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How To Write An Effective Complaint Letter

Updated on March 30, 2012

Got A Complaint?

I think we've all been there. We've all ordered products that haven't turned out to be as good as we'd expected -- which happens more often than not when you're ordering online and can't see exactly what you're getting.

There have been times that I've ordered electronics that haven't worked properly or have ordered food that just wasn't as appetizing as its picture. However, you don't have to sit back and feel like you've wasted money. There are effective ways in which you can make yourself heard and benefit.

My good friend Lani is an "expert complainer." She's written complaint letters to dozens of companies, from Snapple to Nestle -- and almost always gets a refund, or even better, free products. But there's a method to her madness. She doesn't just randomly rant at these companies until she gets what she wants. She puts a lot of thought into what she wants to say for her letters of complaint -- and now she and I are going to share these tips with you.

Writing A Complaint Letter

1. First, get the correct address for your letter. Most companies print their address on their products' packages, though you can also find most addresses online on the companies' Web sites. Some companies also have 1-800 numbers -- though when you're calling, also follow these same tips that you would for a letter. In either case, make sure that you're addressing the correct company and department.

2. Have all of your information ready. If you're complaining about a type of food, for instance, you can't just say, "Oh, I bought this and it wasn't good." You're going to be asked for the exact product name, the bar code, the expiration date, the date that you purchased it. The more specific you can get in your letter or call, the more that it will help you.

3. Have a plan of action. Don't just complain - say WHAT you want the company to do about it. In most cases, you'll be asking for a refund or for an exchange of product. And don't ask for something that you know you won't get, like an extra million! Be realistic in your expectations.

4. Don't rant and rave. If you send a long, rambling angry letter full of curses, changes are, it'll just be ignored and thrown in the trash. If you call and scream at the person who is manning the phone, he or she will probably just hang up on you. It's okay to be angry, but don't be stark, raving mad. Crazy won't get you anywhere.

5. On the other hand, be firm, but polite. Explain exactly why you're dissastisfied with the product at hand -- but don't be insulting.

6. Be concise. Say exactly what you mean and then wrap it up. When writing a letter, keep it to a page or less. If you send a ten-page letter, the person who receives it will probably just roll his eyes. But if you clearly spell out what was wrong and what you want, you'll have a better chance of getting that refund.

7. Follow basic business letter etiquette. This means that you should address the letter to someone: "Dear Sir or Madam" or "To Whom It May Concern" always work; of you can get a specific person's name, even better -- just make sure to spell it correctly!

8. Edit your work. You want your letter to sound as professional as possible, so check for spelling and grammatical mistakes, as you would with any other important document. The more clear-head and professional you sound, the more likely you are to get results.

9. Wait an appropriate amount of time before following up. Big companies are going to be receiving thousands of letters and calls. So don't call the next day after sending your letter asking, "Why haven't you responded to me?" Wait at least a week or two and then politely follow up to see if you can move things along.

10. Make sure to thank the person with whom you're dealing. Sign off on your letter with a "Sincerely" or a "Many thanks." If you're dealing with someone on the phone, thank them for taking the time. Yes, you may be disastisfied with the product, but you're still dealing with people who are just doing their jobs. It's never wrong to be polite!

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