Writing The Letter Of Complaint

by Chris Josephes

At some point, you're going to be disappointed in somebody that provides you with products or services. Well, maybe you might be one of the lucky ones who never has to deal with that. The odds, however, are in my favor.

I have a hardware supplier that I truly appreciate. Their equipment is top notch, reliable, and it makes my job incredibly easy. And I've also had great support from that company.... until last week. For the past seven days, I dealt with random reboots, unanswered tickets, and parts that were never shipped. Because of this lapse in service, I am writing a letter of complaint.

In my case, I'm not about to dump vendor X for replacement Y. I have six years of good reliability and support behind me, while this is just one bad incident. My goal is to make sure my concerns are addressed, and that the company makes steps in preventing this in the future. I'm disappointed, but I still have a degree of faith in this vendor. Ironically, I did talk to one service technician who was very reliable, and did a great job in helping me. One person did a great job, but my overall feelings were that the support system had failed.

Once my ordeal was finished, I spent about five hours putting together a letter of complaint (If you're chromatic, you know it takes me forever to edit my own stuff). From what I have learned, and studied from my old business writing textbook, I'll give you some advice on how to write a complaint letter.

1. Make sure you're addressing the right person. Talk to your VAR, or your salesperson. They will usually point you in the right direction since you are a valued customer (Unless of course, you're complaining about your VAR or salesperson). If you're not communicating with the right people, your letter may be totally ineffective. Don't assume that writing directly to the CEO of a company is going to give you more attention.

2. Detail everything. Try to explain the situation as accurately as possible. Provide dates, names or references when applicable. The details will act as your own retelling of events, and may provide a huge contrast compared to any internal notes or memos on the incident.

3. Explain the basics in the first 2-3 paragraphs. You might have a long winded explanation of what happened, but try to make sure your person knows the reason you are trying to communicate with him or her. You need to literally capture the attention of the person you are writing to. If your vendor's product was determined to be the root cause of the halon discharge, that should probably be mentioned at the beginning.

4. Explain why you feel things went bad. The vendor might see things differently from your point of view. From their perspective, they may only see a single service ticket in a queue that was closed within 24 hours. They may not understand the details of what happened during that time, or how this problem has affected your business. If you're dealing with trouble tickets, also keep in mind that they may have internal notes that you might not see if you also have access to the ticket.

5. Give praise when they did something right. If you had great support, or any positive experience, compliment them on it. While it is important to know what a company has done wrong, it is also important to know what they did right.

6. Venting frustration is not the same as all out anger. If you're intent on maintaining a relationship with this vendor, maintain a sense of professionalism. Your needs will not be addressed if the addressee of your letter thinks your a jerk. If anything, the relationship will probably go downhill.

It's safe to say that when someone receives a box full of rattling bits of a circuit board with a note, "Enclosed is your crappy raid controller", that you have no desire to further pursue a relationship with this vendor.

7. Don't forget that you are representing yourself and your company. Written correspondence is still held in high regard over email. Depending on what you write, your letter might be framed, it might be quoted in the company newsletter, or it might be tacked up to a bulletin board in the break room with red pen marks correcting grammer and spelling errors.

Always show your letter to a higher up if possible, and don't be afraid to let somebody else proofread it.

7 Comments

William
2006-09-20 07:40:15
The last point is particularly well-made. In the modern era of the sysadmin, a large percentage of our communication is electronic, and thus fluid to a greater or lesser degree. Web pages, electronic documentation and blog posts can be edited invisibly, but letters cannot. For instance, errors in using the possessive "your" when you mean the contraction "you're" will pass the "read-aloud" test, but will be embarrassing if not caught before you send your letter. Managers may not have Computer Science degrees - they may have a background in Arts or Humanities, and they will spot your error and think the less of you and your communication. Good post.
dave
2006-09-25 20:29:39
"...with red pen marks correcting grammer and spelling errors."


ha!

Don
2006-10-16 15:43:02
Chris, I just read your comments regarding business communications (AKA: complaint letters)from Sept. I think your point is well made and all sysadmin's should pay attention. System users could use priming on this subject before they call IT to open a ticket.
Jenet
2006-11-14 09:15:40
Please review #7. You spelled "grammer" incorrectly. the word is spelled Grammar. Just thought i would tell you if you noone else has and looks rather silly in a sentence commenting on spelling:D. Thanks for the tips.
dinknesh tekie
2006-11-16 00:54:10
i am more interseting to learn writing
Tom
2007-04-09 03:39:27
cool blog!
Gray
2007-04-25 03:11:26
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