We all experience poor quality service, and from time to time, faulty or damaged goods.
Whether you disagree with your neighbour about an overgrown hedge or whether the electricity company have charged you too much, the same principles of letter writing apply.
Most errors are unintentional. Businesses want satisfied customers as they are more likely to return. Keep this in mind when you write your letter.
Tips for writing a successful complaint letter
The ideal structure to use is one that explains:
- the subject of your complaint
- your original expectation about the subject
- what went wrong
- details of any attempts by the other party to put right the problem, and why they did not work
- why the fault or error or action affects you so greatly
- what compensation you seek
If you feel it is not inappropriate, you could end the letter by confirming that you realise that the person to whom you are writing is not responsible, or that 'these situations do happen from time to time' or something else that shows that you are a 'reasonable' person with whom the other person can deal.
Address the letter to a real person
Find the person who can help you resolve the problem, and write to him or her directly (not a department or just to 'Dear Sir'). Action is more likely to be taken if you delegate the responsibility to a person or group of people.
You might be able to find out who best to deal with by phoning the company or looking them up on the Internet.
Be honest and straightforward
Write to the point, and in clear language.
Do not include subjective opinions, except to the effect that your expectations were higher - for example, that you would have expected a better service from such a prominent company, or the product to be free of faults.
Don't lie about what happened to make your situation seem worse than it was. If the other side can prove that you did, it will weaken all your arguments.
Include sufficient detail to back up your claim and to show that you have thoroughly researched the subject.
You can show you have researched your subject by quoting the law where relevant such as not complying with requirements under consumer contract law to provide certain information.
Maintain a firm but respectful tone, and avoid aggressive, accusing language
Keep the tone of your complaint letter professional. The person who you are dealing with might not be directly responsible for the problem, and will be more likely to help you if he or she sympathises with you.
Remember though – be especially tactful if you want to maintain a future relationship with these people. Don’t let your complaint damage any goodwill too much.
Include your contact information
Include your name, address, phone number, and e-mail address, if appropriate, so that the person you are writing to can contact you to discuss any questions or concerns.
Tell them what you want
Do you want your money back or the product to be replaced? Maybe an apology is enough.
Tell the person exactly what you expect. That way, he or she is more likely to be able to resolve the problem fast and give you what you want.
Do not threaten action
Don't threaten any action unless you are willing to follow through with it.
If you don't have a strong case, or you are asking for perhaps more compensation than you think you might receive, or if the cost of the action is greater than the compensation, the other party will think that you are bluffing.
Take action only if it is worth it, and only when all avenues of discussion have been exhausted.
Similar to this point is that you should know what your backstop is. For example, you might be prepared to make a small claim for damages, but you might not be actually be entitled to any recourse at all. If you play hardball, they will play hardball. If you want them to do this, you have to make certain that without a shadow of a doubt, you are right to demand what you are asking for.
Keep copies and records
Send photocopies of receipts and other documents but retain all originals. The copies help to back up your argument and show that you mean action. Keep a copy of the complaint letter for your records.
If a first letter does not bring action, assume a stronger but still respectful tone in the next one. If two or three letters do not resolve the problem, send one personally to the president or CEO of the company or business.
Get other signatures
In many cases, you can increase the effectiveness of your letter by getting several others to sign it with you.
This is particularly the case when trying to influence or change legislation, denouncing material from the media, and so on.