Some companies want you to have a good experience and others couldn’t care less, but either way you’re bound to have a bad experience every now and again. Here’s how to approach the problem calmly and write an effective complaint.
Photo by conskeptical
Writing a good complaint is a lot like writing a good thank-you letter, only it’s not so much about thanking but condemning bad behaviour. Mint has some nice suggestions for writing a thank you letter, many of which hold true with complaints, but complaints walk a more difficult path as you’re both telling a company they suck and trying to get them to change for the better.
Who Gets the Complaint?
When sending in a complaint, it’s tough to figure out who to contact. Businesses vary greatly, so it’s best to just see whose email addresses you can find and then pick your best options. In the case of large corporations, contacting the PR department can often be easy and an effective way to get a response. For example, Apple has a comprehensive contact page with lots of people you can email if you’re having a serious problem. Back when I used to trust them to repair my laptop and didn’t do it myself, they screwed up a lot. From what I hear it’s a lot better now, but if you end up in a bad situation and don’t want to email Steve Jobs you can make a lot of progress with their PR department.
If you’re complaining to a smaller company, it’s often easier to contact people directly. Smaller companies tend to listen more because you make up a higher percentage of their customer base (meaning it’s far more damaging if they lose you), but finding the right people to contact can be tough. When contact email addresses are not publicised, you can do a search for @theirdomain.com and often locate the email addresses they want you to use. While getting the CEO’s attention isn’t a bad thing, make sure you also copy one or two lower-level employees. Higher ups get a lot of email and may simply miss your message. If you get the right lower-level employee they may want to help you solve your problem because it’ll make them look good. The idea is simple: address one person specifically, but copy a small variety of people so you have a better chance of being heard.
The Content of the Letter
Some complaints are pretty simple and you can get them across easily, but others may involve a long history of problems that have led up to the moment you decided to write your strongly worded letter. While this is an emotional issue for you, and your hurt and anger should be evident, don’t let it push you into attack mode. The minute you start insulting people — who likely aren’t personally the cause of your frustration — they will shut down and stop listening. Your goal is to gain sympathy, not ruin a stranger’s day. You want to be aggressive and firm, but always nice. Being an arsehole will get you nowhere.
It’s important to be specific but concise. You need to pare down your complaint to the essential information, like when pitching an idea or story, or the reader is going to stop caring out of complete boredom. People generally don’t enjoy criticism, so asking them to endure it for a good portion of their day isn’t going to help. Let the company you’re writing know how you feel, what caused you to feel that way, and what you’d like to do about it. That’s all a good complaint letter really needs.
A Quick Template
When you’re writing your complaint, here’s a basic structural template you can use:
I was very excited to purchase your product, but my experience has turned out very poorly. I’m writing to express my dissatisfaction with your product in hopes you can help remedy the situation.
Briefly explain what happened and how it didn’t meet your expectations and the expectations the company set when advertising the product.
Describe your ideal outcome.
Thank you for listening.
– Your Name
A good complaint is concise, specific, and firm but kind. That’s really all there is to it.