How to write a letter of complaint

Most of my working life I’ve been involved in some sort of front line customer service role.  This of course involves dealing with the ups of praiseworthy customers and the downs of complaining ones (very rarely these days I have to say).

There are 2 types of complaining customers. Those whose complaint is genuine and those that it is not. Often the latter will use aggression, anger, waterworks and more as some sort of leveraging prop to further their complaint which ironically just makes you want to help them less.

Pushing buttons
There is, without a doubt, a skill to complaining and getting a good outcome (that may not be what you want of course). Having dealt with the complainers for over 20 years now I’m fairly sure I have that skill and down to a fine art. You have to know how to push buttons of the reader of your letter and almost hypnotise them into wanting to help you.

By the way social media doesn’t mean that we no longer have to write complaint letters. Whilst I think business owners need to be aware of what’s what in social media readers don’t assume you can throw your toys out the pram on twitter and expect someone knocking at your door in 5 minutes with a blank cheque book!

Top tips for your complaint letter
So my top 10 tips on writing a complaint letter are as follows:

  1. Keep your cool. No one wants to help an angry lunatic, your letter will probably go in the bin. Don’t write the letter in the heat of the moment.
  2. Tell the complaint as a story and start from before the incident you are complaining about. Within the story be factual and be expressive but don’t over exaggerate.
  3. Tell of your pre-incident delight/love/joy of the brand/product in question and how you’ve been let down.
  4. Engage with the person who’s going to be reading the letter, draw them in to your plight.
  5. If you have to name names then be factual about they did or didn’t do, don’t pass personal opinion about them.
  6. Seek sympathy and empathy.
  7. Add a touch of humour if you can, remember the person who reads it may be having a rotten day and your touch of humour may make all the difference in getting a satisfactory resolve.
  8. Do not make demands or threats.
  9. Express how confident you are that the problem will get seen to and sign off by looking forward to a reply.
  10. Have fun and enjoy using the English language.

So a couple of weeks back we had some friends over and cracked open a box of Family Circle biscuits, a selection box of Crawfords biscuits including the legendary Happy Faces however much to my dismay the Happy Faces had been exchanged for another biscuit.

Despite the disclaimer about exchanging on the side of the box I joked to friends that I should write a letter of complaint about this practice of exchanging biscuits and that I did. Here is my letter. Now bear in mind it is written tongue in cheek. It is a really trivial matter and whilst I love Happy faces my life does not fall apart because they are exchanged. I simply wanted to write and see what happened.

Dear Sir or Madam,

RE: Crawford’s Family Circle Selection Box

I write to you in some distress. I have been for many many years most passionate and quite partial to your simply wonderful Happy Faces biscuits. These biscuits with their carefully balanced proportions of biscuit, jam and cream guarantee to bring a happy face to even the most down trodden of individual. I can be a grump at times, oh yes, but they always hit the spot, that or a small glass of sherry (just the one mind).

I’m sorry to not rush to the point but I must convey to you what a great advocate I am of these sweet snacks. It has been a 15 yearlong love affair with happy faces and one where I admit I have been unfaithful once or twice. Yes I strayed and once had a dirty weekend with a packet of jammy dodgers, a cheeky one-night stand with some BN but seriously they meant nothing to me! I am a one biscuit man.

There is of course one simple exception to my snack monogamy and that is when they come packaged in the aforementioned Family Circle Selection Box (FCSB). With the shops already filled with Christmas stock (not something I approve of particularly, but ‘when in rome’) and thinking ahead to a forthcoming social occasion I had planned, the FCSB would make a perfect purchase for guests to quench their sweet appetites whilst enjoying a freshly brewed cup of tea (for reference 3 guests had coffee and 1 squash).

With our social gathering in full swing I fetched the FCSB opened it to rest it on our antique drawleaf oak refectory table. I could tell instantly something was wrong. To my absolute horror, on closer inspection the Happy Faces biscuits had been substituted with the chocolate cream digestives! Now don’t get me wrong, they are a fine biscuit in their own right but they are no Happy Face. I can tell you there was one very unhappy face in the room. Namely mine!

I’m sorry that it may seem that I am bringing a very trivial matter to your attention but I must protest sincerely at the practise of biscuit substitution. What is the correct protocol for substitution? Who decides what is an acceptable substitute? How many other social gatherings have been ruined by this practise? So many questions!

I understand it must be difficult keeping up demand for Happy Faces with the joy they bring to so many lives but I do hope that you can somehow adjust your process so that they no longer need to be substituted.

Thanking you in anticipation of your assistance and I look forward to your reply.

Mr Gary Dickenson

So there you are. I think the letter contained all 10 tips and much more. I really enjoyed writing it too. No heat, no swearing, plenty of narrative.

I’m happy to say I got a reply from the makers of Family circle and it was a pretty much standard letter it was tailored to what I said. I feel I was listened to and they kindly sent me some vouchers to buy more of their biscuits which is very kind of them.

Anywhere here’s their letter.
Reply from united biscuitsAny comments are welcomed.


I love: Norfolk | Food | Cooking | Community | Speaking | Marketing | My Wife x | Great customer service & engagement | Running a business (or 2) | Humour

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  1. John Wilson-Smith

    Now, tell me you only did it for the vouchers!

  2. Like the pointers.

    What happens if it is for a service or systematic multi level failure within a company? Vouchers just won’t cut it! :)

    • Hi Melitsa, thanks for stopping by and commenting.

      Well yes the ‘compensation’ should be appropriate to the complaint.

      It’s for you to decide if the response is good enough and if not to reply to the response stating why you feel it’s not good enough.

      Mistakes do just happen and we live in a compensation culture. Sometimes all that’s needed is an acknowledgement and an apology.

      • I probably didn’t write that question clearly enough. My fault…
        I wasn’t seeking compensation, in this hypothetical instance but more actionable steps that it wouldn’t happen to others or that the company would change its practice.

        Compensations( money or product) really wasn’t the thought.

        In this ‘case’, an acknowledgment and apology wouldn’t be enough as the same failure would continue to another person.

        Thanks for your reply. Given me some food for thought.

  3. SaffronKate

    Melitsa has a profound Q which most organisations ignore. The Q can be re-stated as: is this issue complained of the result of a special or a common cause?

    If it is special (which I suspect Happy Faces addition may well be!) then a soothing letter may be entirely appropriate. If it is common cause, i.e. rooted deep in the system, then no amount of hand patting will help. In that case the only solution is changing the system.

    The automatic Pavlovian issue of some form of compensation is another matter, which also bears examination.

    Good Blog!


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