10 Secrets For Writing Killer Complaint Letters
Copyright © Shaun R. Fawcett
As Webmaster of a number of popular writing help destination sites, I am often asked to assist people with writing their complaint letters. In fact, “complaint letter” info and samples are among the most popular subjects of searches on my Web sites.
Personally, I enjoy writing complaint letters because, if one is done properly, nine times out of ten it will receive a favorable response. So there is usually a reward involved. You might not always get everything you’re looking for, but it’s rare that a well-crafted complaint letter won’t get you some serious action.
This is a revised and updated version of an article I wrote a couple of years ago that will tell you exactly how to approach and write a complaint letter:
Complaint Letters WILL Get You Action…
Complaint letters aren’t always fun, but sometimes they need to be written. In many cases, if people don’t complain, the problem agency at fault (i.e. company or government) won’t even know that the problem you and others may have experienced even exists.
Ultimately, legitimate complaints, by even a few people, can (and often do) result in better service for everybody. Not only that; writing them can be personally beneficial too!
That’s right. Writing complaint letters can be an empowering and therapeutic experience! It allows one to take action instead of playing the role of a victim and “nursing” an ongoing resentment towards a company about poor service or treatment received. Once the complaint letter is written and in the mail, one can “let it go” knowing that one has done something tangible and constructive about the situation.
Not only that, but properly written and handled complaint letters get action!
After I started writing complaint letters, I began receiving gracious letters of apology and contrition from senior executives including bank vice-presidents and v.p.s of marketing for giant corporations.
Getting those, felt one heck of a lot better than “polishing” an ongoing resentment and getting even angrier the next time something bad happened. Sometimes I even get discount coupons and free merchandise!
Last year, a one page complaint letter earned me a ,200 credit from a major credit card company. Another one got a body shop to write-off a ,000 repair bill.
10 SECRETS THAT WILL GET YOU ACTION
Here are 10 trial-and-error strategies I have learned for writing complaint letters that are guaranteed to get you attention and action.
1. Write To The Senior Person Responsible
It is important that you get the name and detailed mailing address of a very senior person responsible for the product or service that you are complaining about. I generally try to write to the V.-P. level. Never go below Director level if you want a serious response. Name and address information can be obtained from the organization’s Web site or by calling the company and asking for the name and title of the senior person to whom you should write.
2. Don’t Send An E-Mail
When it comes to sending a serious complaint to a company DO NOT send an e-mail, regardless of what it may say on their Web site. E-mails are usually handled dismissively by low level “customer service” people. If you want serious attention and action, the formal written complaint letter is the only way to go. (yes, by snail mail!). When it arrives in the V.-P.s office, it triggers a bureaucratic process that ensures that the right people will see your letter, and will act on it.
3. Keep It As Short As Possible
Preferably, no longer than one page, two at the very most. When drafting a complaint letter there can be a tendency to go on and on just to make sure the recipient gets the point. Keep it focused, and as short as possible, but without diluting the facts of your message too much.
4. Give It A Heading For Easy Identification
Place a heading at the top of the letter with information that the company or agency will relate to, such as your account number or customer number. Make it easy for them to find you on their computer filing system.
5. Clearly Explain The Situation
Make sure that you give all of the specific details needed so that the company/agency can verify your claim without you having to get into an endless game of telephone tag with them. If at all possible, break it up into specific bullet points. Include specific dates, times and places, as well as the names of people you dealt with. If you’re not sure of these when composing the letter, call them back and ask for the specifics. (You don’t have to say it’s for a complaint letter).
6. Use A Positive and Respectful Tone
I have found that the best approach is to use a positive upbeat tone. Remember, you are writing to a senior person who probably sympathizes with what happened to you and will likely give you the benefit of the doubt. Your tone should convey the message that you are the innocent victim and you understand that the company wouldn’t have done such a thing deliberately. Also, DO NOT put them on the defensive by expressing your anger too much (even if you are really angry). Make it a calm, considered and deliberate communication from a “concerned customer”.
7. Send Copies If Appropriate
There can be cases where it is wise to send a copy of the letter to other parties just to make sure that you will get some serious action. For example, in a case where you have been told to write to a Regional Manager of a program, it is often a good idea to make sure that someone in head office also gets a copy. I sometimes send a copy to customer services or customer relations, offices at the national level. Or, if there’s a regulatory body involved, make sure you show a cc: going to them.
8. “Shame” Them As Much As Possible
Companies that claim and advertise high levels of customer focus and service do not like to be criticized in those areas. If you have a strong case that makes them vulnerable in one of these areas, use as much ammunition as you can to embarrass them in these sensitive areas. Modern marketing terms such as: customer relationship management (CRM), one-to-one marketing, most valuable customer (MVC), and customer-centric focus, all tend to get their attention. Also, using such terms makes you sound like an authority. Another thing I often do is go to their Web site, find their “mission” or “customer service commitment” or whatever, and then quote it back to them in the appropriate place in the letter.
9. Imply You Might Take Your Business Elsewhere
I always do this near the closing. Companies don’t like to lose customers, especially long-time customers. Senior marketing people are well aware that study after study has shown that it costs five to seven times as much to recruit a new customer as it does to hold on to an existing one. Not only that, these days they are worried about the possible “viral” effect of a complaint against them being posted on online forums and/or blogs.
10. Ask For An Early Reply
In the closing paragraph of your complaint letter, state specifically that you are expecting an early reply. Make sure that you follow-up by phone or e-mail if you have heard nothing in three weeks. Some companies will send you an acknowledgement letter stating that they are working on your case and will get back to you within a week or two.
Use the above strategies and you are sure to get action with your complaint letters. And, don’t forget the old truism “the squeaky wheel gets the grease”!
About the Author: Shaun Fawcett is Webmaster of two of the most visited writing-help Web sites on the Net. He is the author of numerous “how-to” books on everyday practical writing help. He also writes about how to create and publish books and ebooks. His main “writing tools” site is: