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How to complain to contractors effectively

Regardless of the old saying "The customer is always right," you've probably been the victim of lousy service at one time or another.

Not speaking up about bad, or good, service is a disservice to you and the company involved. It’s your duty to complain; a company cannot correct a problem if they are unaware that one exists. If the steps below don't resolve your issue, Angie's List Complaint Resolution Team will go to bat for you and contact the contractor on your behalf.

Effective complaining is a survival skill that anyone can master and everyone should. Here are a few tips to incite action for an unresolved complaint:

  • When possible, complain in person. Letters can be dismissed (though it’s a good idea to do so, as well, so you have documentation!) and phone conversations are less direct. It’s more challenging to ignore or argue with someone face-to-face.
  • Have the facts at your fingertips. Be ready with every name, date, time and price that relates to the complaint. Documentation, such as receipts and written estimates, are key in winning the complaint war. Also, be prepared with what steps you would like the company to take to rectify the situation (i.e. grant you a full refund, repaint the trim work, replace the cracked toilet, etc.).
  • Act assertive, not angry. Starting out nasty will instantly put the other person on the defensive. A great opening line is to tell the company that you have "a problem" and are looking for help in how to solve it. Explain the facts without showing emotion (lip biting permitted).
  • Go to the top. If the person answering the phone is not responsive to your complaint, ask to speak to the manager in customer service. Don’t antagonize this person; he or she will be more encouraged to refer you to the right "higher-up." Another hint: tell that person you will be sure to explain to the manager how well you’ve been treated.
  • Always, always follow the Golden Rule. Treat the company with respect, even in the way you explain your complaint. As an example, if it appears a repair has not worked, rather than accusing the company of doing the job "wrong," let them know you’re still having the same problem and are in need of their help. If a bill turns out to be higher than expected, ask for a detailed breakdown of the bill before you accuse them of "price-gouging."
  • Explain the consequences. If you’re not getting a positive response, explain what will happen if you don’t get action. If you have been a long-time customer, let them know and assert that they will no longer have your business. If you have referred others to them, point that out as well. If you're dealing with a larger company, ask to speak to the customer retention department. Most large companies and corporations have them, and they're a good fallback if nobody seems to know how to address your needs.
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Comments

A contractor can do a wonderful job but when things disappear such as gold necklace that belonged to my mother in law is it worth it especially when it was hidden from view.

As a contractor I would like to give the other viewpoint. I pride myself on having happy customers and rarely have complaints, but even the best contractors aren't perfect on every job. First and foremost realize that almost all problems are caused before the contract is signed. To be more specific, you need to let the contractor know what your expectations are. If you really need a contractor to be prompt, tell him, if you have noticed yourself being more quality oriented than most of your friends, tell him that too. The basic concept here is that you are entering into an agreement another party and both you have the right to know what they are agreeing to. The bottom line is that the more that both the customer and the contractor communicate on how the job will progress before the contract is signed, the more likely everyone will be happy in the end. Of course you also have the dishonest contractors who will promise anything and deliver almost nothing, but that is another story.

Sara, A company that refuses to sign up for membership in the BBB often results in an "F" rating. The BBB is now nothing more than a scam. Stay with Angie's list for more useful reviews.

Sara is so right about the BBB. This is true in Michigan also. The BBB is a complete sham. Here is an old link on an expose - nothing has changed since this 20/20 program was done: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yo8kfV9kONw

I used to always check contractors out with the BBB. But I've moved to TX and the BBB down here seems to be as bad as the contractors. I just looked one up to whom they give an A+ rating. In the past 12 months this company has had 105 complaints. That's 8, almost 9, a month, more than 2 a week. I picked through every one of them for details. Out of 105 I could find less than 10 who were satisfied with the results of complaining to the BBB. "Company addressed the complaint issues. The consumer failed to acknowledge acceptance to BBB" If that is what the BBB considers an A+ company, I can not imagine what constitutes an "F" rating. Buyer beware, and thank god for Angie's list who is basically doing the job the BBB is supposed to be doing.

Is there nothing you can do for poor work that you don't discover immediately? Something with teeth, I mean. I tried talking to the contractor, but his wife constantly ran interference and neither one would call me back when I phoned. Is there ANYTHING to do after the check has cleared the bank?

I could not agree more! It never seems to amaze me how often I see pore workman ship! I will say though that the best way to avoid a problem is to do your homework up front… Just because one service provider has an A rating does not mean that you would rate them the same. It is very important to have a clear concise idea of your expectations, but don’t stop there! Confirm that your contractor has fully absorbed and agreed to these specific expectations. Always get everything in writing, and check references before you hire. I like to see consumers check references on projects are similar to theirs. Also ask who will actually be in charge of your job site and get references that are specific to that person, if possible go see their work. Click the link below to see a complete list of “Questions to ask before you hire a painting contractor” http://portland-housepainter.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/10/Pearl-Painters-Free-Report-10.18.10.pdf

My wife and I try to do major homes improvements projects on our house every year this years was windows and gutters. Since Holmes on homes aired I’ve been very skeptical on just hiring any contractor for our jobs. The show has made me aware of the questions I should ask before hiring and signs I should look for in a good contractor. Well after seeing City Builders in Waterloo, Iowa in action I thought I had found the company to fulfill most of my home improvement needs. I hired them to do my gutters, soffit and fascia. Even though their quote was $600 to $800 more than everyone else I sign the contract which stated the work would be completed within five weeks because I wanted a company who I thought I could trust and who did quality work. As time progressed no City Builds a little over a month past by and I decided to give them a call to see what was going on. Talking to the representative I got the feeling that they had forgot all about me when he stated “it’s been that long”. He went on to say that they would get me at the beginning of the week which I would considered to be a Monday or Tuesday those days past along with Wednesday and Thursday and no City builder. I decided to call them that Thursday afternoon a little before 4pm to cancel so I could hire someone who wanted to make money. Immediately the representative got an attitude with me saying he will be sending me a bill for a permit that they had just pulled. I explain why I shouldn’t be responsible for paying for the permit. The representative didn’t like my response and hung up in my face and the following day I receive a bill in the mail. I personally would not recommend city builders for any work not do to their quality but just because of this representative and his really poor customer service.

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