Most of us would rather not take the time to fire off a complaint letter after receiving poor service or purchasing a product which didn’t live up to expectations. We just spend our money elsewhere.
But as “Hector,” VP of Consumer Affairs for a national consumer products corporation tells You and the Law, “We look forward to getting these letters from our customers. “When we drop the ball, we need to be told. A well-written complaint letter is far more valuable than most people realize.”
So, just what does a “Well-written complaint letter” look like? We’ll tell you in a moment, but, first, let’s look at letters which are destined to yield no positive results.
“Are they nuts, or what?”
Daily, this column hears from readers after all their efforts to obtain help for a problem have been exhausted. By the time we are contacted, they are completely fed up.
Occasionally we receive a novel - 50 pages, copies of receipts, emails, you name it, tracing everything done to resolve the issue and listing everyone who was also sent the same material. This usually includes their Congressional representative, U.S. Senator, federal and state consumer protection agencies, plus about 25 others.
“And this does produce results, but not what the sender had in mind,” Hector stated, “because there is no way anyone is going to spend hours making sense of it all, yet the last page always states, ‘But no one has replied! Can you help us?’
“Sadly, while there could very well be a legitimate complaint, the sender does succeed at something, as we think ‘Instead of a one page summary, we get this.' And they think we are going to waste our time going through it. Are they nuts, or what?”
My office staff skims page after page to get an idea of what’s wrong, followed by a phone call to our reader. What almost always started out as a legitimate complaint has now become an obsession, likely due to the fact their letters were being ignored.
Our reader didn’t have the slightest idea about how to write a complaint letter that had a good chance of (1) being read, and (2) getting positive results.
There’s an art to writing that kind of a complaint letter, and we’ve got a few pointers which are proven to work, and will prevent the necessity of yanking out any more strands of hair.
Being polite builds your credibility
Remember when you had an argument with a close friend or family member over what in reality was nothing more than a slight annoyance, but insults flew? Did anger help resolve the problem or make it worse? Did one or both of you succeed in hurting the other’s feelings? If so, what did that accomplish? Did it harm your relationship?
So, rule number one in complaint writing is simple: Don’t be a jerk. Don’t swear. Above all, be polite. You must establish being reasonable and wanting a resolution of the problem with the least hassle.
Problem solving’s four most important words
Let’s say I call you on behalf of a client and my first words are, “Hi, this is Dennis Beaver and I need your help.” I’ll bet you just thought, “Sure, how can I help?” Psychologists call this a scripted or reflex response; it is automatic, and unthinking. The result is that the person hearing or reading, “I need your help” will usually suspend skepticism, pay attention, wanting to see if they can help.
So the opening sentence of your complaint letter – addressed to a top-level company employee – might sound like this: “We have been customers of yours for years, but now have a really serious problem and need your help.”
Be brief - Begin at the end – Be prompt
How does this sound?
“I am writing concerning a security deposit that was not sent back to me after I moved. I really need your help in getting the money refunded which the law requires. I gave proper notice and enough time has passed. All I want is my deposit returned and am aware of my rights under state law to sue and a landlord can be hit with a large penalty, but I do not want to do this.”
Immediately, the landlord’s attention is directed to what the former tenant wants. There is no need to wonder about what this person is getting at. The sought after solution — the end result wanted — is stated at the very beginning of the letter.
Finally, patience isn’t a virtue. Time is our greatest enemy. If you have been wronged, take action now. Keep it all under one page, clear, and to the point. Simplicity gets attention and results.