Effectively Writing A Complaint Letter

Writing an effective complaint letter after a bad experience in a service industry is simple if you follow these instruction

It happens to everyone. It can happen at a restaurant, a store, or even just reading the newspaper. Something will happen that will annoy you to the point that you say "Someone should write a letter about that." You've decided that the someone will be you, but how do you write an effective complaint letter.

Step 1: Before you write a letter, make sure that you know who you are writing to. If a telemarketer is rude to you on the phone, for example, do you know what company that person was representing? With a little research on the internet or at your local library's directory of businesses, you should be able to find an address to send your complaint.

Step 2: Never write in anger. It doesn't matter what the situation was, if you write while you are seething with anger chances are you won't be able to be understood. Wait a few hours or until the next day so you are clear and level-headed when you write your complaint.

Step 3: Never wait more than a week. In the business world that changes staff as frequently as most people change shirts, timing is everything. If you wait for more than a week to send off your letter, the person or situation that you are complaining about may not be there.

Step 4: Type, don't write. A typed letter lends itself to a level of professionalism which demands immediate respect over a handwritten one. Additionally, typed letters are usually easier to read than handwritten ones. If the recipient can't read your letter, they won't respond to it. Also, a mailed letter is considerably more effective than an e-mail.

Step 5: Know who you are addressing. The tired phrase "To whom it may concern" can be a death knell to a complaint letter. Be as specific as possible with your opening address, but don't be casual. For example, if you know that Jim Smith is the president of ABC Company, begin your letter Dear Mr. Smith (not Dear Jim or My dearest Jimmy). Using a person's name will bring the problem down to a personal level with the reader""you know who they are and where to find them.

Step 6: Be direct. Your reader doesn't want to hear your entire life story. If you like, you can begin with one or two sentences about your history with the company (i.e. I have been a customer at your store for the past six years), but don't overdo it.

Step 7: Drive home your facts. Give dates, times, and names of the people involved in your situation. If it took an hour to get through a checkout line at 8 AM it sounds much worse than if it took an hour to get through a checkout line at 8 PM on Christmas Eve. Also, this lets your reader know that you are a very organized and professional person. Professional customers get better treatment in most cases.

Step 8: Don't embellish. If you had to wait for an hour, don't say that you spent your entire afternoon waiting. As long as you stick with the facts of your story, your reader will be more likely to believe your writing and therefore be more willing to help you out.

Step 9: Explain what you want to accomplish, but don't be unrealistic. If you had a terrible meal at a restaurant, don't say that you want the cook fired and a free meal for your entire family of twenty (unless all twenty people were with you that night!). Generally requests fall into four main categories. First is the request for a refund. Try a statement like "I feel that I should receive my money back as compensation for my terrible experience." The second is the request for "things made right." For example, "Since my cheeseburger was not in my bag when I left the drive-through, I would like a coupon for a cheeseburger for my next visit." Third is the request for management intervention with an employee. A statement like "I feel that the management should talk to their employees about curbing the use of profanity in the presence of customers" would suffice. Finally, there are some complaint letters that do not have any request. Generally these letters are written to inform the management of a situation that you would like corrected or addressed for their information only. For example, "The table I was sitting at was right next to a bussing station for the restaurant and I had to listen to the noise of dishes being stacked throughout my entire meal. I would appreciate if you would look into the matter so other people do not have to go through as noisy of a meal as I did."

Step 10: Let them know what you plan to do if your issues are not addressed. This can be anything from telling your friends and family to not patron their business to calling the board of health about unsanitary conditions. Don't make demands that you cannot follow through with, however. (i.e. "I'm going to call the President of the US, who is a close personal friend, and he's personally going to have everyone at your business arrested.")

Step 11: Give contact information. Most managers will write a letter to respond to your complaint letter, however some do prefer to call or send a fax or e-mail. By giving the management a variety of contact information (name, address, phone, fax, e-mail), you are increasing your chances of getting a response.

Step 12: Thank the person reading your letter in advance. By saying thank you, the letter ends on a positive note. Positive notes generally bring about positive results. Also, sign the letter. This strengthens your connection with the reader.

Here is a sample letter that follows this twelve step plan.

Jim Smith

ABC Company

123 Main Street

New York City, NY 12345

Dear Mr. Smith:

I have been a pleased customer with your ABC Friendly Mart for seven years. On my most recent visit, June 1, 2000 at 2 PM, I received poor service that I felt I should bring to your attention.

I was in the store to purchase a small bag of chips and a small fountain soda. When I got into the checkout lane, the cashier, who was wearing a nametag that read "Jane" told me that I would have to wait for a few minutes until her freshly painted fingernails had dried before she could ring me up. She was also on the phone talking to a friend during this time. After ten minutes she got off the phone and proceeded to ring me up. Imagine my surprise when my bag of chips and small drink totaled $7.98. I told her that I thought there must be some sort of error. She proceeded to tell me that she didn't set the prices and that if I didn't like the prices that I should shop elsewhere. Needless to say, I went across the street to the XYZ Quick Shop for my purchase.

I was extremely disappointed with the service I received that day. If you would please address this issue with your cashiers, I would greatly appreciate it. I enjoy shopping at your store, however if I receive this type of treatment again, I will take my business elsewhere.

Thank you for your cooperation in this matter.


John Dough

999 End Road

New York City, NY 12345

Phone: (800) 122-3345

Fax: (800) 988-7765

Once your letter is written, mail it in a #10 envelope (standard size for letters) to the proper address. Make certain that you have used the correct amount of postage, so your letter will arrive promptly.

Sometimes it can take a few weeks to a month before you receive a reply. If after six weeks you haven't received any feedback, determine how important a reply would be to you. If you feel it is important, write another letter or call the corporate office. Remember, a polite and well-thought letter will get you farther than an angry letter.

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