How to Complain and Get Results

Writing a consumer complaint letter requires keeping your emotions in check and knowing what you want from a company. When products or services fail, it’s easy to feel as if your complaints to the company responsible disappear into a black hole. While there are no magic words, there are a few tricks to help your complaint get a friendlier reading. All it takes is a little finesse, and some good documentation.

Mr. Goodman recommended getting the name of anyone who responds (even it’s just a first name) and note any case number assigned to your complaint. If you don’t get one, ask for it. You want some way to reference your issue in the future, without explaining your issue all over again. You also want to make sure you have records of who promised what and when, so no one can pretend those conversations never happened.

“Deal with your emotions. The most effective letters of complaint are confident and calm, so do not make threats or write in uppercase letters as if you were shouting.

It may feel like ranting helps you communicate how unhappy you are, but stick to the relevant details. Keep your emotions — and sarcasm — in check, or you run the risk of turning your reader against you. Get the shouting out of your system first, then sit down to write.

What are you expecting from the company? Be reasonable, though. The remedy you seek should be proportionate to the problem you experienced. If you had a terrible meal at a restaurant, ask for a refund or credit to a future dinner. Don’t, however, ask for a brand new car just because the tail light went out a month after you drove it off the lot.

“If it’s insufficient, then you politely tell them that it’s inadequate in your eyes,” she wrote in an email.

Be succinct. Go light on the details and don’t treat your letter like a legal brief with multiple exhibits. “You don’t need to paste the whole chat log,” Ms. Marco said. The first paragraph of your letter or email should be no more than seven lines.

Your letter should be no more than a page, single-spaced, Ms. Thomas wrote. Be specific about dates, times, names and locations. Attach documentation if necessary or a list of other items you can provide if they’re requested. Photos are helpful.

Don’t exaggerate your history as a customer as a way to get attention. Customer service representatives can find your purchase history. Avoid foul language. It will erode your credibility.

Don’t ask to be compensated for lost time. You may have wasted several hours on a defective product or waiting for a service, but demanding to be reimbursed for it will be seen as being unreasonable.

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