According to new research from the National Consumer Agency, a quarter of consumers had reason to complain about a product or service.

Eight out of 10 complained and the majority of those who did were satisfied with the outcome.

But that still leaves a minority of people who didn’t complain or weren’t happy with the outcome of the complaint.

Complaining is not a bad thing

Traditionally many people have seen complaining as negative and often as something they didn’t want to be seen to be engaged in. However, complaining can be positive and constructive.

That’s because you, the consumer, will get a gripe off your chest and/or will feel pleased at getting a repair or replacement for a broken product for example. On the other side, the business should see receiving complaints as an opportunity; both to learn constructively from their customers about a service aspect for example and to make (and keep) a customer happy by resolving a problem for them.

How to complain effectively

1. Gather your facts

Make sure you have all the facts or details relating to your complaint, For example, the flight booking reference number, the date of the service call out, the amount you paid, what exactly went wrong and when etc.

2. Know your rights

If you think you have entitlements under your consumer rights then find this out before you make your complaint. Contact the National Consumer Agency or European Consumer Centre for advice.

Knowledge is power and if you have all the facts plus you know that you have a valid complaint and what redress you should expect by law, then you are in a very powerful negotiating position indeed. It will also mean that if the business responds by countering your claim or saying you aren’t entitled to anything, you’ll have acquired the knowledge to tell the shop or service provider that they are obliged to repair, replace or refund.

3. Know what you want

Once you have the facts and know what your rights are, it is also helpful to know what you want the outcome to be. In other words, what you are prepared to accept, should the complaint process turn to negotiation.

If, for example, a brand new TV just doesn’t work and you want a refund, will you accept a replacement instead if that’s what the shop is offering? If the package holiday wasn’t as described and you’ve asked for €400 compensation and the holiday company is offering a €100 voucher instead what will you do?

If (as in the second example of the holiday) the company is not offering what you’re entitled to, I would advise standing your ground and ensuring you get what the law says you should. If, on the other hand you absolutely want a refund and not a replacement, then decide that in advance so you don’t find yourself agreeing to something when you’re not prepared.

4. Contact the correct person

Who you make your complaint to will depend on the type of business and the type of complaint. If it’s a corner shop then you should talk to the manager first before putting things in writing to see if things can be resolved that way.

With a larger business that has a customer service section it is fine to issue the complaint / request a remedy by phone to the agent and also follow that up with an email referring to the telephone conversation. However, if that doesn’t resolve things, then to avoid the risk of talking / emailing different people all the time, the best idea is to ask for the name and contact details of one specific person, preferably a manager and to address that person only.

With email being the main communication tool with service providers and online businesses many complaints are already in writing, and make sure your don’t delete the emails so you have all the information should you need to go back to it. If you’ve been telephoning or speaking person and haven’t resolved the complaint, always follow-up in writing so there is a record of your complaint.

If you are dealing with a big company you can also ask if there is a complaint process and what that is, so that you make sure you are handling your complaint in the correct way and addressing the correct department.

5. Don’t despair; there are alternatives

If you are legally entitled to a remedy and have not received it then you can get further help. If in doubt, ask the business you have an unresolved complaint with what the next step is or contact the NCA for advice.

• Court: The small claims procedure costs €25 and you can claim up to €2,000 and you can use it for complaints about any services or products.

• Ombusdmen: Financial services, pensions or state, the Ombudsmen will deal with unresolved complaints in these sectors.

• Regulators: Commission for Energy Regulation, Comm for Telecommunications Regulation, Comm for Aviation Regulation, Private Residential Tenancies Board, Advertising Standards Authority etc – all deal with sector specific complaints.

• Mediation / arbitration: A growing alternative to court there are sector specific schemes such as for car complaints, dentists and architects.

• Cross-border: For EU cross-border complaint resolution go to the European Consumer Centre or use the European small claims procedure.