Monday, August 10, 2009

Writing to complain

In a typical day, we might write in a variety of styles, including a business email, a grocery list, a blog, or a status update on a social networking site. These all have different purposes, whether to inform, remind, or entertain. But what about adding another useful style to our repertoire—writing to complain?

I have always been a fan of the letter to the editor. I enjoy expressing my outrage at some newspaper article in a sassy and well-worded letter. I enjoy even more when it gets published. In fact, when I am a retired old lady, I plan to spend my days reading the papers and crafting witty letters to the editor (although by the time I reach retirement age, newspapers will have gone the way of the Dodo bird).

In addition to the personal satisfaction they afford me, I have recently discovered that letters of complaint can actually pay off. A while ago, I ordered a bathing suit online from a well-known retailer (one that is popular with the first lady). The suit, when it came, didn't fit correctly, and I had to send it back. For this transaction, I had to pay about $15 in shipping fees and in the end had no actual product to show for it. Instead of just getting upset, I decided to write a letter to said retailer to express my disappointment. One email exchange later, the retailer refunded $13 of my shipping costs and wrote me a nice message with the hope that I will shop in their stores again in the future.

I believe a few keys to a successful complaint letter are:
1. Be respectful.
2. Stress your status as either a first-time or long-time customer.
3. Compliment the retailer's brand or reputation (e.g. I have had good experiences in the past, have heard good things about your store from friends, or similar).
4. Express your disappointment rather than your anger.
5. Suggest possible solutions to the issue (I had simply suggested the retailer review it's shipping charges, where shipping a bathing suit cost the same as shipping a winter coat).
6. If necessary, politely threaten to never do business with the retailer again.

Have you had any successes writing a letter of complaint about a product or service? What other tips would you suggest?


Ima Hogg said...

My mother loves to write letters of complaints. I always have to edit them for her. I will not let her send them out with errors!

When I begin to work at the writing center, I will probably have more things to say about your blog.

My mom always likes to throw in the fact that if the company will not resolve the issue, then she will actively tell people not to shop there. Do you think that is a good thing to do in the letter of complaint, or is that being too controlling? I think it's okay, because it's true! It is always possible to speak the harsh truth while being respectful. Well, that's what I like to believe. Who knows how I come across to some people?

Also, I have only had two hours of sleep, so I'm rambling.

Yana said...

I think it's OK to tell the company that you will tell others not to shop there. Like you said, you are just being honest. So much of business depends on word of mouth! And, yes, sending a letter with errors would probably diminish your own credibility.

Hayley said...

I find that many companies today lack the customer service of years gone by. When we do find a company that offers excellent service, perhaps we should also use our writing skills to offer letters of encouragement and praise. These work in our favor as well.

Ima Hogg said...

I have written letters to praise a company's service too. The best part about that is that they will sometimes send you coupons or free things in the mail for commenting about their customer service/products.

Zea said...

I suffer from a combination of laziness and a desire to avoid confrontation, so usually, I just grumble about things that annoy me and just move on. But you bring up many good points, and this post has inspired me to write a letter for a consumer complaint I have been contemplating and dealing with for some time.

Also, as Ima Hogg pointed out, it is good to write praise letters sometimes, too. So few people take the time to show appreciation. It is good to give people positive reinforcement. Plus, it just might result in free stuff or coupons. Good idea!