How to write a complaint that gets results, not high blood pressure


Why you shouldn’t lose your cool when a supplier lets you down

When a supplier lets you down in your business, it’s very easy to lose your rag, pick up the phone, text or email and spew pure fire and brimstone at the perpetrator. But is this the most productive way to handle it?

Recently I wrote an article on how to write an apology that not only appeases the wrath of the wronged customer, but also offers compensatory action that will turn him or her from a snarling Godzilla into a loyal and trusting customer long term.

In the discussions that followed in the comments (on LinkedIn and Google Plus, in true blogversational style) someone pointed out the way some customers in these circumstances won’t complain directly to the supplier concerned, but will launch an attack campaign about them behind their backs in the social media.

Because I think that’s utter lunacy as well as spiteful and childish, I thought I’d share some ideas on how to write / formulate a complaint that may not appease a wronged customer’s desire for blood and guts, but will sort things out without anyone’s BP rising much higher than 120 over 80. And more to the point, it will get the problem rectified which should, after all, be the primary objective.

Why initial complaints should be written, not spoken

It’s very easy to pick up the phone and shout at the supplier. But a) you will still be fuming over the problem and b) the supplier will be taken off guard, so may revert to the “attack is the best form of defence” approach harking back to our cave-dwelling ancestors’ fight-or-flight instincts. At this point ancient anthropology is neither here nor there: what can ensue is a bloody mess which will be very hard for both you and the supplier to recover from.

That’s why I believe it’s better to send a written complaint first of all – an email, if urgent a text/SMS, and if not urgent even a printed snailmail letter. Why? Because 1) you have time to compose your complaint once you have calmed down a bit and 2) the supplier has time to think about your complaint rather than having to come up with instant solutions. The “time out” breathers these methods supply – even if they’re only a matter of minutes – can act to calm inflamed tempers and egos, so leading to more considered and less emotional discussions.

What to write in your initial complaint


No matter how hard, stick to the facts.

Much as you would love to chop up the offending supplier and serve him or her at your next barbecue, stick to the facts. Keep your personal feelings out of it. Don’t worry: if your supplier has any sense at all s/he will know just how enraging it can be to be let down, so you don’t need to rub it in. What you do  want is to get them putting things right as soon as possible.

One good way to write your complaint is to let rip with everything you feel in your first draft. You’ll probably find that you eventually get around to the facts of what went wrong at around paragraph 3 or 4. Delete the previous paragraphs, edit your text a bit and that’s where you should start.

Don’t apportion blame. You and your supplier both know who screwed up, but you pointing your finger at him/her personally won’t help anybody. Just say what went wrong and how it has affected your business. Ask them what went wrong at their end, and what they will do to help put things right.

Then wait to see what happens.

A positive reaction to your complaint

Don’t expect miracles, but most suppliers now are keen to hold on to and grow existing customers. So unless they live in la-la land they should react very promptly and resolve your problem just as promptly. The fact that you are not threatening to burn their offices down will help them realize you are a rational and very valuable customer whom they need to look after properly.

Ergo, a win-win, albeit on the back of a lose-lose. 

And if they have any good sense of PR and social media brownie points they will ensure that they offer you some sort of compensatory action to enhance their apology to you, as I say in the article I mentioned above.

If you don’t get the response you expect

As I suggest above, don’t throw your toys out of the pram and raise your blood pressure to unhealthy levels. Once you have written your complaint and received either a) an insipid reply or b) nothing, my view is you should cut your losses and find another supplier. If a significant amount of money is involved, don’t raise your BP by wrangling with them uselessly: get your legal advisers involved pronto. And in that case, what’s written to the supplier is over to them.

If you want to stop short of legal action but still get the message across that you have been badly let down and not compensated in any way … by all means share responsibly your dissatisfaction with the supplier by writing about it to your colleagues and contacts in the social media. As long as you tell the truth no-one can criticize it and if the supplier concerned really is that bad, you will be doing your contacts a favor by warning them of it. Just remember to stick to the facts … that’s what distinguishes you from the trolls.

blog,writing,news,blogging,business,Suzan St Maur,,how to write betterAnd, don’t let it get under your skin. Write the truth and move on. A campaign of flaming may score a few hits on the offending supplier, but also it will make you look like a bleating, whiny weirdo.

Just move on!

But these are just my own views, and I could be getting it all wrong. What do you  think? Please share your thoughts.