As you may have noticed if you've been reading my blog for a while, I like complaint letters. I have been writing them since I was a child. When I was 8, I filled out the comment card at a seafood restaurant my family went to complaining that their floors were dirty (little did I know that the concrete floor thing was just a decorating style, albiet one I was not fond of). They sent me a $15 gift certificate even though I had filled out the card with green crayon. With $15, I could order an entree instead of the kid's meals my parents usually made me get! Needless to say, I learned at a young age how effective a complaint letter can be.
In recent years, I've reinstated the habit of letting companies know when I'm not happy. I don't take it to extremes - I don't write a letter to the Gap every time another hole shows up in one of my sweaters (though it happens so often that I'm starting to think I should). I generally save the letters for times when I feel I've been particularly wronged. Examples include the refund I requested from Super Shuttle that I described in my last post and letters to the Gap when I got cheated by their credit card rewards coupons.
I have a high rate of success with these letters, so I thought I'd share my tips for writing a successful complaint letter.
1. Save your efforts for the battles that matter. I'll admit that I've been guilty of complaining about a bag of potato chips (I think I mostly just wanted to see what would happen), but in general it probably isn't worth your time or effort to write a letter if the problem cost you less than $10 (or whatever seems like a reasonable threshhold to you).
2. Always be polite and avoid "yelling" or profanity. When you're writing to a big company, 99.9% of the time the person reading your complaint letter is not responsible in any way for the problem you experienced. If you are rude to them, why should they help you? A better tactic is to be polite but firm. Everyone has experienced problems with a product or service they purchased and will be willing to relate to what you're complaining about if you aren't rude. Your complaint may even be received by a disgruntled employee who is more than happy to help you.
3. Clearly state the problem and provide as many specific details as possible. Include dates, times, names of employees, license plate numbers, coupon expiration date, a copy of the terms and conditions of your agreement, or whatever pertinent details you can. This helps provide a solid basis for your argument and gives the company a way to investigate your complaint further so they can make sure it won't happen again.
4. Clearly state how you want the problem to be resolved. If you don't ask for something, you're a lot less likely to get it. If you want a discount on the next time you use the product or service, ask for it. If you'd rather have a refund, request that. The company will not always decide to give you what you're asking for, but think of your request as a starting point for negotiations and as a way to give them an idea of what they can do to make you happy.
Occasionally, you may not want to request anything specific if you think the company might offer you something better than what you would have requested. In these situations, you should still say something indicating that you hope the company will find a way to rectify the problem and keep you as a customer.
5. End the letter on a polite note. Thank the person for their time and concern.
6. Include your contact information. I generally provide my address, phone number, and email address to give the company their choice of how to contact me. I figure that this increases my chances of getting a response since everyone has their preferred method of communication.
7. Follow up. If your first request is met without a response after a reasonable period of time (which might be several weeks if your contact was by mail), send a second request (and be sure to state that it is your second request). If possible, contact a different person than you did the first time.
The next time you're upset about a product or service, try using these tips to write an effective complaint letter. I bet you'll find that it works.
Ask and You Shall Receive: My Consumer Victory with The Gap
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Complaint Letters Work
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