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Ever felt frustrated about a service or purchase, made a complaint, but ended up getting nowhere? To avoid this, there is an art to complaining that ensures your concerns are heard and taken seriously.
Amy Chien-Yu Wang, Presented by
Margarita Vasileva

25 May 2018 - 7:12 PM  UPDATED 25 May 2018 - 7:12 PM

Winnie Lau is a psychologist who deals with complaints on a daily basis.

She is used to hearing all the things that get on her patients’ nerves.

Lau’s advice is to manage the issue early before it reaches boiling point.
“If they have an issue, if they want to stop the problem, they need to be a little bit proactive to find a way to solve the problem before it become a big big problem.”

What if your frustration comes from a bad purchase or service?

Lau says understanding someone else’s perspective can help in communicating your complaint.

“Think about what do they need. It’s not like attack them, it’s just giving you another option, maybe you would like it, but if you don’t want to hear it, if you don't want to try, it is okay, I respect that it’s your decision but at least, I’m telling you, there is another way to do things. Maybe you will find this way is much easier than your way, or if you need my help, just tell me, it’s only for I’m trying to solve the situation rather than a personal attack.”

New South Wales Fair Trading Commissioner Rose Webb says the process of making a complaint can be harder to navigate for older people who are not fluent in English.  

Consumers in NSW can call the language assistance hotline on 13 14 50 for interpreter services.

“I think another thing is just confidence about their right to complain because often people don’t like to seem to be complaining or they’re a bit scared to complain because they think something might come back on them from the person they’ve complained about. So, there can be a number of things that affect lots of people complaining, but particularly, for older age groups who may not have a lot of understanding of how the Australian legal system works and the Australian government system works and not have a lot of language skills. I think it can be quite difficult.”

People over the age of 45 tend to complain about larger purchases such as faulty electrical or white goods, buying or repairing second-hand cars or handling tenancy issues.

In the first instance, Webb suggests you should take  your grievances to the person who provided you with the service.

She says you need to keep good records and supporting documents of the case to support your argument.
“Be precise about what your complaint is. Sometimes it's a little difficult for us because people give us a very long, long story about the particular service or transaction that they've had, and really, it’s just part of it is the actual complaint. It’s easier for us if people can identify the exact nature of their complaint as soon as they can when they’re talking to us.”
Carmen Lazar works as the community settlement manager at the Assyrian Resource Centre in New South Wales.

Part of her job is helping older clients lodge a complaint with  NSW Fair Trading.

She says the key to resolving complaints is to familiarise yourself with your rights as a consumer.    

“We provide information sessions in partnership with NSW Fair Trading to educate all individuals on Australian consumer laws and consumer rights, and through this, we identify what assistance they can request. We also educate individuals on the telephone interpret service where language barriers can be taken out of the equation, and they can completely understand what is taking place with their situation.”

As the senior policy officer at Consumer Action Law Centre in Melbourne, Katherine Temple regularly advises older people on handling complaints.

These complaints are often about procedures relating to the energy, water, finance and banking industries.

If you feel like your complaints are falling on deaf ears, Temple says there are strategies to reach a satisfactory outcome.

“So, often people are able to talk about what the problem is and why they are unhappy about how they’ve been treated, but they have some trouble articulating the kinds of outcomes that would be acceptable to them. So, before making your complaint, it’s really worth sitting down and thinking about what the business can offer to you to resolve that complaint to your satisfaction.”

If you’re unsure of how to write a complaint letter, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission website has a simple tool to help you structure your concern.

And if all else fails, amplifying your concern on social media can of en ensure that you’re heard.

“We have seen particularly with big businesses that they will respond to complaints made on social media and perhaps will direct people to the right team within the business to respond to that complaint.  So, that’s certainly one option. Another option is calling the business, and saying that you would like to make a formal complaint and asking for the contact details of the right person to direct that complaint to."

Older People Speak Out, a Brisbane-based advocacy group for the elderly, has developed a website where older people can file complaints about their experiences.

Titled “Your Say on Aged Care”, it encourages people to contribute to the future of Australia’s aged care regulation.

Acting president Majorie Green explains how the idea came about.

 “The older age group is a forgotten age group. Nobody pays any attention to old people. When you look at what’s happening to older people in residential care, some of the care there is disgraceful and it shouldn't be. So, we thought, well, how can we get out there to get to hear what people need and want, and with the technological age, of course, the obvious way is to do it on the computer."

Green says the reason why many elderly suffer is because they're not use to voicing their discontent.

“The older age group before mine didn't complain and I think that was the problem but the new old age group will complain and that's what we’re hearing now for baby boomers and people of that age group but people of the older age group were used to sitting back and taking what came along."