How to complain and get a good result.
As a professional advertising copywriter I’ve learned a thing or too over the years about persuasive writing. I’ve used that knowledge in my personal life on many occasions, but the place where it’s really paid off is in letters and emails to customer service departments. I’ve put together a little guide for writing a letter of complaint that will hopefully get you further along than a typical rant and rave.
I should point out that this is advice only for those involved in the most minor of problems. If you get rear-ended by a bus and get hospitalized, you’ll need much more than a letter of complaint. But, if you get bad attitude from a store clerk, this may help you get something other than a snotty reply, or in most cases no reply at all, from the customer service rep.
First up, do you have a genuine complaint?
Silly question, right? But I’ve talked to many customer service reps over my time, and some of the things they get screamed at for are ridiculous. It’s not the company’s fault that you ordered a car with cruise control and expected it to be auto-pilot (that’s a real one by the way…the mind boggles). Are you ticked off for a genuine reason, or do you just want to lash out because you made a bad purchase? If you feel you have a genuine, realistic gripe, it’s time to take action.
What do you want out of the complaint?
Be reasonable. A bad attitude from a grocery clerk is not going to get you a year of free groceries. A stale bag of chips will not get you a lifetime supply of your favorite snack. Ask for something equal to your disappointment. A bad experience in a restaurant equates to a free meal next time, so try for that. A poor product deserves a refund or replacement. I recently had very, very poor service at a gas station. I wrote and explained what happened, politely, and what the company would be willing to do to help restore my faith in their company. I received two gas certificates in the mail a few days later, and I’m happy to go back and try them again.
You catch more flies with sugar than vinegar.
Not that I’m calling CSRs flies, that’s just an old saying that illustrates a point. If you start spitting venom in your complaining letter all you’re doing is letting that company know that you’re irate and probably a lost cause. It’s far better to be a loyal, disappointed customer who really wants their faith restored in a company, than be completely ticked off and taking your business elsewhere. Also remember that these people have to sit and read complaints day in, day out. Another average ‘I’m pissed off, what are you gonna do about it’ letter is hardly going to cut through the clutter.
You must get across that you are a customer who still wants to come back and use that company’s products or services, but need a show of good faith in order to do so. Act a little wounded if you must. The outcome will favor you much more.
Threats and rants will get you nowhere.
I’ve worked closely with CSRs over my many years in advertising, and they’ve all had threats of varying proportions. From legal action to verbal abuse and violence, it’s all been done many times. And those reactions fall on deaf ears. You may get lucky and get a result, but usually you’ll get an apology letter, if anything at all. More often than not, threats go nowhere because people know you write them in a state of anger and frustration and 99% of people will never see the threats through. They just want to vent. So, calm down before you write your letter, take a few deep breaths and put everything in perspective. You’ll get much further from that starting point than with steam shooting out of your ears.
Handy phrases to use in your letters.
Try a few of these next time. They’re worth their weight in gold. And use this tone throughout your letter. It’s one of disappointment, not anger.
Since I can remember, I’ve been a loyal customer of…
I have always enjoyed your products/services but was really disappointed when…
I was shocked to see such bad service from a company I’ve grown to trust…
I feel let down by this incident. It’s so unlike your company…
Can you restore my faith in…
You get the idea. Let them know they are a good friend who has let you down. Someone you care about, and want to trust again. That’s a good story to tell, and a good way to get someone to listen. It’s far easier for a company to save an existing customer than spend more marketing dollars acquiring a new one. As long as you indicate that you want to be saved, that is.
A good checklist for your letter
- Include your contact details. They need to know who to reply to.
- Have respect for the person you’re talking to.
- Don’t make idle threats or wild claims.
- Be brief. No-one wants to read War & Peace. Get to the point in one page or less.
- If you need to provide proof, keep copies or better yet, send copies.
- Keep a copy of your letter. You may need to reference it later.
- Avoid generalizations. Be specific about the one incident.
- Be honest. Really, only complain if you have a real complaint.
One final comment – nice feedback is also appreciated.
As I said earlier, the customer service folks are on the receiving end of some pretty nasty calls and letters for most of their working day. So imagine their reaction when they get a letter or call that is simply a note of thanks for a great product or service. Not only does it make them feel good about their company, it also has more chance of making it higher up the corporate ladder. Who knows, it may even get to the CEO and you may find yourself getting something in return for your kind words. It’s not uncommon for nice feedback to result in a t-shirt, gift voucher, pen, or free product that you like so much. So, next time you eat a really tasty meal or are knocked out by the quality of service somewhere, think about letting that company know. It’s a win-win situation for everyone.