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How to write a complaint letter

LEARNING to advocate for yourself is both an important and learnable skill. There is no reason for consumers to be unhappy with the goods and services they receive. A respectful and thoughtful, though forceful, letter of grievance can turn a lemon into lemonade. Here is how to do it.


1. Be polite!

Being rude won't get you anywhere! Use a reserved and respectful tone. Try to avoid accusing someone of something untoward. In reality unless the company you have dealt with is intent on defrauding you, the people you have dealt with in the company mean for you to be happy so that you will come back and bring friends.

2. Keep on point and get to the point fast.

Do not tell the whole story (how you got to the store, who was with you, what you had for breakfast...) Only give the facts that are pertinent to your case and fact pattern.

3. Send copies of receipts and bills of lading as well as checks you sent and, if appropriate, photos or videos, etc. All documentation should go with your letter. You do not need to send sworn letters of witnesses. In fact, if you think you might wind up in court over this, you might want to hold back not only the witness' statement but her name as well.

4. State specifically what outcome or remedy you want.

If you want a replacement, refund, or repair, say so. It will help to avoid receiving a form letter or other stock response. If you would like the company to correct a broader problem, state that, too, but recognise that such a thing may take time.

5. Never threaten legal action.

If you intend to go that route, send your letter first, then if the response is not adequate, write to a supervisor and then see an attorney. He will know just what to do if the supervisor's letter receives an unsatisfactory response. Legal action is your last resort.

6. Work up the chain of command.

Each time you move from customer service rep to supervisor, to director, to Vice President, to CEO, you should attach the correspondence you have had at the previous level. This will update your new company representative and very possibly get the matter resolved in a non-litigious way. If you go right to the top, chances are the CEO is not going to know what you are talking about or why you are upset. He will only have half a story (yours) and if he investigates, will not know who to talk to.


5 steps to service recovery

WHEN service goes wrong, think "damage control". A good recovery process can turn angry, frustrated customers into loyal ones. On the other hand, the failure to resolve the problem results in the customer spreading their dissatisfaction to many other people.

* Apologise.

Start by telling the customer, personally and sincerely, "I'm sorry." They don't care whose fault the problem was - they want someone to champion their cause. So sincerely apologise and take responsibility for the error.

* Listen and empathise.

You need to listen and care. Avoid using phrases such as, "I know how you feel." Instead try: "I can only imagine how you feel", "That's got to be so frustrating." Listening and empathising helps customers unwind and feel like they are being understood.

* Fix the problem.

Once made aware of the situation, you must do whatever is necessary to resolve the problem, as quickly as possible. One of the most effective ways is to ask the customer what he or she wants to have happen.

* Offer atonement.

A recovery process will be valued by customers if it includes, symbolically, some form of atonement. Providing a refund, gift card or other compensation, depending on the severity of the problem, is a powerful method for service recovery.

* Follow-up. A few days after you feel the problem has been fixed, follow up. Call the customer and ask, "Have we fixed everything for you?" and "What else can we do for you?" Make sure they are satisfied.
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