March 1, 2004
Stop Whining And Start Writing!
It’s 5:00 p.m., the thruway is backed up for miles, and you’re trying to race your sick child to the pediatrician. Suddenly, your new minivan malfunctions. By the time you get home, your child’s fever is raging and so is your temper. But before you fire off a complaint letter to your car dealer, take a breath.
“Make sure your letter is fact-based,” says DeAnna Wolf, a coordinator for the Automotive Consumer Action Program in Columbus, Ohio (www.oada.com/programs/auto cap/index.asp). “Take the emotion out. We need to know that billowing smoke was issuing from the car—not that you couldn’t take little A.J. to the party.” Cooling down is the first step in writing an effective complaint letter. But where do you go from there?
GO STRAIGHT TO THE TOP
Before you start writing, check to see if the company has a toll-free number by calling 800-555-1212. Once you get the address and phone number, call the company to ask for the name of a person of authority. Or, go to the local library for the Standard & Poor’s Register of Corporations, Directors, and Executives for a listing of companies and their officers, or the Thomas Register of American Manufacturers, which lists products and their manufacturers. Address the CEO, chairman, or president; never write to customer service or address a representative using a general salutation.
Luchina Fisher, a 37-year-old filmmaker, discovered the wisdom of this advice firsthand after a nightmarish experience with American Trans Air. Fisher and her then-boyfriend, now-husband, became incensed after waiting nine hours to board a flight that was originally an hour late. She addressed her complaint letter: To Whom It May Concern. She never heard from the company.
Fisher encourages consumers to carbon copy everyone from the state attorney to the attorney general to the local probate judge, as they may be able to intervene on your behalf. To find addresses for consumer protection agencies, let your fingers do the walking to the business section of your local directory.
Actually writing the letter will be a breeze once you have all of the necessary information. To get a clear picture of an effective complaint letter, read Ellen Phillips’ Shocked, Appalled and Dismayed! How to Write Letters of Complaint That Get Results (Vintage Books; $12) and John and Mariah Bear’s Complaint Letters for Busy People (Career Press; $16.99). Here are some other important points:
Include your name, address, and work and home phone numbers.
Type the letter. If that’s not possible, make sure your writing is neat and legible.
Provide the date, time, and location of the incident; the account number; the name and serial number of the product or service; and the name of the representative with whom you conducted business.
State your expectations. Include when you wish to hear from the company. Give them one month to respond to be sure they received your letter.
Include copies of receipts, repair estimates, contracts, and warranties.
Keep copies of the complaint letter and any supporting documents for your records.
If the follow-up date comes and goes with no response, turn