Educational Consumer Tips

Savvy Consumer

Author: Better Business Bureau

How to be a Savvy Consumer:

*Educate yourself. Check out the company's report with the BBB. Does the company require licensing? Check with the licensing authority to make sure the company is properly licensed and that has had no record of disciplinary actions. If you are not familiar with the licensing agency, contact your BBB for more information.
*Ask the company for referrals from other consumers.
*Read all contracts. If there is anything that is presented in the sales pitch that is not included in the contract, get clarification and request it in writing. If there is anything in the contract that you do not understand, ask for clarification. Make sure that the contract covers everything that you are seeking from the company. Also, ask for and make sure you understand a company's refund or return policy.
*Communicate with the sales person exactly what you are trying to accomplish. Communication is a key factor in being a good consumer. If the company knows exactly what you are looking for, chances are, it will be easier to provide you with the product or service you have in mind.
*If you are purchasing something on the internet, check to make sure the company has provided contact information including address, telephone and a customer service point of contact such as an email address.
*Remember to keep copies of all documentation, receipts, invoices, contracts.

If you follow all of the above steps and still find yourself with a dispute with the company, our recommendation is to follow these steps:

The First Step

The first step in trying to resolve a problem concerning a product or service is to contact the business with which you dealt. Not only is this the fastest way to get your complaint resolved, it also gives the company a chance to keep a satisfied consumer. Every company depends on its customers for return business and referrals. Remember, as a customer you are the company's most valuable asset.

Preparing your complaint

Before you contact the company it is useful to take a few moments to make some notes.
*What is the specific nature of the problem? For example, what in particular is not functioning the way it was supposed to?
*What do you want done to resolve the problem? Do you want your money back? Will an exchange do?
*Gather documentation. Note when and where you purchased the product or service. Also try to note the specific person with whom you dealt. You may be able to find this on the company's sales receipt or on your credit card receipt. Write down the specific name of the product as well as the serial number, if applicable. Gather sales receipts, repair orders, warranties, canceled checks and credit card receipts. Each of these documents will help you in resolving your complaint.

Contacting the company

Once you have gathered this information and sorted out in your own mind what the problem is and what specifically you would like done, go back to where you made the purchase and contact the person who sold you the item or performed the service. Calmly and accurately explain the problem and what action you would like taken. If that person is not helpful, ask for a supervisor or manager and repeat your complaint. As always, it is important to be respectful and chances are, you will be treated with respect in return. A larger percentage of consumer complaints are resolved at this level; chances are yours will be too.

If the business said it would rectify the problem, note what specifically was promised. Also record the name of the person with whom you spoke and the date and time of the conversation. Should the problem not be resolved at this stage, accurate and complete records will substantiate your earlier actions and make further attempts to resolve the problem much easier. After contacting the company, be sure to allow a reasonable period of time before contacting another source for assistance.

The Second Step

If contacting the company in person has not resolved your complaint, writing a letter to the company is usually the next step. A letter to the President of the company serves to demonstrate the seriousness of your complaint and may motivate the company to take steps to resolve the problem.

*Many of the same pointers about letter writing mirror those above:
*Your letter should calmly and clearly state the nature of your problem and the resolution you would like. Try to avoid an accusatory tone. An angry letter is unlikely to speed resolution of your problem.
*Include all information about the nature of the problem and the details about when and where it was purchased.
*Include photo copies of all documents mentioned above. Be sure to send copies, not originals.

The Third Step

If your complaint is still unresolved, the BBB may be able to help. If your complaint is with a company located in San Diego or Imperial Counties, your local BBB can be engaged on your behalf. If the company is located outside of our service area, you can contact us by phone at 858-496-2131 and we can provide you with the contact information for the appropriate BBB. All BBB's have similar complaint processing procedures and will accept your complaint by mail.

Filing a complaint can be done online at or you can request a copy of our complaint form. You would need to include your name and address as well as the company's, and a clear description of your complaint and the resolution you would like. After receiving your complaint, the BBB will attempt to contact the company to resolve it if it falls within our processing guidelines. After contacting the company, the BBB will inform you in writing of its actions. The BBB will detail the resolution it has secured and advise you of other avenues to pursue if you are still unsatisfied.

Please remember the BBB is not a government agency. Our dispute resolution service is an alternative to handling disputes through the court system. The BBB cannot force action upon either party but does attempt to resolve tough issues. Even without resolution, your complaint does a service because your experience becomes a part of the company's BBB record. This may alert others to trends or potential problems. In addition, it is important to note that just because a company has a complaint on their record it does not mean that they are a bad company. It is important to also look at how the company resolves their complaints and the size of the company.

The BBB processes complaints against member and non-member companies. Member companies, those that support BBB standards and pay for our free services to the public through their dues, must adhere to strict standards regarding dispute resolution. When a complaint is filed against a Member company, that member has pledged in advance to work with its customer and the BBB staff to resolve all disputes.