20 July 2012

It's a fact of life - stuff goes wrong when you're travelling. And sometimes, you will need to complain about it. Here are the steps you need to take, along with some do's and don'ts.

Step 1: Complain on the spot

If something goes pear-shaped, it's only fair to let the person/company responsible sort it out straight away. It also means you'll have a nicer journey or stay. If you don't get satisfaction, jot down facts (names, time, exact issue, why they say it can't be fixed, etc) so you'll have these for the next step. Note: taking people's names isn't to get them into trouble - unless they're really rude to you! It's more to establish the facts.

Step 2: Complain by phone as soon as you can

If the problem isn't sorted by the people there, find a phone and call their complaints department or customer service people. They might be able to put things right for you, or sort out a refund. This is usually the quickest way to resolve a complaint after the event. 

Step 3: Complain by letter

We were going to add 'complain by email' as a step, but in our experience, it gets less attention than phone or letter. Ensure your letter is concise (if you're complaining about a train cancellation, for example, don't add on less important stuff like the fact the sandwich was a bit minging). You need to state what the problem was, how you have tried to resolve it, and what you want (eg a refund). Knowing your rights here is useful. Also, make sure you send it to the right place (and a named person if possible). You can get this information from their website or by phoning customer service.

Step 4: Take further action

If you still get no joy, go to the next level. This will vary according to what you had a problem with, but a good starting point is to look at the company's website and see if they're a member of any trade organisation (eg ABTA). Their website should also give details of any relevant ombudsman (you'll find this in their complaints procedures). 

Step 5: Share your experience

There are loads of review sites where you can share your experience. Often, bad reviews will generate a response where your previous attempts have failed. If you search for the company and 'reviews' you should be able to find places where you can share your experiences.


Always do this

  1. Get your facts straight. Take photos if necessary, record times, consequences (eg missing flight), and get supporting evidence where relevant (eg doctor's note).
  2. Remember that the person on the front line has limited power. They might sympathise with you but they may not even have the information on how to get your problem solved.
  3. Ask to speak to another person. If you feel you're not getting anywhere, say something like 'if you are unable to help me with this, would it be possible to give me the details of someone who can?' Note that customer service people HATE putting you through to a manager or supervisor so you may need to be persistant.


Never do this

  1. Be rude. This will never get you anywhere, and puts you on the moral low ground. You will get much better results if you are polite.
  2. Forget that you're one of many. The person you're complaining to might have been on the receiving end of dozens of complaints today (especially if they work in a complaints department!). Being polite will make you stand out.
  3. Act like it's the fault of the person you're complaining to (even if it is). Usually, it'll be a combination of things that have gone wrong, possibly combined with silly company policies. Even if the person you're talking to is at fault, they won't appreciate you pointing it out. When was the last time you thanked someone for pointing out your mistakes?!


One final thing

Keep your complaints directed at the company - that means no whinging on Facebook, your blog, Twitter etc (unless you've actually turned up some information that will help someone else). No-one likes to hear other people complain.


If you've got any tips on how to resolve a complaint while travelling, please share them in the comments below.