I don’t want to rub it in, but I’ve just got back from a wonderful holiday.

However, now I’m paying the price. I’m currently sorting out the bills, dealing with a ridiculous ‘to do’ list, and working out what complaints I need to make to businesses.

As a point of principle, I never use my journalist powers when registering my own complaints. I follow the same processes as everyone else, so I understand what we are all going through. And let me tell you: I am fed up!

I’ve written a lot about how businesses seem to be making it as difficult as possible to contact them. There are lots of reasons for this, including; cutting staff in customer service, automation, avoiding registering complaints or even just not caring that much about what we have to say.

All of which I’ll be covering in future columns, along with investigating the worst offenders. But first: how do you get a business to listen to you? Here’s my guide.

How to contact a business

While many businesses do have telephone numbers, these are often buried deep in the depths of their websites. It took me over 20 clicks to find the number of one telecommunications company, ironically! You’ll find you have to click through endless Q&A pages before you default to a contact number. Save yourself some time and use a search drive instead. Just type in the name of the business and ‘contact number’ or ‘complaints’ and you’ll usually find your way to the number much quicker.

If no number comes up, use a forum to find one. Back in the early days of the internet, forums were the places to be for getting information on businesses that were reluctant to communicate. There are loads of them still in operation. MoneySavingExpert forum has hundreds of thousands of users, for one. You can always type ‘I can’t find a number for [business name]’ in to a search drive which will usually flush out a forum with the number. Check how old the posts are first though and watch out for scammers.

If there’s a phone number, aim to call during off-peak hours. As a general rule, the two best times to call businesses are late morning (10am to 11:30am) and mid-afternoon (2pm to 4pm). As the week progresses, from Monday to Friday, it tends to get easier to get hold of businesses too.

Let’s get to the fun stuff. Why not confuse a chatbot or artificial intelligence? Businesses are obsessed with automated customer service – but at the moment, it’s really, really basic. Most chatbots are only programmed to answer certain questions and can’t deal with the quirks of the English language – and that isn’t going to change too much with AI for now. Fabulously, most automated customer service bots default to actual humans if you persist or respond randomly. Type in something bonkers like ‘Flibbertigibbet’ till the bot gives up and hands you to a person.

I really hate Twitter/X with all my heart. We really shouldn’t be forced to use social media if we don’t want to, but if there’s no other way to contact a business then it can be a useful last resort. A few businesses actually have chatbots operating their social media but most have customer service teams monitoring tweets and they usually respond quickly. If you sign up to Twitter just for complaints, it’s the most effective social media option (but don’t engage with the angry, shouty people online). A word of warning though. Which? recently found out that scammers are pretending to be legitimate businesses by buying ‘blue ticks’. So find the proper social media link on the business website.

Then there’s the nuclear option – act like you’re cancelling the service. If you have any kind of agreement with a business and they aren’t responding to your complaints, why not start the process of cancelling the service? There’s usually a separate phone number for this that will have a human available to talk to!

Martyn James is a leading consumer rights campaigner, TV and radio broadcaster and journalist.

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