Nobody likes a complainer, but sometimes there is no avoiding it.
Maybe that next-day delivery arrived two days late or your monthly $30 wireless bill turned into $300.
The trick is figuring out how to get fast results without losing your temper or sounding like a whiner.
"Every consumer has a tipping point," said Sue MacDonald of Cincinnati-based Intelliseek, which collects and organizes information and consumer opinions on products, services and companies from databases, Web sites and message boards. "You might not be as angry over a bad burger at McDonald's as you are over a $1,000 computer," she said.
If it is worth rattling someone's cage, take a deep breath and settle down.
Small-claims court can be costly and time-consuming. Going to the Better Business Bureau may leave you somewhat satisfied, although the agency has no regulatory teeth. Contacting your state's attorney general's office or the Federal Trade Commission won't guarantee results, although your problem could gain more attention.
Creating a blog to air your complaints could land you in a lawsuit, as one Georgia couple found out after complaining about the quality of sprayedon siding they bought for their home.
"The first recourse we recommend is to always go back to the store," said Richard Blumenthal, attorney general for Connecticut, which fields thousands of complaints a month. "Very commonly, consumers can pursue a remedy on their own."
Firing off a letter will likely elicit a canned response, unless the company is serious about its customer service.
"What it all comes down to is how the company handles it," said Carolyn Schamberger, a spokeswoman for Verizon Wireless, which hears from 1.5 million of its 42.1 million customers in some capacity each day.
Regardless of your approach, know what you want to happen.
"Be specific about what you want," MacDonald said. "If you want someone to call you, say that. If you want the product replaced, say that. If you want an apology, say that."
Here's a rundown on how to be effective in various industries:
As with all complaints, make sure you have your facts straight. Daniel Butler, vice president of retail operations for the National Retail Federation in Washington, said that during his 26 years as a department store manager, he saw countless numbers of customers complain about an item that wasn't even sold at his store.
"It can be possible for customers to make mistakes," he said.
Make sure you know the store's return policy. Retailers are cracking down on serial returners as the industry battles fraud. If an item is defective and you're outside of the return parameters, you may have to settle for an exchange instead of a refund.
If you feel you're getting nowhere with a sales associate, ask to speak to a manager, Butler said. If the manager can't help you, contact the corporate office if there is one.
Four agencies oversee various parts of the banking industry: National Credit Union Administration, Federal Reserve and state regulatory bodies (state-chartered banks), Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (national banks) and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (bank deposits up to $100,000 per account).
If you have a beef about an investment adviser, broker or mutual fund, you'll want to go to the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Again, it's best to start with your local branch or investment contact, said John Fields, who works for the Federal Reserve branch in Philadelphia.
"But if they really don't receive any satisfaction, they are going to contact us," he added. "We try to attempt to resolve things in a 30-day period."
Some issues, such as grievances with company policy, are out of regulators' reach. But if there is a violation at a state-chartered bank of the Truth in Lending or Fair Credit Reporting acts, the Federal Reserve can step in and assess monetary penalties.
You won't get far taking a salesperson to task over a shoddy new car. That's something you'll need to take up with the auto manufacturer. But if you're irate over an unsatisfactory repair or that you didn't get the advertised rate, then the dealership is where you want to be.
Feel like you've hit a wall with the sales manager or dealership owner? Then check out the free Automotive Consumer Action Program, run by your state's auto dealers association. Send the dealer a complaint form, and the dealer has a chance to respond, said Louis Vitantonio, director of legal and regulatory affairs for the Greater Cleveland Automotive Dealers Association, one of the nation's oldest AUTOCAP programs.
And if that car is really a clunker, you could find restitution under the lemon law. Check out www.lemonlawamerica.com for details on how your state handles lemon law claims.
Lorene Yue is a Your Money staff reporter.