What to write when you want to complain – 10 Quick Tips

About a year ago 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.

What to write when you want to complain - 10 Quick TipsIn many ways, the same approach that’s recommended for writing an effective apology – assertiveness and sticking to the facts – is what many people find to be the most effective way to make a complaint, much as you may want to deep-fry their eyeballs.

Here are 10 tips you may well find helpful the next time a supplier lets your business down, a product is broken when you take it out of the box, or a snotty staffer treats you like you just crawled out of a drain.

1.Do not pick up the phone and shout, however much you may feel like it

It’s very easy to pick up the phone and shout at the perpetrator (a.k.a. the “perp.”) But a) you may still be fuming over the problem and b) the perp will be caught on the hop, so may go for the “attack is the best form of defence” approach just like we’re told the cavemen did. Heated arguments do not solve problems.

2.Write your complaint as a text, email or letter to start with

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” this creates on both sides can act to calm inflamed tempers and egos, so leading to more considered and less emotional discussions.

3.What to write in your initial complaint

Much as you would love to tell the perp what a prize a-hole you think s/he is, stick to the facts. Keep your personal feelings out of it. Don’t worry: if the perp 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.

4.”But I’m still furious – to hell with just the facts!”

A good way to cool down before you write your final 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.

5.Don’t apportion personal blame

You and the perp both know who screwed up, but pointing your finger at him/her personally won’t help anybody. Just say what went wrong and how it has affected your business, your child’s birthday, your vacation, or whatever. Ask them what went wrong at their end, and what they will do to help put things right. Then wait to see what happens.

6.You may find you get a positive reaction to your complaint

What to write when you want to complain - 10 Quick TipsDon’t expect miracles, but most businesses and services 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.

7.You might even get a freebie as compensation

If the perps 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.

8.If you don’t get a satisfactory response to your complaint

Once you have written your complaint and received either a) an insipid reply or b) nothing, you need to weigh up whether it’s worth pursuing further. If the complaint was about something of low value – both in money and heartache terms – you may well decide to put it down to experience and move on.

9.When to call in the heavy artillery

If your complaint involved 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. Depending on which country you live in there will be a number of government / quasi-government agencies that can help with complaints. In the UK, for example, there is the Ombudsman Service, the Chartered Trading Standards Institute, and the government’s Consumer Protection Rights. There’s a good article here, too, on your consumer rights in the UK.

10.What about taking your complaint on to social media?

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 perp 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.

Good luck!

What experiences have you had when making a complaint? Please share them with us!


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