Letter Writing: Letters of Complaint

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Getting mail is a ton of fun, but, in an increasingly digital world, writing it can sometimes be hard. This blog post series about Letter Writing aims to make it easier.

The internet has given power to the individual; a blog post, Facebook status or tweet has been known start an avalanche big enough to affect huge corporate profits. But if someone is looking for change on a less monumental (or at least less public) scale, the Letter of Complaint is still something most adults ought to know how to do. When you have a problem or issue that needs addressed, writing a letter of complaint is the first step to getting things fixed to your satisfaction. They can be written to many different people, but most often are to landlords, restaurants, institutions as well as both small and large businesses.
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Photo by Alex Bath
Since your letter needs to have a professional tone, have it typed and use a business format. This includes putting your full name and contact information above the letter. Alternatively you could put it below their signature at the end. Either way, it insures they can contact you even if the envelope is lost.

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Photo from the NASA center Ames research collection
Most often you will be writing to a customer service department, in which case, it is fine to begin the letter with “Dear Sir or Madam.” If there is no customer service department, take the time to find out who has the authority to solve your problem and write to them. In the first paragraph, state what the problem is. Make sure to include any pertinent details, such as the names of any employees involved, the date and location the problem occurred on as well as any the serial number of any products, names of models of products, what warranties guarantee etc. You may want to documentation such as receipts or photos of damage; be sure to send copies and keep the originals for yourself. Also make sure to mention in writing any documentation you include with your letter. Overall though, be concise; the sooner they know what you problem is the sooner they can fix it.

The second paragraph is where you address what can be done to make remedy the issue. Though tempting, do not ask for either an explanation or an apology. The person you are writing does not owe you the apology nor can give an explanation for the simple reason that they are very unlikely to have been present when the problem occurred. They will fix it for you, though; companies are not out to get their customers!  So do state here what, if any compensation you want be it that  you need is a new model of the product, to be reimbursed or have an exchange of items. Politely set a time limit on the company for a response.14 days should be sufficient.  Remember, this is not the place to say you will taking your business elsewhere as it leaves little incentive to help you; instead treat your proposed solution as a way for both parties to move forward. Thank them for their time spent helping you either at the end of your second paragraph or in a short third one. Sign off with a respectful benediction such as “Sincerely” and include your full name.

Throughout your letter, use a polite but firm tone. Keep things calm, even if you are feeling quite irrate. Likewise, in a first letter of complaint, do not threaten with legal ramifications, even if you think that will the solution ultimately required. However, no need to apologize for complaining; you deserve fair compensation for your time or money you have spent on the other party. If you have not heard from the other party within the given time period, move up the chain of command when writing your next letter. Keep a copy of any letter sent out and any documentation of date delivered in your files in case legal action is necessary at a later, to prove that letters were in fact sent.

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  1. I am a big snail mail fan and try to write old fashioned letters when ever I can, but sadly it isn't as often as i like!
    Two Hearts One Roof

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  2. This is so useful! I'm not the best writer (especially when it comes to formal writing) so it's always nice to have a sort of template when addressing a complaint.

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