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How to Write a Complaint Letter

Tips for writing a complaint letter that gets results.

By
Kevin Cummings, read by Mignon Fogarty,
October 2, 2009
Episode #191

Page 2 of 3

Stick to the Facts

One good way to ensure that your letter avoids blame is to stick to the facts as you experienced them and write from a first-person perspective. Instead of saying, “With the dial set to eleven, your unreliable toaster exploded” try “When I pushed the lever with the dial set to eleven the toaster exploded.”

Appeal to Their Better Nature and Loyalties

As a bonus, you might try starting the letter with an appeal to their better nature with something along the lines of, “I would appreciate your assistance.”

Above all, remember that your letter will be read by a human being who feels a certain loyalty to their job and their company. If you attack either them or the company, they won’t be inclined to help you.  On the other hand, if you make them feel like helping you is helping the company they will probably do all they can for you. 

Remember that your letter will be read by a human being who feels a certain loyalty to their job and their company. If you attack either them or the company, they won’t be inclined to help you. 

Focus on Interests Rather than Positions

The second step—focus on interests rather than positions—speaks to being open to finding a solution that works for you and the company. A position is a hard-and-fast statement about what they must do to satisfy you as a customer. Here's an example of a position: “I demand that you provide a new toaster, re-paint my kitchen, and find an eyebrow donor immediately!”

An interest is more flexible and allows room for creativity. Here's one way to approach the situation with an interest statement: “I’ve lost my toaster and my eyebrows, and I’d like to find some way to improve the situation.”

The problem with positions is that they don’t leave the other person much room to negotiate. You’ve made a demand and they either have to give in or counter with an offer of their own. By making an open, interest-focused statement, you’re indicating to the other person that you are willing to truly negotiate.

For instance, you might say, “I’ve been a loyal customer for several years and would like to have continued confidence in your products. My preference would be to have a replacement toaster from you. I’d also be willing to send back the damaged unit for your inspection.” Instead of merely demanding action from them, you are offering something: continued loyalty and the opportunity to troubleshoot the damaged toaster.

Keep It Short

You’ll want to close the letter with a brief statement re-emphasizing your interest in reaching a mutually-satisfactory resolution. Keep the letter pleasant and short (one page is best), and you may well win a friend or two in the customer service department.

Next: What To Do If You Don't Get a Satisfactory Response

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