Free Letters of Complaint

Have you been wronged by a retailer, service provider, government agency, or someone else? A well-crafted, assertive complaint letter can resolve the problem, especially when phone calls or in-person visits prove fruitless.

When deciding to whom to address your first (and hopefully only) letter, it's almost always best to start close to the front lines before working your way up the chain of command. For example, a store manager might be more eager to resolve a complaint before it escalates to the corporate office. In the case of local companies, a sales manager may be a more appropriate choice than the store owner, who may or may not be involved in the day-to-day dealings of the business. Do a few minutes of research to determine to whom to address your complaint, but be confident that it is someone who has the power to get you the results you are seeking.

However, in some cases the behavior or incident has been so egregious that you should go directly to the top. Some consumer advocates, including, call this an "Executive Email Carpet Bomb," or EECB. (Others employ a "shotgun" strategy, sending the same letter via email or postal service to several, even a dozen, people at the same organization or company.) In most cases, it is these highly placed officials who are most concerned about a company's image and understand the potential fallout and ill will that comes from having dissatisfied customers.

You can find the email addresses and phone numbers of thousands of company officials and decision-makers, including corporate CEOs, via Internet searches or on consumer advocacy Web sites. It is always best, if at all possible, to address a complaint letter to a specific person, rather than "whom it may concern."

Your letter should be calm yet firm as you state the problem and the events leading up to it. Keep an even tone and don't insult or threaten the letter's recipient. You don't have to be a bully to get results. (In fact, it's often a good idea to mention past positive experiences you've had with the company or organization - it's polite, and it helps establish clout as a longtime or potential repeat customer.) Describe the issue clearly and concisely. If you have details such as clerk names, dates, or product or order numbers, be sure to include them in the letter. Make photocopies of receipts, contracts, warranties, and other relevant documents and include them with the letters as enclosures.

The letter should also make it clear what remedy or specific action you expect. What should the business do to resolve the matter? Perhaps you want a simple refund, repair, or exchange. Or, if the problem or inconvenience is more complex (such as harm to your credit rating, or a ruined vacation), you may suggest multiple, detailed remedies. Some people just want an apology, or a promise to revisit a policy or problematic practice. Also, be realistic and allow a fair amount of time for a response and action. But do set a deadline: perhaps five business days, two weeks, or 30 days. Don't forget to let the recipient know how you can be reached.

Even as you maintain a polite tone, it can still be appropriate to mention your intent to pursue the matter further if a resolution is not immediately released. Sometimes, you can get a long way by letting the letter's recipient know that you are aware of the Better Business Bureau, trade organizations, states' attorneys general, county district attorneys, regulatory agencies, consumer advocacy groups, and the media. (If the situation warrants it, or you're writing a follow-up letter after no resolution, let the recipient know that you have contacted others by including a "CC" list at the bottom of the letter. You can also express regret that the company may lose your business if the situation is not made right. Another option may be to threaten a chargeback with your credit card company, if relevant.

Whatever course you take, keep records of the entire complaint process, including copies of all receipts and letters. If you have any documentation to back you up, such as advertisements, warranties, agreements, receipts, cancelled checks, and so on, include copies of those as well. In some cases, it's appropriate to ask that you receive a reply in writing. If the complaint letters don't get the results you need, you will want to have all of the correspondence and records on hand in case of legal action.

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