Resolving Consumer Complaints and Developing a Paper Trail

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Dwayne Coward

Staff Member
Forum Director
Apr 13, 2016
St. Louis
If you are reading this posting, then there is a good chance you are looking for suggestions or advice on how to address a consumer complaint or issue.

The very first thing you should do is read the below-linked stories by our very own Christopher Elliot, founder, and publisher of These articles will give you the practical advice needed when attempting to resolve a consumer complaint directly with the company.

We literally receive hundreds of requests each week from consumers requesting our help in providing a resolution. As consumer advocates, we want to do everything we can to give your case due attention and if possible, help with a resolution. To do this we need to have a complete picture of what transpired and why. An effective paper trail will help with this, plus it shows us that the consumer has exhausted all their options in attempting to resolve this themselves first.

I will note that, unfortunately, not every case can be resolved to the consumer's satisfaction. Simply put, some complaints are about the way the system is and works, and is not something we can always resolve or change. It is important that you review the terms and agreements of the transaction, and the companies website to determine if your specific issue is addressed, and to be able to specifically point out to the company in your correspondence how they are not abiding by the terms.

Developing a Paper Trail

To determine if we can directly advocate a case, the first thing we will need to review is any available documentation and a paper trail of the consumer's attempts to resolve this directly with the company. The following will provide the information on how to address the company in writing with the consumer complaint and develop a paper trail needed for us to consider if we can directly advocate a case.

Writing an effective complaint email

First, be sure that you have written out your complaint in a way that will be easily understood by the reader. You want to keep it as short as possible and always polite! If it is long or complicated, try using bullet statements or paragraphs to make it easier to read. Also, be sure to include a reasonable resolution. If you're not sure what is reasonable in your circumstances, please feel free to ask our forum experts. Refer to Christopher's story linked above for how to effectively address the complaint with the company.

Also, please feel free to post your written complaint to our help forum, our advocates can give you feedback on it and may provide suggestions on how to better explain your complaint.

Locating the contact information

Find the contact information for the company using our Company Contacts. If the specific company you are looking for is not listed, first check their website for contact information, you can also take a look at our page on How to find a company and executive contact. If you are unable to locate any email contact information, then please feel free to ask our researchers for assistance.

Sending your complaint to the company

Once you have the contact information, start at the lowest level, this is usually the customer service/care department and send your complaint. You want to give them five business days (Monday thru Friday, not counting holidays) to provide a response. Do not include any attachments, but instead offer to provide additional details if necessary, as some email providers may block emails with attachments.

If the response you receive does not resolve your complaint to your satisfaction or they fail to respond with 5 business days. Forward your complaint to the next level (work up the ladder). If the previous contact didn't respond, be sure to let the contact know they did not. If you did receive a response, make sure to add that and explain politely why it does not resolve your complaint.

Do this with each contact one at a time giving each five business days to respond before moving up to the next one. DO NOT email all at one time. The idea is to give each a contact an opportunity to review your complaint and possibly resolve it, basically giving yourself more chances they will provide a resolution.

If you're not receiving any responses (which would be unusual if you have following the 3 Ps in Christopher's article). You may want to try contacting them through their social media contacts to see if that will elicit a response.

If the email bounces, please report it using this

No resolution, what next?

In the majority of cases, following the above recommendations will get you some type of resolution. If you feel that the resolution provided is not sufficient or you are not getting any response then we recommend the following

  • Post the results to our forum who can then give you their opinion on whether the resolution is fair or perhaps provide further suggestions or advice on how to pursue your complaint (small claims, regulatory complaint...)
  • If you had previously submitted a help request, then circle back to our help desk by sending your new paper trail as a reply to our previous correspondence, otherwise fill out a help request (noting you have followed the above). If you have posted to the forum, please include a link to your posting. We will be happy to review to see if it is an issue we can directly assist with or not. Before sending a help request, we do recommend reviewing our Frequently Asked Questions to make sure it is a case we can assist.
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