Have you just bought a hair dryer that won't dry, or a tape recorder that won't tape, or a sweater that has shrunk despite guarantees to the contrary? Maybe you've just received an outrageously inaccurate bill for some item you didn't buy.
You are by no means alone. But there are ways to resolve such situations. The trick is knowing how to contact the right people. Contrary to general assumption , even large companies are usually willing to help you out with a faulty product.
Beth Adams, a spokeswoman for Heinz USA says, ''If our customers have any problems with any of our products, we really do want to hear from them. We investigate and evaluate their complaints; we respond to all of them.''
To help customers get legitimate complaints heard, Procter & Gamble has toll-free telephone numbers to handle customer relations. The company expects to get wider customer response, because its products are imprinted with the phone numbers.
''We work hard on complaints because it's still easier to keep old customers than to get new ones,'' says Doris Hewkin, manager of customer relations in the grocery division of the Ralston Purina Company.
Moylan Brown, executive director of the Society of Consumer Affairs Professionals in Business, offers encouraging advice to consumers: ''The company that doesn't pay attention to what its consumer affairs staff is saying won't be around very long.''
In a well-run firm, the chances are good that consumers' complaints, no matter how small, will reach the right hands. As long as your complaint is legitimate and not a ''crank'' letter and you follow an efficient, intelligent approach, you should receive a successful resolution to your problem.
If the product is faulty or the bill inaccurate, you shouldn't have to worry about the imposition of a closing date on the bill or the deadlines on a return item. Often, flaws in a product don't appear until after you use it anyway.
In making a complaint, always start with the store or the local dealer. If you receive a gift, find out where the gift came from. Take the product back to the dealer. Do your best to produce a sales receipt, canceled check, or the warranty.
Then ask for what you want: refund, repair, replacement. Be firm, not angry. Usually, a positive attitude will produce results at this first contact. If the salesperson doesn't offer satisfaction, ask for the customer service department or the manager. Sometimes during rush seasons, the salesperson might be a part-time employee who doesn't know the store's return policy.
Try to avoid making a complaint via telephone, because you'll have a hard time documenting your problem. But you might want to call first to make an appointment for a future date.
Sometimes a local merchant or dealer or company actually can't be of any assistance. In that case contact the manufacturer.
A complaint letter to a manufacturer should provide pertinent information in a businesslike manner. Don't use stationery with flowers or little animals in the corners. Use typing paper. If your handwriting is legible, you won't need to type.
The next step is addressing your letter to a name. You can find the names and addresses of the president, or the vice-president in charge of customer relations, by calling the manufacturer or using the library reference section of such books as the Consumer Complaint Guide, Thomas Register of Manufacturers, and Standard & Poor's Dictionaries. Always write the national headquarters and not the regional office.
Esther Shapiro, director of Detroit's Consumer Affairs Office, advises that sending a letter to a customer relations director will bring the quickest response. Write to the company's consumer relations department first and save the president for your final offensive. But in either case, write to a name.
Try to confine the contents of your letter briefly on one sheet and no more than two. Leave out how you are and were inconvenienced, but be complete. Include the following points:
* Give the name of the product, the model number or serial number, and the place and date of purchase. Include the dealer's name.
* Describe the malfunction. If a part is missing or faulty, send back the entire product along with your letter if it is small enough for parcel post. Also mention serial numbers of the malfunctioning part.
* Write a paragraph on any recommended procedures you have tried already to fix the problem. Also state whether you have returned to the local dealer. Give the purchase date and the cost.
Of course, duplicate any receipts or canceled checks. Never send originals. And refer to any written contracts, guarantee, or warranty.
* Tell what you want done. You may want to leave your intentions vague to see what the manufacturer will do. But Heinz's Ms. Adams advises: ''Be specific and spell out your demands!''
You could say: ''I would please like my money returned,'' or ''Send a new part.'' If the product is too large for you to handle, you may request removal at no cost to you. If you had to purchase a replacement, say so and produce a duplicate sales slip.
* Say where the manufacturer can reach you, and the times of day. Send your letter by registered mail to establish that it was received. Be sure to keep a copy of all sheets you send.
If there's no response after a reasonable period (three weeks to no more than a month) you may want to write again to the manufacturer, stating that you wrote earlier but received no response. Include a copy of the original letter, and state that if you receive no response, you will forward copies of your correspondence to the appropriate local, state, or federal consumer agencies.
If you receive no word after this second letter, carry out your intended action.
Your effective technique may bring favorable results and turn initial frustration into satisfaction.