How to Write an Effective Complaint Letter

Type or write your letter neatly by hand.
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Write an effective complaint letter by getting to the point early, controlling your emotions and providing all necessary information for the reader. You might want to first contact the company by telephone or email, or speak in person with a representative. If you have not received a response, or if the response is unsatisfactory, it’s time to write the official complaint letter. As you choose your words, remember your goal. An effective complaint letter gets full consideration by someone with the authority to resolve the situation.

1 Documentation and History

Collect documentation of the transaction, the problem and attempts at resolution. Gather receipts and other proofs of purchase and payment. Include work proposals, estimates and records of communication prior to and after accepting the service or product. For example, create screen shots of emails between you and the customer service department. Add relevant warranties and maintenance plans and prepare a timeline that includes important dates, such as dates of contact between you and the company.

2 Contact Name and Mailing Address

Contact the company to ask for the name, title and address of the person to whom the complaint letter should be sent. Often, companies don’t provide a person’s name and will ask customers to mail complaint letters to the main office or to the attention of a department, such as customer service. If you are still unsure how to address your letter, send it to the owner of a small company or a vice president of a larger company. Look for mailing addresses on the company’s website, or call the company for information.

3 Letter Format

Use standard letter formatting for your complaint letter: date, company contact and address, salutation and the body of the letter. Add an “in reference to” line between the company address and the salutation that provides an invoice number, customer name or other information that identifies the transaction. Close the letter professionally with “Thank you,” or “Sincerely,” followed by your signature and your name and contact information, such as address, telephone numbers and email address. Add, beneath your address block, the word “Enclosures” to alert the reader that you have enclosed documents.

4 Draft and Review

Write a draft of the complaint letter, organized into short paragraphs. In paragraph one state the problem and your desired resolution. For example, explain that you received poor customer service during a hotel stay, indicating that you expect a refund. In paragraph two, give a detailed explanation of the problem, providing dates, names, locations and descriptions, such as how an appliance malfunctioned. In paragraph three, describe any efforts you made to resolve the problem before sending the complaint letter. In the final paragraph, establish a reasonable length of time you are willing to wait for the company to contact you and resolve the problem.

5 Tips and Suggestions

Generate good will by including comments about your past relationship with the company, such as how long you have been a satisfied customer or that you chose the company because of its good reputation. Keep the letter to one page, if possible, avoiding anger, accusations and profanity. Proofread for spelling, grammar and tone, or ask someone to read the letter and give feedback. Send copies of your documentation with the letter; originals are for your files. Use a mail service that requires a signature when delivered and provides you with a delivery receipt.

Gail Sessoms, a grant writer and nonprofit consultant, writes about nonprofit, small business and personal finance issues. She volunteers as a court-appointed child advocate, has a background in social services and writes about issues important to families. Sessoms holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in liberal studies.