How to Write a Complaint Letter

What's the proper complaint letter etiquette?

Richie Frieman
6-minute read
Episode #406

In many cases, people exhaust themselves by spilling out their hearts on paper (electronically that is) only to find their complaint letter ends up in a slush pile on the bottom of other letters that never made it to the front office.  As a result, while you think maybe someone is reading your complaints and pining over your high quality verbal beat down you just delivered, in reality, the letter is going nowhere. So, as much as you want to get your feelings addressed and your issue solved, be just as a mindful as to who will receive that letter… and it may not be who you think.  For example, do you think the CEO of a Fortune 500 company will read you letter? Probably not … actually, definitely not.  You can have an amazing case, but you’ve missed the target because it was addressed to someone who doesn't handle complaints typically.  Instead go for someone whose job will have an immediate impact of both good and bad letters. Be it the PR department, HR, Marketing, or social media: think abouot people whose work is dependent on the satisfaction of the public. This doesn’t go for just a large company either, it could be a grocery store, restaurant, or movie theater. You can address it to the head honcho but when it comes time have your voice heard, try focusing on someone who will be an advocate for you, not someone who will be an enemy.   

Tip #3: Be Scary, Not Threatening

How many times have you heard someone say, “If I ever see that person again, you know what I’m going to do to them?” You’ve may have even said it yourself, at a not-so-proud moment of anger. Every time I hear that saying, and even think of it myself, it reminds me how truly stupid that sounds. Let’s be real, our lives are not movies where theme music will hit in the background and you get to storm out of a room to a standing ovation after telling someone off. There will be responses to our actions. Same thing goes for a complaint letter. If your letter is filled with nothing more than threats, like I said in Tip #1, it will only make you sound reckless in the way you address other adults and unaware of how your actions can come back to bite you in the butt.  Again—and I can’t stress this enough— feel you and I know how mad you are when you sit down to write a complaint letter, however losing your cool will never make your argument credible.  

We really need to focus on what it means to have your voice heard and how important it is to be perceived as educated, professional and mannerly in your complaint letter. When you do all of these things, your letter is taken seriously… very seriously. So seriously in fact (as I said in Tip #2) that someone not only wants to make those proper changes you asked for in your letter, but will skip lunch and their coffee break that very same day to do just that. This is how you balance being scary rather than threatening.  See, when you’re scary, in the mannerly way that is, you make the folks in PR, or running the Facebook page say, “Wow... This person makes an amazing point, because they’re right.” That’s when scary is the most effective in a complaint letter. Being scary isn’t about being a bully, it’s about being fact filled, to the point, and makes people move.  It’s a powerful technique that when written well, delivers your message with class, grace and allows people to realize they are in the wrong, and you are someone NOT to me messed with.

As always, if you have another manners question, I look forward to hearing from you at manners@quickanddirtytips.com. Follow me on Twitter @MannersQDT, and of course, check back next week for more Modern Manners Guy tips for a more polite life.

Do you have any recent graduates in your circle, or perhaps someone who is looking to start a new career, check out my new book, Reply All…And Other Ways to Tank Your Career for great tips and advice on job success. It's available now!

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock


About the Author

Richie Frieman

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