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Bed bugs in my hotel room, outrageous overcharges on Internet bills, freezer-burnt popsicles: These are among the complaints I've made. I've developed a system for explaining and proving my dissatisfaction with services or products that don't meet reasonable expectations. There's some strategy involved with getting your money back, or getting your money's worth. Keep these tips in mind the next time you have a gripe.

Gather evidence

Be clear about the problem and clear on your ideal outcome. Jotting down notes throughout the process of a more serious issue is a must to avoid getting sidetracked and maintain a record of your complaint. And if your product or service comes with any contracts or warranties, read the fine print before pursing action so you know your consumer rights.

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Go to the right person

This can be the most frustrating part of the process. The first person you call with a concern is usually never the person who can actually remedy the situation. The people who make the final decisions are at the top of the chain and those are the people you want to voice your complaints to. Last winter a friend was travelling to Calgary for a three-day ski trip and the airline lost his snowboard. They eventually located it and passed it off to a courier, but neither the airline nor the courier service could say where the board was or when it would arrive. After 24 hours of back and forth with customer service, my friend decided to move higher up the ladder. At 8 p.m. on a Saturday night, he e-mailed the COO of the airline. He found the COO's name with a quick Internet search. He found his e-mail address by going to the corporate website and locating the PR rep's e-mail to determine the e-mailing system (i.e. Twenty minutes later, he received an apology from the COO. Four hours later, his board arrived.

Get it in writing

You should have a record of your correspondence with customer service reps: names, employee numbers, call back numbers with extensions, and what was discussed. This information will help you stick to the facts, and hopefully reduce the time you have to repeat your story. Along with jotting down notes, it's also smart to visually record anything that will help your case. I've successfully disputed two parking tickets by showing photos of the scene. Friends have used similar tactics in unsatisfactory hotel rooms while on vacation.

Get a plastic security blanket

One of the reasons I use plastic to pay for everything is that if a company refuses to handle my complaint or return, I can contact my charge card company to go to battle for me. If you've purchased an item with your credit or charge card, and aren't making progress on your own, attempt to have your provider resolve the dispute on your behalf.

Have patience

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Circling around and around with a phone, cable or Internet company is enough to cause a mini meltdown. It is so incredibly frustrating. If you've survived retelling your story over and over again, hangups, or transfers to the wrong department, you deserve a medal or a massage. I had a two-month battle with my phone company over hundreds of dollars of charges that were unjustified. I was determined to carry on and work my way up to the top to finally have it resolved. It takes time and patience to resolve certain claims, but it's your money, so stay the course. Keep in mind that kindness goes a long way in resolving an issue and the golden rule works both ways in lodging a complaint.

If you've spent good money on a service or a product that doesn't live up to your reasonable expectations, then you shouldn't be required to pay for it and you're entitled to adequate compensation. Be fair, state the facts, and always keep some honey on hand.

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About the Author
Angela Self

Angela Self is one of the founders of the Smart Cookies, a group of five women who specialize in personal finance. They are hosts of a self-titled show on the W Network and the authors of The Smart Cookies' Guide to Making More Dough. More

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