Professional Complaint Letter Writer Shares His Secrets

“Praise with faint damn” is the underlying secret to how professional complaint letter writer Bruce Silverman is able to be so successful in getting companies to give him free stuff. First class upgrades, Room upgrades with views of frolicking whales, Checks for hundreds of dollars… all these and more are the fruits of Bruce’s calculated typewriter clacking. Now Bruce has come out with a small book with a big promise: to teach you How To Complaint For Fun And Profit. Here’s a chapter from it, exclusively on The Consumerist, detailing how he was able to turn a disappointing experience at the Ritz-Carlton in Hawaii into a long-term stream of room upgrades, comped meals, and decidedly above and beyond customer service…

A lot of our posts about writing complaint letters has focused on sticking to the facts, and getting your story to the right people. I like that Bruce takes this one step further and shows how throwing in a little creative writing can increase your chances at success. It’s really just an artful way of demonstrating the basic principle of “it will cost more to ignore me than to take care of my problem.” You demonstrate that you’re a committed customer with long-term value who has spent money before and will continue to spend money, as long as your grievance can be addressed. I wonder, however, how well the tactics will work against industries that like to play hardball with customer service, like banks, cellphones, and insurance.

You can get a digital PDF version of Bruce’s book for $19.99 here.

Another free chapter, “Living in a Sitcom,” involving a complaint letter written after sitting next to a really big guy on an airplane that spilled into Bruce’s site, is available here.

Complain For Fun And Profit [Official Site]

Comments

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  1. ConsumptionJunkie says:

    It’s sad that the best complainers get the best service. The squeaky wheel gets the grease.

  2. MayorBee says:

    @ConsumptionJunkie: Quit whining.

  3. @ConsumptionJunkie: So you’re complaining about people complaining? You just blew my mind.

  4. B says:

    I thought step one in writing complaint letters was to make some kind of joke about how only people 60+ years old write complaint letters.

  5. wgrune says:

    So because of the weather (uncontrollable), clanking room service carts (annoying, but really a big deal?) and something wrong with the pool, the hotel puts him in what sounds like a $1000 per night suite for a week for free? Not to mention free meals and limo rides to and from the airport. Call me skeptical but I really want to call BS on this one…

  6. longbeachcoupe says:

    Wgrune… you dont know what can be had from a honest, calm complaint..

    “you sons of xyz, robbed me crap” gets you a headache and a have a nice day..

  7. chemmy says:

    random

    This comment is brilliantly illuminating and life-changing. Other commenters will follow me.

    /random

  8. MayorBee says:

    Phase 1: Complain
    Phase 2: ???
    Phase 3: Profit

    I’m supposing that phase 2 would be “fun” because the title of the book is “How To Complain For Fun And Profit”, but ??? is much better than “fun”.

  9. Underpants Gnome says:

    @MayorBee: Hey! What’s Phase 2?

  10. danielo says:

    The #3 lesson — “don’t linger” — seems to have been ignored in the example provided. Is the lengthy praise section really necessary?

  11. missdona says:

    I bet when he checked out they asked him if ‘everything was satisfactory’ and he said ‘yes,’ in the meantime hiding his notes about everything on his complaint list.

    And I hope he’s not the type to look for things to complain about in order to ..’fun and profit.’

  12. backbroken says:

    Well, this works at the Ritz-Carlton, but I have a feeling when you try it at the Holiday Inn you won’t be so successful.

    Premier brands typically (but not always) provide the best customer service because they know their customers have both high expectations and have the means to be choosy.

  13. privateer says:

    I think it helped — a lot — that the hotel episode occurred at a Ritz Carlton. Try making that argument at a Ramada. Essentially, he expects to get what he pays for and stands up for himself when he doesn’t. Picking your battles requires good judgment. And when he does go into battle, he prepares himself.

  14. Mayor McRib says:

    If I write him a long winded complaint letter, do you think he will send me the book for free?

  15. MissPeacock says:

    What’s the point of complaining about the weather to a hotel? They didn’t cause the bad weather.

    I dunno. I guess I don’t like the idea of trying to put one over on a company just to get something free. I certainly don’t like it when a company tries to put one over me. If everyone did that, legitimate complaints would not be as effective. I only complain when I truly have a problem, and it’s not in the hopes that I will “get” something in return; it’s to make the company aware of the problem so that it doesn’t happen again. Seems that this guy is trying to make small issues into larger issues when they don’t need to be.

  16. The idea of complaining to make profit is disgusting and completely selfish. I think it’s great if you can complain about actual issues and get compensated but if you do it over trivial stuff to save money you’re hurting the chances that people with real grievances will be properly compensated.

  17. Ben Popken says:

    Oh no, a guy is helping you write better complaint letters. Quick, file a complaint in the comments!

