Fighting By Writing: How to Write an Effective Complaint Letter

An unfortunate reality is that that people get ripped off every day. Nancy buys a car and it turns out to be a lemon. Tom’s hard drive freezes, but the manufacturer won’t cover the repair under warranty. You get your credit card bill and there are fees and charges you never agreed to pay. When this happens, most of us get mad, complain to our friends, and maybe make an angry phone call. This, however, rarely fixes the problem. The best way to get results is to put your complaint in writing.

Letter writing is becoming a lost art, replaced by more urgent forms of communications such as email, texts and tweets. While those methods have merit, none get results quite like a well-crafted complaint letter. If you are out of practice, here are some tips on the art of putting your complaint in writing.

Keep It Short

A letter is not effective if no one reads it. Your intended audience is likely faced with a stack of letters or a full inbox. They are not interested in reading an opus on what their product meant to you and how its failure ruined your life. They are interested in cutting through that stack of letter as fast as possible. Two to three paragraphs is all you need. Explain what happened in chronological order, include any dates and names you can recall, specify the product at issue, and be clear about what you want.  If you absolutely need more than one page, make sure to include your name, contact info and account number (if applicable) on every page in case the pages get separated.

Be Professional

While ranting at customer service may reduce your therapy bill, it will not help your complaint. Keep to the facts. Avoid name calling or mudslinging. A company is less likely to help you if it appears they’ve already lost your business. You want to seem dissatisfied, not angry or unhinged. Also, if the letter doesn’t work, you may file a lawsuit or take the matter to arbitration.  Your letter will certainly be part of the record in that proceeding. Don’t say anything you would later regret or which may hurt your case.

Keep Your Audience Small And Relevant

Many people believe that going to the press, governmental agencies or broadcasting a complaint as far as possible will get results. It will not. Give the company a chance to fix your problem. If you copy the world on your letter, it puts the company on the defensive. Once you go global with your complaint, you’ve caused more damage than can be fixed by simply addressing your issue.

Also, make sure the letter is addressed to someone who can actually fix your problem. Many companies list on their website who handles corporate complaint, and don’t be afraid to copy the CEO.

Know What You Want And Ask For It

If you want a new widget, ask for it. If you want money, ask for it. If you want a repair, ask for it. You are the one complaining—you know what will make you feel better. If you wait for the company to make an offer, you let them define the solution. As a caveat: be reasonable. Asking for too much is the same as not asking for anything at all.

Prove Your Case

If you have receipts to prove purchase, photos to prove damage, advertisements to prove a promise, then reference it and include a copy with your letter. Do not send originals—you will not get them back. Keep your original documents, and a copy of the signed letter, in a file, along with any notes, or responses from the company. You may need them later.

Use The Law

If you are certain a law has been broken, say so, and cite the statue. Be careful though, you lose credibility if you stretch too far or are wrong.

Set a Time Limit And Wait

Your letter should set a deadline for the company to reply. Ten business days is usually reasonable, but you may have to wait longer.  If you have not heard back within a month, you may need to take further action.

Certified Mail, Return Receipt Requested

I always imagine there are two piles of complaint letters in a corporate office:  One sent certified mail, return receipt requested, and everything else. The certified pile probably sits on the desk in a stack ready to be read, while the others are recycled for paper airplane practice. Sending a letter certified mail means someone at the company signs for it and provides proof that it was received. This shows you mean business and expect your letter to be read.

Be Ready To Take Additional Action

While a lawsuit is not always advisable, or necessary, you should consider what you will do if your letter does not work. Don’t threaten a lawsuit in your letter (remember, be professional), but be prepared to consult with a lawyer about what rights you may have. If you do need to talk with an attorney, following the guidelines above will help him or her manage your case.  Be ready to provide all documentation, communication, notes and proof of your complaint if you are interested in taking your complaint to the next level.

If you need help with this process, have gone through it already and feel the need to take it to the next level, or do not feel a letter will help at all, feel to contact the Marshall Law Firm to schedule a free consultation at 925-575-7105, or submit your complaint online.