10 Steps to a More Effective Complaint Letter

No matter how careful you are about your spending, there is still a chance the product or service you receive will not live up to your expectations. However, having your problem resolved is not always as simple as contacting customer service, a salesperson or even a manager. These people are not always authorized to give you what you are asking for, whether it is a replacement, refund or discount.

If your initial attempts to have your problem resolved fail, take it to another level. Your tool – The Complaint Letter. Getting your complaint in writing creates a record of your communication and can be a clear and effective way to state your problem.

I recently disputed charges billed to me by my doctor, but I was denied a discount. Since I felt my complaints were valid, I wasn’t taking no for an answer. I found the name of the clinic’s CEO on the website, searched for her email address online, and sent her a complaint letter. The result was a 50% discount.

Not all complaint letters are created equal – implement these elements into your letter to get results.

Determine who your complaint should be directed

It is best to address it to a specific person that is in a position to make decisions. Start by visiting the company’s website and look for a corporate or contact page. They may have a specific department to handle complaints. With local or regional companies, upper management and owners will be more accessible. However, these contacts are not always listed. You can try calling and asking specifically who the owner, president or CEO of a company is. If you get lucky, ask how to spell their name and the best physical address or email address to reach them. Also, remember that Chris is not always a man and Robin is not always a woman. I prefer email. It is faster, and I believe more reliable.

You can also search online for contact names and information. Searching for “company name” and “president” may turn up a LinkedIn account or news article. Business directory sites, such as www.hoovers.com, will provide some company information for free. If you get a name, try to track down the company email structure, such as jdoe@companywebsite.com or john.doe@companywebsite.com, etc.

I sent my letter to the CEO, but she forwarded it to the medical director. I figured the CEO wouldn’t be the one to actually address my complaint, but I assumed she would get me in touch with the right person.

Before you begin, remember to remain polite

Don’t write an angry letter or threaten the person that has the potential to help you. Don’t badmouth the company, it’s employees or products. If you were treated badly or were given a defective product, they will want to know about it and rectify the situation. Threats and name-calling are not incentives to help you.

Briefly state the intent of the letter

Be sure to provide any relevant information, such as the model and serial number of the product in question, date and location the service was provided and customer account number, if applicable.

Detail the problem and why you are not satisfied

Tell them how their service or product failed to live up to your expectations. In my case, I had additional expenses, lost time and physical scarring. I felt that more could have been done on their part to prevent this.

Give a brief history of who you have spoken to

With this history, include why your early attempts to resolve the problem, if any, were not adequate. If you have gotten to this point, you have probably already spoken with someone. Do you recall who you spoke with and on what date? Describe how they did or did not help you, but don’t vilify them.

State specifically what you would like done

Do you want your money back or the product replaced? If a service was performed, would you like it done over? If you are asking for a discount, it may be better to have them come up with a number first. They may offer more than you were expecting, which is what happened to me.

Give them a deadline for responding

Give a deadline, but be reasonable. At least one week, but no more than two. Let them know what further action you will take if they fail to respond, such as contacting the Better Business Bureau. Thank them for taking the time to help you.

Give them ways to reach you

Provide your phone number, mailing address and email.

Include documentation

Be sure to include copies or scanned attachments of any documentation, receipts or pictures. Make sure they are copies and not the originals.

CC any other relevant parties

If you are able to get more than one contact, send it to all of them, but make sure they know this is happening. Be careful not to go over someone’s head that would rather solve your problem than have their supervisor find out about it.

If you get to the right person and follow these steps, they will likely be open to meeting your request. In the event that this doesn’t work, additional steps can be taken on your part. Contact state or local consumer, regulatory or licensing agencies. The Better Business Bureau and even the media can help you. Small claims court may be a potential last resort.

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6 Responses to 10 Steps to a More Effective Complaint Letter

  1. Aviva says:

    I have also found it helpful to post my complaint (with ALL the details) on a blog and then send the link to folks at the company I’m dissatisfied with.

    They have no way of knowing my blog is small time stuff, and they know that bad PR on blogs can have a real effect on their company these days. So it has worked out well for me several times when I wasn’t getting anywhere with phone calls and private email/snailmail.

    But if you do this, even on your own blog, don’t use profanities or make threats. Just share the details of your personal experience because you want your readers to know. Of course, if the company responds positively after they see your blog post, make sure you do an update and send them THAT link as well.

  2. baselle says:

    Third the tone of your letter – go for factual, and if possible, assume an innocent tone. The thank you helps with the tone. Its hard to thank someone after you rant.

    Also make sure that the letter is one page. Your supporting documentation can be multiple pages, but your letter of buying, problems occurred, and the solution you want – all one page.

    Deadlines don’t really seem to work for me. You have to think about what you will do when the deadline passes. Send another letter, go up one in the company hierarchy, go to the BBB or the media? And if its something like writing to the IRS, deadlines don’t work.

    If you are mailing by snail mail, make sure you send by certified mail. Make sure someone signs for it.

  3. David Mitchell says:

    The problem with deadlines is that you have to follow through. Don’t set an unrealistic deadline and then extend it. Your deadline needs to correspond to the magnitude of your problem. The more significant the problem, the shorter the deadline.

  4. Topwaystosave says:

    Customers are smarter than ever and they realize there are more choices than before.

    Sticking to the facts are important so the company knows your not just ranting.

    Companies realize they don’t want detractors and most realize how negative just one upset customer can be. I prefer calling a company before writing. If you can’t get what you need from the representative on the phone don’t be afraid to go higher and ask for a supervisor. They may have more power to adjust or get your situation resolved.

  5. Amy says:

    I enjoyed this resource. It is exactly what I’m looking for. It was my first time writing a complaint letter, but it all worked out. The problem was fixed too.

  6. Jessy Granger says:

    I’ll keep this mind when the time comes that i will need to come up with a complain letter. Thank you Shane!

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