What you can do if you're unhappy with a product or service you purchased. Take the right steps to resolve the issue.

Steps to resolve a problem

Follow these five steps to resolve a problem as quickly and easily as possible. Use this process for both products — like faulty toasters and a lemon from a car dealer — and services — like poor quality trade jobs and unreliable internet service.

To view a visual guide of steps to resolve a problem, click on the image below.

If you have an issue

If you are unhappy with a product or service you have purchased, the first step is to approach the store/service provider to discuss it with them. It may be useful to consider this guidance before you do.

Know the outcome you want

Think about what’s important to you and what you want to achieve. For example, do you want an apology, a refund, a replacement? Or would you like them to provide the service again, this time meeting agreed standards? The more specific you are the more likely it is that you’ll get the outcome you want.

Prepare for the discussion

  • Find out about your legal rights
  • Write down exactly what your complaint is, including details such as dates and times.
  • Gather together any relevant paperwork, eg advertisement that misled you,or a quote that the trader gave you.

Tips on how to discuss a problem

  • Talk to the right person. The person you speak to needs to have the ability to resolve the issue, eg a store manager, business owner or supervisor.
  • Focus on talking about the problem with the product or service, rather than taking issue with a person.
  • Stay calm and reasonable. Explain the problem in detail and provide any evidence you may have.
  • Tell them what outcome you want. It’s the store or service provider’s responsibility to resolve the problem, but it can be helpful to ask them for a specific solution.
  • Expect questions. A store or service provider may ask you for more details.
  • Ask to speak with someone else if you’re not happy with the way the conversation is going. It’s okay to walk away and come back later, or to follow up in writing.
  • Listen to their response. Ask for time to consider it if you need to.

If you’re not comfortable talking to the store or service provider, take a friend or family member for support.

You can also send a letter or email. Getting a response may take longer with this approach.

Consider their response

  • Does the response resolve your issue or is it a reasonable compromise?
  • Do you want to take the time and effort to carry on if the response is unsatisfactory?
  • Based on what you know of your rights, do you think you have a solid basis to take the matter further?

Making a complaint

If the approach outlined above doesn’t work, you may wish to consider making a formal complaint. To do this:

Find out what the organisation’s complaint process is and follow this.

Have a look on their website or on any documentation they have given you.

If they don’t provide information about their complaint process, write a letter to them.

Your letter should:

  • include details of the purchase, eg a description of the item or service, the purchase date and seller details
  • give a detailed description of what the problem is and when it occurred
  • be as factual as possible
  • explain what you want done to fix the problem
  • include when you want a reply by
  • include your contact details
  • contain attached copies of your receipts, sales contract or other proof of purchase.

Use these templates and examples to help you write a complaint letter or email:

Template complaint letter for faulty products

Template complaint letter for faulty services

Example complaint letter for faulty products #1

Example complaint letter for faulty products #2

Example complaint letter for faulty services

Keep a copy of the complaint and only send photocopies of evidence.

Keep the originals so they don’t get lost.

If you have lost your receipt, you may be able to use a bank statement as proof of purchase instead.

Taking it further

If making a complaint hasn’t resolved the problem, what you can do next depends on the type of problem.

There are a number of different processes that can be used to resolve disputes. These range from negotiation or mediation through to tribunals and court. In some situations you may be able to decide for yourself which process to use, and in others there may be an organisation that sets out the dispute resolution steps you need to follow.

For consumer complaints, up to $15,000 (or up to $20,000 if the parties agree) the Disputes Tribunal or the Motor Vehicle Disputes Tribunal for vehicle disputes may help you and the trader reach an agreement or may make a decision about what is fair.

For disputes that involve claims over $15,000 there is the option of going directly to the District Court.  

Other organisations that you can take an unresolved complaint to include government agencies like the Commerce Commission or traders’ associations, such as the Registered Master Builders Association of NZ Inc.

Each organisation will have its own remedies or outcomes. Some will focus on assessing whether the person or business being complained about was in breach of agreed standards and may recommend disciplinary action accordingly. When deciding whether to take your complaint further you should find out from the organisation what remedies are available in relation to your issue.

See Report or resolve a problem for the various options depending on what your complaint is about.

Involving the media

If you think that people could learn from your experience and you have tried everything else, you can try talking to the media. But the media may not be interested in your story. Also this could make things more complicated. So try other options first.

Some general information about dispute resolution

If you are considering entering into a dispute resolution process here is some information about the most commonly used types of dispute resolution.

In a negotiation the parties work with each other directly (or through their representatives) to try to resolve the dispute.

Other dispute resolution processes involve a third party assisting the parties to resolve the dispute. Some of these processes, such as conciliation and mediation, are consensual, meaning the parties themselves, and not the third party, determine the resolution of the dispute. Others, such as arbitration, tribunals and the courts are determinative, meaning the third party decides the outcome.

A dispute resolution scheme may allow for more than one stage. This enables another type of dispute resolution to be tried if the first is not successful. For example, a dispute could move from direct, informal negotiations to more structured mediation and then to formal arbitration.