Business Letters

Complaint Letters

A complaint letter advises the reader of an error in a business transaction or a defect discovered in a consumer product or service. The objective is to provide detailed information regarding the error or defect and to serve as a legal document recording the writer's claim and the corrective action or adjustment being requested.

Keep in mind that your reader is a trained customer service professional and not very likely to be the person responsible for the error or defect. Rather than being angry, use a firm but courteous tone when stating a complaint. Remember, you want results, not a fight.

The scope of a complaint letter should include only those facts that validate your claim and a request that corrective steps be taken. It may also detail the options that you are willing to accept in satisfaction of the claim.

Identify Your Reader

Although a clearly identified reader is not absolutely necessary, a complaint letter should be addressed to the person who is most likely and able to resolve an unsatisfactory situation.

In a very small business the owner is generally the contact person. In a mid-size company a vice president or upper level management person solves problems. In either case place that person's name in the inside heading and the salutation of your complaint letter. Include it also on the top line of your envelope.

Large companies often have a Customer Service department to whose attention a complaint can be addressed. In these cases, the inside heading should contain just the name and address of the company. The salutation will then be replaced by a simple attention getting device.

Establish Your Objective

The objective of a complaint letter is to prompt an action that resolves a conflict. You should avoid threats and accusations when providing the details of your complaint. Stick to the facts and your reader will comprehend what went wrong and what action you expect them to take.

Determine Your Scope

The scope of a complaint letter should encompass the relevant information necessary to resolve a problem, correct an error or repair a defect. It should provide the reader with exact descriptions, including dates, times and places. It should reference purchase orders, invoice numbers, payment records and even dollar amounts when appropriate.

Organize Your Letter

Organizing your complaint letter will establish a logical order in which to present your information. You have already begun this task by establishing an objective and determining your scope. Refer back to them. Together they include much of the content that will become the body of your letter.

A simple outline will get you organized. Begin by creating a list of points that your letter will address and put them in the sequential order that will best help your reader comprehend your complaint. These points will become the backbone of your draft; your outline will become a checklist.

Draft Your Letter

Working from an outline is the simplest way to draft a complaint letter. You have already organized yourself by creating a list. Refer back to it and turn each fragment into a full and complete sentence expressing a single thought or idea.

In order that your thoughts and ideas are conveyed in a cohesive manner, write in as natural a sounding voice as possible. Try writing your draft quickly and then read it out loud. Concentrate on communicating your objective to your reader. Make sure that the scope of your letter contains all the relevant information included in your organizational list.

Keep in mind that you are writing a rough draft. For the moment you can ignore spelling, grammar, punctuation, sentence and paragraph structure. Those are technical details that you will pay attention to in the final step when you review and revise your work.

Close Your Letter

A complaint letter should close in a professional manner. Once your last paragraph is written, sign off between a complimentary close such as "Sincerely," or "Thank you," and your printed name.

If you are writing in conjunction with an official duty, place your title below the printed name. Additional information such as dictation remarks, notification of attachments, enclosures and copies sent to other individuals should be placed beneath the title line.

Review and Revise Your Complaint Letter

Reviewing and revising your complaint letter is the final step in the writing process. You will check your draft in this step, making sure that your objective is clear and your scope is concise. Put yourself in the reader's shoes as you examine the rough draft. Ask yourself, as the recipient, whether you are able to comprehend the request quickly and if enough information has been included to enable a timely response.

Look for the obvious errors first. Check for spelling, sentence structure and grammar mistakes. Remember that a passive voice is not as commanding as an active one. You want your letter to be strong, so write with an active voice.

Keep in mind is the overall cohesiveness of the whole unit. Look for accuracy, clarity and a sense of completeness. Ask yourself if the transitions between paragraphs are working and if your point of view, tone and style are consistent throughout the text.

Examine your word choices carefully. Ambiguous words lead to confusion. Jargon and abstract terms may not be understood at all and affectations, cliches and trite language serve no real purpose and will obscure your objective. You want to help your reader understand exactly what it is that you want, so remove all that is not helpful.

And finally, if you have not written an opening or a conclusion now is the time. The introduction needs to lead into the body of your letter with a firm statement about the subject of your complaint and enough supporting information to keep the reader reading. Your closing remarks need to reiterate your objective with a question that calls for an action.

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