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The first thing to do after realizing the need to write a complaint letter is very simple. Sit down, take a deep breath and ask yourself, "In a hundred years, how much will this matter?". In other words, put things in perspective.

Growing up in a business family, I know one truth stood out beyond all others over the years: When a customer has a complaint that is not rectified, the owner or president of the company would rather hear about it.

Contrary to popular belief, bad-mouthing the business in your circle of friends (or all over the internet) still does not bring results for you. It might make you feel a little better to think that you "got that business in the end", but did you solve the problem? Did you get the results you wanted? Probably not because the right people didn't even know there was a problem.

Here are some tips that have worked well over the years:

>> Begin the process appropriately. Go to the business (if it is local or nearby) and speak to the person in Customer Service. Call if it is not local or not convenient to go back in person.

>> Decide what you want and practice what you are going to say:

"I bought this product here and it is defective. I need to have it replaced (or to get a refund). Do I do that here?". Let them know, from the start, that you expect resolution.

>> Remember that the policy for reputable businesses is to make the customer happy. What nobody can guarantee is what the employee standing behind the counter is going to do.

>> When the employee looks at you with those cold, steely eyes that say, "I don't want to do all this paperwork, so buzz off", then the route to problem-solving begins. Ask to speak to the store manager. If the person tells you, "I am the store manager", or if there is no manager or assistant manager "available", give the person behind the counter a smile and say, "thank you" and leave.

>> After you get home, call the store and ask for the name and phone number of the corporate offices. The internet might also have the contact information you need.

>> Call the corporate offices and do not state your complaint to the person who answers the phone. This is part of targeting where to take your complaint so it will be heard. The receptionist cannot solve your problem. Tell them, "I need the name of your president or CEO and the correct mailing address for their office". You may also as for the e-mail address, but be sure to get the complete address. I have never been refused the information.

After spending two hours trying to send a complaint e-mail I wrote, I realized that the server was different than mine. If you are using snail mail, then make sure to clarify the address for the person you want to contact. It may be located in a different building or even another town nearby. Do not just say, "I need your address".

>> If it feels better to vent your anger, go ahead and write a letter immediately. Then, put it away someplace so you won't mistakenly send it. In a day or two, take out the first letter and rip it up.

As you sit back and really think about it, isn't there something just a bit humorous you could use to catch someone's attention? For example, when I rented a trailer to move, the frustration level became rather astounding. As I thought about what I was hearing, it became clear that I could use the logic I was hearing as a way to relate everything to the president of the company.

I was told that I might not get the trailer I'd paid for with a deposit, or I might have to drive over 150 miles north of where I was to pick up whatever was available. Although I'd paid a deposit, they didn't take "reservations" and could not guarantee that I would get the trailer I thought we reserved in the first place. I had given them a deposit of several hundred dollars because, I was told, they could not hold one for me without a deposit. It sounded like a reservation to me.

Turning the entire saga of the trailer into a complaint written as a dialog between me and the people I spoke with created a very humorous complaint e-mail sent directly to the president. I not only got the trailer, I got a bigger one for the same price which was available at the facility only a few blocks from my home - on the day I needed it.

What response did I get from the person who got the ball rolling at the president's command? "We wish all complaints were that fun to read. We hope your move is successful and are glad we could help. Please let us know if there are any further problems".

THE REAL KEY

You will believe that everyone you talked to is either inept or lazy. It will be easy to cite every possible negative thing about the person who did not help you. But, there are compliments to be given along the way. Verify the names of people you talk to. If the receptionist who gives you the president's name and address is particularly cordial, say so. If he/she seemed efficient even with what must have been twenty-five other lines ringing in the background, say so. If the customer service clerk, or the store manager clearly felt bad that policy would not allow them to rectify the problem to your satisfaction, say so.

That tells the recipient that you are not just complaining because you were having a bad day. It says that you are a reasonable person and, had this product (or service) not been defective, he/she would never be hearing from you at all. The compliments you give will trickle down to the people who were good to you along the way and, next time you visit that business, that will be remembered as well.