How to Complain About a Bad Product or Service

When feeling aggrieved about getting a raw deal from a business, you don’t have to go for the jugular upfront. Instead, ramp things up slowly.

If you are in a face-to-face or telephonic disagreement with a supplier or service provider, try to maintain a cordial tone even if you are firm about the unacceptable nature of the business’s actions.

Ask to speak to a senior person who may be in a better position to resolve your unhappiness.

If you are unable to speak to someone directly, ask for contact details to send a letter or an email. Provide as much factual detail as possible to facilitate resolving the dispute.

When that does not help, find out if the business subscribes to an independent dispute resolution mechanism.

Government has prioritised consumer protection through laws that apply either in general to all business sectors, or are aimed at specific sectors of products or services.

Not only is the legislation good, but it also provides for on ombudsman (ombud) in specific business sectors who can mediate a settlement in a dispute. This approach also ensures that the courts are not clogged up with litigation which could be resolved in a less

An ombud generally is an independent office which operates within very specific parameters which define what cases it can adjudicate and the process to be followed. At the very least, the

South Africans have become very familiar with the work of the ombud through the office of the Public Protector, an ombud par excellence, whose mandate is to investigate, correct and redress any improper or prejudicial conduct in state affairs. The PP can use mediation, conciliation, negotiation or other measures to ensure fair, responsive and accountable decision-making and service delivery in the public sector.

But there are many business sectors nowadays which has an ombud, an official employed by the sector but who is intended to operate independently, to ensure ethical and fair practices among professionals or businesses in that sector.

As the web site HelloPeter points out, you might take your gripes to social media, but what do you do if your public complaint or criticism doesn’t get the kind of response from the business you were hoping for?

By referring your matter to an ombud, a resolution might be agreed which satisfies both your and the business’s interests. However, bear in mind that most ombud-type interventions only kick in once all available remedies have been exhausted – for example, you followed the steps for raising your complaint with the business itself or its relevant oversight organisation.

When you communicate with an ombud, make sure you put down all the specific, relevant facts of the issue. Don’t cloud your complaint with unnecessary waffle or raise slurs which can neither be substantiated nor support the gist of your grievance.

Sectors that have an ombud office in place include:

  • The Consumer Goods and Services Ombud is the first port of call for consumers unhappy with a supplier’s response to a complaint with a product or service.
  • Banking Services. The ombud works to resolve complaints regarding individual banks or banking products, once a client has reached the end of the particular bank’s own dispute resolution mechanism.
  • Financial and Advisory Services. The FAIS ombud will take on matters which the parties have been unable to resolve, including cases where a financial advisor didn’t act diligently and fairly with a client, failed to provide suitable financial products to clients, or didn’t set out all the necessary information for a client to make an informed decision.
  • The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa accepts complaints relating to broadcasting, telecommunications or postal services.
  • WASPA, the Wireless Application Service Provider Association can assist you with reporting sms spam that comes to your cellphone from one of its members.
  • Motor Industry Ombud referees matters where a deadlock has been reached between a business in the motor industry and a customer.
  • The Ombud for Short-Term Insurance is the last stop for complainants in the multi-billion rand insurance sector. In 2017 OSTI adjudicated 9097 disputes valued at R87 million out of 3.2 million claims processed in the industry, but ombud Deanne Wood warned of insurance companies’ “inflexibility and dogged decision-making in considering claims.
  • The Ombud for Long-Term Insurance mediates disputes involving life insurance. It dealt with 219 cases in 2017, of which half were finalised – 80 in favour of the insurer and 28 in favour of the complainant. Unusually, it has appointed an ombud to oversee complaints against its own office.
  • CSOS or the Community Schemes Ombud Service is a relative recent innovation to provide a dispute resolution service in respect of sectional title and other community ownership schemes, covering any adjudication from an unreasonable water bill to damage as a result of poor workmanship.
  • South Africa’s Tax Ombud mediates disputes between tax payers and the SA Revenue Service. However, the ombud has a relatively rigid ambit of cases it will take on.
  • The Council for Medical Schemes offers a complaints service for all medaid related issues. If you’ve raised a complaint to your medical aid but it hasn’t been dealt with to your satisfaction, and you have asked for a referral to your scheme’s own dispute review system without any change in the decision, you may appeal to the Council to adjudicate the issue.
  • If you wish to complain about a hospital service, you can contact the Hospital Association of South Africa
  • Complaints against any healthcare provider such as a general practitioner, contact the Health Professionals Council of South Africa
  • Complaints about nurses can be addressed to the SA Nursing Council

If your dispute concerns information, the Promotion of Access to Information Act is a very useful law which allows you to ask a business for relevant information. Be aware, however, businesses can be very rigid about their compliance with requests for information. See this article about dealing with an abusive insurance company. Find out more about this law through the SA Human Rights Commission website

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How to Complain About a Bad Product or Service
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