the run of themselves is with online reviews. They’ve been around for a long time now and act as a very handy tool to help consumers make up their minds when deciding whether or not to buy a product or avail of a particular service, especially with online purchases. Popular social media platforms are also used by customers to post reviews about their experiences good and bad. Unfortunately, as consumers use their mobile devices more and more this has lead to some turning straight away to social media to vent their anger and frustration. While you’re entitled to give an accurate account of an experience you’ve had, it is not the best course of action when you’re hoping to put in a complaint and seek a resolution. Better to put in an official complaint and wait to see what happens.
Tips for making a complaint and taming the inner Hulk:
Know your consumer rights and check the terms and conditions (where applicable):
- Consumers have a number of rights under national and EU legislation and therefore it is recommended to familiarise youself with these. You can find out more about your EU cross-border consumer rights from European Consumer Centre (ECC) Ireland’s website or for national consumer complaints the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission has a lot of handy information.
- When things go wrong you should look through the terms and conditions, which should be easily located on the trader’s website, to find out information about refunds, cancellations, non-delivery, and complaints procedures.
Contact the trader to seek a remedy.
- Make sure you direct your complaint to the correct person. Follow the complaint procedure outlined on the trader’s website (if any) and/or contact the trader via the dedicated customer service email/address/phone number.
- Remember – Be assertive but not aggressive. Be brief and ask to have the complaint escalated. Make sure to give sufficient details to assess your request.
- Always give the company the opportunity to resolve the matter.
If the trader cannot or will not help, put your complaint in writing (for example, email):
- A letter or email should be sent to the trader as soon as possible. The correspondence should clearly explain what the problem is and what remedies you are seeking. Be polite and try to keep calm, even if you are upset.
- Having your complaint in writing is also important as you will need proof that you have made contact with the trader and it is useful for your own records in case the matter has to be taken further. So keep copies of your correspondence, proof of submission (for example, postage stamp, email timestamp), or take a screenshot if you are submitting a complaint via an online complaint form.
- Written correspondence also reduces the potential for misunderstandings, proves more useful than verbal assurances, and is more likely to prompt written responses, which are normally provided after sufficient consideration is given to the matter.
- Make sure to enclose/attach a copy of the relevant documentation or paperwork (for example, order confirmation, receipts) and give the trader a time limit to resolve the matter (for example, 14 days). Never send original documents by post.
- You can often find the preferred manner to file your complaint and the contact information in the trader’s terms and conditions.
What to do if the complaint is still unresolved:
- If the trader does not reply to you, refuses to do anything, or makes a final offer that you are unwilling to accept, then you can seek further advice and assistance.
- For disputes where the trader is based in another EU country you can contact ECC Ireland through our ‘contact us’ section.
- If you are an Irish resident and the trader is also based in Ireland then you should contact the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC).
What can ECC Ireland/ECC-Net do for you?
The European Consumer Centre Network (ECC-Net) offers advice and assistance to consumers who have problems with cross-border complaints where the consumer and the trader are based in a different European country (EU/EEA).
Complaints are dealt with in order of arrival. We may seek assistance from our counterparts in the country where the trader is located and, if appropriate, make contact with the trader on your behalf and/or provide information on Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) schemes which may be available. We endeavour to update files every 20 working days. However, at times of heavy demand we cannot always guarantee this.
Our service is free, confidential and strictly out-of-court.
Find out more from ECC Ireland’s Annual Report 2015.
Alternatively, you can read about the work of ECC-Net from its 10th Anniversary Report.
ECC Ireland out and about
Rubbing shoulders with consumers at the National Ploughing Championships 2016, Screggan, Tullamore (September 20th – 22nd)
There was plenty of mud, some sunshine, a lot of laughs and some very dedicated pen collectors at the National Ploughing Championships in Tullamore where the ECC Ireland team set up shop at the EU marquee for the three day event.
Apparently, there was a record breaking attendance of about 283,000. We’d well believe it as our little stand was thronged with people looking to find out more about their EU cross-border consumer rights and also to enter into a very popular daily prize draw – the prize, a bottle of Jameson whiskey. The three lucky winners were Fiona Kelly from Galway, Edward O’Malley from Louth, and Joe Holmes from Laois. We certainly hope they’ll enjoy their prize – nothing like a hot whiskey to warm up the bones during the winter.
It wasn’t all just fun and games. We took the opportunity to speak to everyone who came to the stand and entered the draw giving them advice about their rights when buying goods and services in anther EU country, online shopping, air passenger rights, renting a car abroad and much much more.
The ECC Ireland team also met with Fianna Fáil leader Micheal Martin TD, Fine Gael MEP Mairead McGuinness, and Sinn Féin MEP Matt Carthy, giving us the opportunity to speak about the work of ECC Ireland and the European Consumer Centres Network (ECC-Net).
All in all, it was a great event and we thoroughly enjoyed meeting all the hard-working farmers and their families who will hopefully be more informed about their rights the next time they have a cross-border consumer issue and know who to call if in doubt.
