When it comes to the art of writing, my good buddy Grammar Girl is the go-to expert. I hope she’ll agree with me when it comes to writing a complaint letter, a key factor is how to properly address said complaint so your point is heard and not misinterpreted. Of course, your grammar is important so you seem professional, but in a complaint letter, you also want to make sure your argument is understood clearly. Sadly, many people miss the mark and focus solely on their rage.
Despite desperately wanting to fix a problem, improper complaint letters tend to focus more on aggression rather than results. And with that, when the stomping of your feet can be heard through your letter, it can kill your argument, making you look foolish and your complaint to be tossed aside without a care. So before you huff and puff and waste your frickin’ time, check out my top three quick and dirty tips for writing complaint letters. So, How To Write A Complaint Letter?
Know Your Facts
Making sure your letter is 100% fact based should be priority one for writing a proper complaint letter. Being factual also ensures that you don’t come off as a raving lunatic, which last time I checked, is something to keep in mind when formulating a proper complaint. Now, don’t think I don’t understand where you’re coming from. I’ve been there. Yes, you’re mad and you want to make a big statement, but the last thing you want to do is make an argument that can be picked apart like scraps after Thanksgiving dinner.
I know this sounds easy, but sadly many people tend to get more “creative” than factual when it comes to making a solid argument. It seems that the madder they get the more fictional their argument becomes, just to make their story better. The same notion reminds me of James Frey elaborating the details of his life in A Million Little Pieces; he lied to make his book more interesting and after that no one could believe a word he wrote.
If you sit behind a keyboard or tap away on their phone with an elaborate and questionable list of accusations with words like, “And another thing…” the last thing that will happen is you being taken seriously. Let’s be honest, folks, whenever someone says “Oh, and one more thing” it usually ends up being trivial and counterproductive to the actual argument. Take my friend Reed, who asked me to review a complaint letter he was sending to his landlord, before he hit “send.”
In this letter (aside from using every negative adjective short of a curse word), Reed outlined all the reasons why his living situation was rather sub par to say the least. Now, as someone who has seen Reed’s apartment, I can attest to the fact that his building was in desperate need of major TLC, and this landlord of his could very well be the most vial human being around. However, the location was great, the rent was affordable (for the area) and so the tenants have put up with the landlord’s ways for years … until Reed came along.
As much as Reed was correct with his points in his complaint letter, it was so over the top with sarcasm that no one could take his argument seriously. Again, he was right, and he made valid points, but the more outlandish he got, the less factual his complaints became and thus his argument became deflated. So, when you sit down to write down every reason why a person, or company did you wrong, go ahead and take some jabs (in fact I encourage that) but don’t let your case go so far off the rails that your enemy can say, “That never happened and here’s the real truth…”
Pick a Proper Target
The ancient Chinese general, military strategist, and philosopher Sun Tzu said, “Know your enemy and know yourself and you can fight a hundred battles without disaster.” I love this quote because it reminds us all that if you’re going to enter battle (or even a small disagreement) knowing the proper person to whom you’re fighting with will ultimately save you in the end, allowing you to fight again down the line.
I understand that as a manners guru I shouldn’t discuss fighting or arguing, and I don’t condone aggression whatsoever, however, I do advocate sticking up for yourself and making sure you don’t get walked over. To do this, you have to fight, and you have to be willing to see a disagreement through to the bitter end, if you feel passionate about something. When writing a proper complaint letter, this mindset you must have. You can’t back down, you can’t go light, and you have to make sure the person reading it is in fact the person who will be affected by your words. If not, well, what’s the point?
In many cases, people exhaust themselves by spilling out their hearts on paper (electronically that is) only to find their complaint letter ends up in a slush pile on the bottom of other letters that never made it to the front office. As a result, while you think maybe someone is reading your complaints and pining over your high quality verbal beat down you just delivered, in reality, the letter is going nowhere. So, as much as you want to get your feelings addressed and your issue solved, be just as a mindful as to who will receive that letter… and it may not be who you think. For example, do you think the CEO of a Fortune 500 company will read you letter? Probably not … actually, definitely not.
You can have an amazing case, but you’ve missed the target because it was addressed to someone who doesn’t handle complaints typically. Instead go for someone whose job will have an immediate impact of both good and bad letters. Be it the PR department, HR, Marketing, or social media: think abouot people whose work is dependent on the satisfaction of the public. This doesn’t go for just a large company either, it could be a grocery store, restaurant, or movie theater. You can address it to the head honcho but when it comes time have your voice heard, try focusing on someone who will be an advocate for you, not someone who will be an enemy.
Be Scary, Not Threatening
How many times have you heard someone say, “If I ever see that person again, you know what I’m going to do to them?” You’ve may have even said it yourself, at a not-so-proud moment of anger. Every time I hear that saying, and even think of it myself, it reminds me how truly stupid that sounds. Let’s be real, our lives are not movies where theme music will hit in the background and you get to storm out of a room to a standing ovation after telling someone off. There will be responses to our actions. Same thing goes for a complaint letter.
If your letter is filled with nothing more than threats, like I said in Tip #1, it will only make you sound reckless in the way you address other adults and unaware of how your actions can come back to bite you in the butt. Again—and I can’t stress this enough— feel you and I know how mad you are when you sit down to write a complaint letter, however losing your cool will never make your argument credible.
We really need to focus on what it means to have your voice heard and how important it is to be perceived as educated, professional and mannerly in your complaint letter. When you do all of these things, your letter is taken seriously… very seriously. So seriously in fact (as I said in Tip #2) that someone not only wants to make those proper changes you asked for in your letter, but will skip lunch and their coffee break that very same day to do just that. This is how you balance being scary rather than threatening.
See, when you’re scary, in the mannerly way that is, you make the folks in PR, or running the Facebook page say, “Wow… This person makes an amazing point, because they’re right.” That’s when scary is the most effective in a complaint letter. Being scary isn’t about being a bully, it’s about being fact filled, to the point, and makes people move. It’s a powerful technique that when written well, delivers your message with class, grace and allows people to realize they are in the wrong, and you are someone NOT to me messed with.
Source: Quick and dirty tips
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