How to win your consumer dispute using the Elliott Method

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By Christopher Elliott

If you’re having trouble with a company, the Elliott Method can help you fix any consumer dispute.

The Elliott Method is a straightforward set of rules that I created to support fellow consumers, and my readers liked it so much that they named it after me.

How is the Elliott Method different from other problem-solving strategies?

What makes the Elliott Method stand out from other ways of solving problems? Well, for starters, it’s simple and easy to follow. 

  • Basically, this method emphasizes putting things down in writing instead of trying to talk it out with someone. You shouldn’t have to argue over something that’s rightfully yours.
  • Also, it encourages you to quickly get your complaint to someone who can actually do something about it. Don’t waste your time arguing with someone who can’t help you!
  • And best of all, the Elliott Method gives you lots of different options for fixing the problem. You can try talking to the big boss, getting help from the cops, or even reversing the charges on your credit card.

What are the key principles of the Elliott Method?

The Elliott Method is a way for you to solve your problems with companies that are giving you a hard time. 

Have you ever been on the phone with customer service for hours, waiting for someone to answer and help you? It can be frustrating. The Elliott Method helps you work with the system, not against it. Here are the main things you should remember:

First, be patient

Companies know you want your problem solved quickly, but waiting on the phone for hours isn’t always the best option. Instead, try putting your problem in writing and sending it to the right place. This way, you have a record of what happened, and it’s easier to track the progress of your complaint.

Second, be persistent

Companies might try to ignore you or delay giving you an answer to your complaint. Don’t give up. Keep asking for help and pushing for a solution. If you stick with it, you can win.

Finally, be polite

It’s easy to get angry or upset when you’re dealing with a frustrating situation, but it’s important to stay calm and polite. This way, you’re more likely to get the help you need. Use polite language, say “please” and “thank you,” and avoid getting too emotional or making threats.

Remember, the three Ps of the Elliott Method (patience, persistence, and politeness) can help you resolve your complaints with companies. Don’t give up, and keep working until you get the solution you need.

How do you apply the Elliott Method?

But how do you actually use these principles in real life?

Try the front door

This means letting the company know about the problem, preferably in writing. You can also try calling or visiting in person if it’s an immediate issue. Make sure to include screenshots of your online purchase if that’s where the problem is. Then, send a short email to the company.

Give the company time to reply

Don’t expect an immediate response – you’ll probably get an automated message within 24 hours. But it might take days or even weeks for a meaningful response. That’s why it’s important to be patient. In most cases, the company will eventually resolve your issue.

Remember, using the three Ps can help you solve a consumer complaint. Don’t be afraid to speak up and stay persistent until you get the solution you need.

If the answer is still no, take it up the ladder

I publish the names, numbers and email addresses of the top company executives on my consumer advocacy site

  • Send them a brief, polite email and enclose your original correspondence. 
  • Start with a manager and give that person plenty of time to review your case. 
  • If that doesn’t work, appeal to a vice president and, finally, the CEO. Remember your manners. (Here’s our guide to contacting the CEO directly.)

What if the company still refuses to help?

The Elliott Method can’t fix a stubborn company. So sometimes, you have to take more extreme measures.

Call the cops

Most businesses are regulated by the government. For example, the U.S. Department of Transportation regulates airlines. You can file a complaint with the DOT if the airline isn’t playing by the rules. States regulate hotels and car rentals. You can file a complaint with the state’s attorney general. Other laws vary based on the country. 

File a credit card chargeback

A credit card dispute, or chargeback, under the Fair Credit Billing Act, is another option. You can force a merchant to refund your money under certain circumstances. If you purchased a product or service that wasn’t delivered as promised, you might be able to do a chargeback.

Sue the business

Filing a lawsuit in small claims court can be an efficient way of recovering a refund. You don’t have to hire a lawyer but bear in mind that the maximum claim amount is limited. Don’t forget to keep a paper trail. Your judge will ask for all your records.

Avoid these mistakes when using the Elliott Method

If you’re using the Elliott Method to solve a consumer complaint, there are some mistakes you should avoid:

Don’t waste time

Be clear and concise when you explain your problem. Tell the company what you want to happen, like an apology or a voucher. Long, emotional messages are usually ignored.

Don’t ask for too much

Be reasonable with your request. You can’t expect a free first-class flight because you didn’t get a cup of coffee. Most companies won’t compensate you for lost work time either. (Related: Stupid travel mistakes and how to avoid them.)

Don’t exaggerate

It might be tempting to add some extra, half-true details to make your case stronger, but don’t do it. Stick to the facts and let the company figure out how it affected you. And never lie – that could ruin your case.

You can find lots of practical cases in my Problem Solved and Travel Troubleshooter columns. Remember, by avoiding these mistakes and using the three Ps (be patient, persistent, and polite), you’ll have a better chance of getting your complaint resolved.

Hey Chris, I tried the Elliott Method, and it didn’t work — what should I do?

If you’ve politely appealed your case in writing, and the Elliott Method didn’t work for you, contact me. My advocacy team and I would be happy to help you. Here’s how to reach us.

Note: Although I’ve never actually rescued a helpless puppy on the high seas, as I did for this illustration, I often feel as if I’ve done that and much more as a consumer advocate. Bottom line: I’m here for you 24/7. Really.

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter.

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