Things we learnt from Ploughing:
- You really do need proper (hardcore) wellies – normal boots may look nice but who cares after they’re covered in mud
- Waltzing is a prized skill
- Everyone loves to carry sticks – sticks everywhere!
- Beware the pen hunters!
Launch of ECC Ireland and Dublin Chamber’s 10 Tips for Selling Online guide
The third edition of the guide aims to help traders, particularly SMEs, keep up-to-speed with the latest EU consumer legislation. It outlines key issues such as privacy statements, terms and conditions, withdrawal periods and product quality and will assist Irish firms in complying with new requirements; the European Regulation (EU Regulation 524/2013) aims to increase consumer confidence by facilitating the online dispute resolution (ODR) of consumer complaints.
The guide was officially launched at an ODR seminar at Dublin Chamber in Clare Street with new CEO, Mary Rose Burke, commencing proceedings by welcoming the speakers and the many traders present. Speakers included Isolde Goggin, chair of the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC), John Shine, director of Regulation and Advocacy at CCPC, Juan Bueso, legal adviser at ECC Ireland, and Jo DeMars, president of DeMars & Associates/NetNeutrals (notified ADR entity pursuant to the ADR Directive 2013/11/EU). The seminar was chaired by James Kinch, specialist solicitor at Chief State Solicitor’s Office and chair of the Law Society of Ireland ADR Committee.
The guide was compiled by the Enterprise Europe Network at Dublin Chamber of Commerce and ECC Ireland.
Download your 10 Tips for Online Selling guide here.
Consumer query of the month:
Question: I bought a game online from a UK-based company. The game was advertised as having many features including the ability to play with other players. However, the final game did not have this feature. The promotional videos for the game showed graphics that were completely fictional on every system, AI interactions that do not exist in the game, and touted specific in-game mechanics which were explained in detail by the developer but are no where in the game itself. I wrote to the company and requested a refund but they refused stating that because I had downloaded the game I am no longer eligible for a refund. Can you help me?
Contracts for the supply of digital content which are not supplied on a tangible medium (for example, a CD) are exempted from the right to cancel within 14 days under Directive 2011/83/EU, if performance has begun with the consumer’s prior express consent acknowledging that no right to cancel would apply, i.e. the product has been downloaded.
Directive 2005/29/EC provides that a commercial practise is regarded as misleading if it contains false information and deceives or is likely to deceive the average consumer, in relation to the main characteristics of the product, and as a result causes him/her to take a transactional decision that he/she would not have taken otherwise.
In the UK, the new Consumer Rights Act 2015 defines digital content and states that just like physical goods, digital content must be as described by the seller. If digital content is not as described you have a right to repair, replacement or a reduction in the price.
Having regard to the above, we would suggest that you write to the company once more with a view to clarifying that you are not seeking to withdraw from the contract under a cooling off period, but rather that you are seeking a remedy based on the fact that the game is simply not as advertised – game described as ‘multiplayer’. If the trader cannot remedy the breach, you should be refunded.
Consumer success story of the month:
An Italian consumer booked a car hire for five days, with pick-up time at 11 am. However, when she arrived to the car rental location at the agreed time, the car was unavailable and she was asked to wait for 2 hours or rent a different car for an additional €198. As the consumer was unhappy with the options given, she asked to cancel the contract. The consumer was told that no money had been taken from her card but she later discovered that the trader had charged her €120.79.
The consumer wrote to dispute this charge and she was told that according to their policy, cancellations were only allowed up to 24 hours before pick-up time. The consumer then requested assistance from ECC-Net, as in her view the car rental company had failed to fulfil its contractual obligation in the first place. ECC Ireland in turn contacted the intermediary service used to book the car, and a full refund was issued to the consumer.
Press and Communications Officer
The European Consumer Centre is part of the European Consumer Centres Network (ECC-Net), which covers 30 countries (all EU countries plus Norway and Iceland), and offers a free and confidential information and advice service to the public on their rights as consumers, assisting customers with cross-border disputes. ECC Ireland is funded by the European Commission and the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission.
Disclaimer: Whilst every effort is made to ensure accuracy, the European Consumer Centre cannot be held responsible for matters arising from any errors or omissions contained in this publication. The information provided is intended as a guide only and not as a legal interpretation.
© 2016 – European Consumer Centre (Ireland) Ltd, MACRO Centre, 1 Green Street, Dublin 7. Company limited by guarantee in Ireland, No. 367035 – Registered Charity No. 20048617 – CHY14708.
This ebulletin is part of the action 670695 – ECC-Net IE FPA which has received funding under a grant for an ECC action from the European Union’s Consumer Programme (2014-2020).
The content of this ebulletin represents the views of the author only and it is his/her sole responsibility; it cannot be considered to reflect the views of the European Commission and/or the Consumers, Health, Agriculture, and Food Executive Agency or any other body of the European Union. The European Commission and the Agency do not accept any responsibility for use that may be made of the information it contains.