Don’t be a crazy person. That is the number one rule for writing a complaint letter. I’m not kidding—that simple idea will go a long way toward getting your problem resolved. It’s simple: If you come across as having your act together, you have a good shot at getting the complaint dealt with quickly. If, on the other hand, you come across as out of control, your letter will be ignored.

As a consumer reporter I receive more than 1,000 consumer complaints a week. I have been on the job for well over a decade. Do the math. I have read thousands upon thousands of lousy complaint letters and a handful of good ones. Here’s what I’ve learned:

By the time most consumers are ready to sit down and write a complaint letter, they are fed up. They also know every single detail by heart. The problem has taken on gigantic proportions—if not in real life, then in the consumer’s mind. This is completely understandable. The consumer feels wronged and has worked hard to get the problem solved. Yet nothing is resolved. Because of that, consumers end up writing exactly the wrong complaint letter: a letter that is too long and too complex.

If you must CC your letter, CC it to only one organization. Although most consumers are convinced that it helps to CC a letter to a host of agencies and individuals, it does not help. Usually it shows that you are an amateur. Those of us who receive CCs tend to ignore them. If the letter is being CC’ed to a half-dozen organizations, I assume that everyone else is reading the CC and I can ignore it guilt-free.

One consumer wrote me a letter about her experience with a leaking faucet. She wrote about the decision to buy a new sink. How she had shopped for a faucet. Why she had bought the faucet she’d decided upon. How much the faucet had cost and the store where she had made the purchase.

She explained how the faucet was installed and who installed it. She described her mistreatment by the company that made the faucet. Whom she spoke with when she complained and what she was told. She explained, in detail, why she felt the customer service representative was snide.

The letter went on for ten pages before she stated the problem: the faucet leaked. In journalism that’s called burying the lead. That’s when the most important fact—the faucet leaked—is overwhelmed by less important facts.
Because the consumer had been dealing with the problem for so long, she knew too much. If you find yourself in a similar situation, here’s all you need to know to write a complaint letter that will get read and acted upon.

1. You get four paragraphs—that’s it. No more, no matter how complex the problem. This letter may be the first in a series of contacts; you will offer more information later, if requested, but you cannot force it down their throats.

2. The paragraphs must be short and to the point.

3. Don’t be snide or condescending.

4. Don’t complain about the complaint process. That is a different letter.

Don’t send a letter addressed to a major corporation and expect a response. The letter must be addressed to a specific person. Telephone or go online and look for the name of the person in charge of complaints, or at least the person in charge of the product or service you are complaining about. If you can’t find the division manager’s name or the consumer-complaint person’s name, then send the letter to the president of the company, using his or her first and last names in the salutation.

I called the woman with the leaking faucet and suggested that she rewrite the letter into my four-paragraph style. She took my advice, and the company took care of her problem.

E-mail is an easy way to complain, and that’s why e-mails tend to get ignored. With e-mail, consumers don’t have to put forth much effort to write the complaint. In return, companies don’t put forth much effort to fix the problem. The more you put out, the more you get back. Don’t expect some company employee to jump through hoops to solve your problem when you aren’t even willing to stamp a letter.

A shorter letter is easier to write, and here’s your proof.

Sample Complaint Letter

Sally Smith
Director of Consumer Services
XYZ Company
123 Main Street
Anywhere, CA 94111

Dear Ms. Smith:
I am writing to complain about a recent problem I have had with a faucet manufactured by your company. It is the Aireator 5000gf.

The faucet was installed in August 2003 by a professional plumber and worked wonderfully for 12 months. In September 2004, the faucet began leaking while I was out of town traveling. Water damage occurred.

The faucet comes with a “No questions asked” lifetime guarantee, and that is why I am requesting that XYZ pay the costs associated with the damage caused by your faucet.

My total out-of-pocket expenses came to $854.00, as you can see by the attached receipts. I look forward to hearing from you within two weeks.

Sincerely yours,

Author's Bio: 

By Michael Finney Author of Consumer Confidential

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