- Stay calm. While it may help if you are a bit "fired up" when you write your letter, it can also be a good idea to let yourself cool down a bit before drafting a letter. This is especially true if you'll ultimately have to revise the language and tone. (Cursing and name-calling are definite no-no's.)
- Get right to the point. It's good to start your letter with a clear, attention-getting paragraph that communicates your concern (or shock, or disappointment). You may also want to point out that you have been a customer or patron for quite some time, especially if you have been otherwise satisfied. Then, get right to your problem.
- Be organized. If the issue has been unfolding for some time, make it clearer to the recipient by including a timeline of events. Show proof (such as advertisements, receipts, or Web site printouts). Be as concise as possible; don't ramble.
- Say what you want to happen. In your eagerness to communicate the problem and how it inconvenienced you or wasted time and money, don't forget to let the letter's recipient know what you want to be done about it. Do you want a full refund? Repairs? An apology? A change in policy? Safer premises? Make it very clear, and even offer several acceptable outcomes.
- Keep a paper trail. Save every receipt and make copies of letters. Take notes on phone calls made, including the time, date, and the person(s) you spoke to. Document every step of the complaint process.
- Format your letter professionally. Use the standard business letter format, also known as block style. Each element (return address, salutation, etc.) in the letter should be aligned to the left margin. Have two lines (returns) between each single-spaced element or paragraph, but in the space between the date and the body of the letter, include four lines' worth of spacing. Use a word processor (or even a typewriter) rather than handwriting it. Use a common typeface in 10- to 12-point type. Sign the letter above your typewritten name. Run spellcheck. Finally, proofread your letter for errors before sending it.
- Don't be rude, angry, sarcastic in tone, and don't threaten. It can be appropriate to suggest that you may have to take your business elsewhere, or to complain to government agencies and consumer watchdog groups. But you lose credibility and can even invite legal trouble if you threaten harm, extortion, or inappropriate retribution. Be assertive, but be polite.
- Don't blame the recipient. In most cases, the person to whom you are addressing the letter is not the one who wronged you. Out of simple courtesy, as well as to increase the chances of a favorable outcome, address the party politely without accusatory statements.
- Don't make stuff up. Stick to the facts, and resist any temptation to throw in unwarranted digs about rude salespeople, say you saw a live roach when it was a dead fly, or add other "drama" that didn't really happen.
- Don't be afraid to use "pull." People use their station in life to get results all the time. Don't feel like it's cheating to point out that you're on the board of directors, a longtime donor, know a VP of the parent company, etc. You can sure bet lawyers use their company letterhead when they want resolution of a personal or consumer matter.
- Don't give up. If your first letter doesn't get results, be prepared to write again, moving up the company "food chain" as necessary. You may need to contact the Better Business Bureau, government officials, consumer rights' organizations, and/or the media.
Index of Complaint Letter Examples