How To: Write a Complaint Letter

Welcome to Selena’s Corner, where I gently guide you towards the path of better writing.  Sally J can help you effectively wrangle your grammar skills, but I’m here to show you how to inject a little velvet sass into your writing.  Today we’re going to chat about writing a complaint letter.

It’s 2010.  We all have reasons to get bitchy about something, whether it’s shoddy products, elected representatives who aren’t living up to campaign promises or media that offends.  Writing a complaint letter is somewhat of a lost art in the instant gratification age, especially when it’s easy to fire off an angry email or leave a comment somewhere on-line.

There are several reasons to write a physical letter instead of submitting a complaint digitally.  It’s very easy for an email or internet comment to be lost/ignored/re-routed as spam.  A physical letter isn’t impossible to ignore, but it’s more unlikely to be discarded.  Additionally, writing a physical letter takes time, which allows you to compose your emotions and gather your thoughts.  A coherent, polite letter will get you further with any company than an angry, sloppy email.

Writing a complaint letter is structured much the same way as any other letter, with three main parts; an introduction, a body and a conclusion.   At the top of the letter, you’ll want to include the mailing address and name of your contact, today’s date and your contact information, including a mailing address.

The introduction of your complaint letter should be brief and concisely outline the nature of your problem without hyperbole or overly emotional language.

Good: I am disappointed that the widget I purchased has given my family a mysterious rash.

Bad: What kind of rinky dink operation are you running over there, you big bunch of clowns!

While the second example feels better to write, the first one is more likely to get the action you want.

The body of your letter should expand on your problem by offering as many facts and as much useful information as you can provide.

Good: After installing the software per the instruction manual, my computer shut down without warning as I tried to run the program.

Bad: Your stupid software borked my computer and I’ll never buy anything from you again.

You should also explain exactly what you want to happen as a result of your letter.  Again, being polite and truthy is the way to go.

Good: I’d like to speak with a technical support representative to help me resolve this issue, but if it can’t be solved I’d like to speak with a manager about a refund.

Bad: I hope all your offspring have two heads and you get jock itch.

The conclusion of your letter, like any conclusion in any writing you may do, is not the place for new information.  Briefly recap your issue and the solution that will bring you the most satisfaction.   An effective conclusion should be no longer than a couple of sentences, unless you’re attempting to solve a very complex issue.

Sign off with a polite salutation and include the best contact option for you below your signature.

If you’d like to insure your letter is read, you can send it by registered mail.  Registered letters aren’t terribly expensive to send, and the recipient is required to sign a receipt before they can accept the letter.

Sending a complaint letter can be very satisfying, even if it doesn’t result in the outcome you desire.  You may be surprised at how far some companies will go to resolve your issue and reward you for taking the time to contact them with an old-fashioned letter.

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[E] Selena MacIntosh*

Selena MacIntosh is the owner and editor of Persephone Magazine. She also fixes it when it breaks. She is fueled by Diet Coke, coffee with a lot of cream in it, and cat hair.

2 thoughts on “How To: Write a Complaint Letter”

  1. Good advice, even if you’re filing an electronic complaint or one of those little postcards on site at a store or restaurant. Be concrete in your complaint and constructive in your criticism. You’re much more likely to get a resolution.

    As a victory story, I write a complaint to Applebees a couple of weeks ago after I had some very poor service. The waitress kept calling me “honey” and “dear,” which I could have gotten past if she hadn’t kept touching me on my forearm and my back and my elbow every time she came by or talked to me. Very uncomfortable. Anyway, I got a call a few days later from the store manager apologizing and letting me know they’d have a conversation with her about over-friendliness. Much more satisfying than just not going back to that place.

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