  18. missdona says:

    @Ben Popken: You know there’s a fine line between productive-complaining and complaint-abuse.

  19. @Ben Popken: Hello Mr. Pot?

    Yes.

    Hi, my name is Mr. Kettle. You’re black!

  20. I’m glad this came up today since United lost my bags coming home from a vacation in Mexico and it now looks like I will be writing one of these letters.

  21. spinachdip says:

    If I’m not happy with the complaint letter that the professional complaint letter writer writes for me, will the complaint letter writer help me write a complaint letter complaining to the complaint letter writer about the complaint letter that the complaint letter writer wrote?

  22. @longbeachcoupe: The ‘reply’ button looks like a little arrow pointing downwards in the top-right of another comment. You should use it when you are replying to someone.

  23. Premier brands charge permier prices. Which means when something is not quite perfect the brand can do the extra’s to make it “right”.

    That said…… something smells.

    A free one-way ticket? Maybe. Customer still has to buy the other portion of the trip.

    Presidential suite for a noisy room service cart? Yea, right. Maybe if the guy named dropped and said he was “Arnold the Governor”.

  24. legotech says:

    @spinachdip: you just gave me brain cramp…I love it :)

  25. Has anyone ever tried going a month without complaining about something?

    You may have heard about ‘complaint’ bracelets. Get a bracelet of some sort (rubber bands work well) and put it on your left wrist on day one. Then, for one whole month, try not to complain about ANYTHING. Gas prices, companies, your bad hair day, your neighbors dog barking… etc.

    If you do end up complaining about something, switch the ‘bracelet’ to another wrist and start over. ‘Complaining’ is loosely defined, but you’d only be cheating yourself if you cheat on this.

    Prediction: Everyone does this. Mr. Silverman’s book sales are extremely lower than expected, causing him to write a book about how to complain to the government and get free stuff. Consumerist post comments decrease dramatically, as does posting frequency, which causes the Consumerist user count to drop after everyone who only logs on to complain realizes it’s not fun anymore.

    Reality: No one does this. Complaining is too much fun, and as a bonus you might get free stuff that you didn’t deserve in the first place! Everyone loves free stuff they didn’t deserve. Look at the majority of welfare abusers!

  26. stevejust says:

    I hope the whole book isn’t centered around the Ritz Carlton letter. I’ve stayed at several of their properites, and I can tell you you will simply not get bad service from them. [You better not for the prices you pay and their lack of reward points.] I’m not as wealthy as people I travel with, so I try to stay at hotels with reward points systems, but I have to say, the response from the Ritz doesn’t surprise me in the least. They once comped a table of 8 a free lunch because one person I was with complained about the fish they received. The Ritz is one of the few places left where you can actually get what you pay for.

  27. mococash says:

    I wonder if the Ritz fired the bartender at the Buckhead resort and used his salary to pay for the “free” stay at the Hawaii resort…

  28. MyPetFly says:

    @Git Em SteveDave:

    At least he or she will get good service here. ; )

    I once took a cross country bus trip — I don’t recall the bus line but it was one of the big ones. This was when I was in the Navy and had pretty much no money.

    Because of a driver error, I was let on a bus I shouldn’t have been on (it was going to the proper destination though) and I ended up stuck in… Texas, I think.

    Anyway, in order to get to my next duty station in time, I had to fly to my destination city, rent a room for the night, and then take a cab to the bus station, where my bag with my uniforms, etc. was waiting.

    I wrote a letter to the bus company, and soon thereafter received a check for FULL compensation for my extra expenses. I just wish I could remember the company so I could compliment them.

  29. pennyjack says:

    To: Jack Pelton, CEO of Cessna Aircraft

    Dear Mr. Pelton:

    I’d like to share a story with you. The other day while flying in my recently purchased Cessna Citation, I noticed that I had lost my Excalibur EX 08 watch between the seat cushions. While trying to retrieve the watch a small diamond encrusted plate fell from my lap onto the armrest cracking and spilling my Beluga everywhere. May I have a new plane?

  30. MissPeacock says:

    @Corporate-Shill: Perhaps he mentioned in his complaint letter that he was working on this book and the Ritz Carlton comped him for more than someone else would get in exchange for a nice mention. Of course, I’ve never stayed in a hotel that nice before, so I have no idea what typical compensation would be.

  31. Ben Popken says:

    @stevejust: He has letters in there a bunch of airlines, a fax machine company, Fry’s, other places.

  32. Underpants Gnome says:

    He forgot the most important part: End each letter with the phrase:

    P.S. I am not a crackpot.

  33. Sudonum says:

    @MissPeacock:
    I got the impression reading the article that the beach was closed due to winds or surf conditions and the pool was closed due to maintenance or something else controllable by the hotel. He pointed out to the manager that is wasn’t very guest friendly to close the pool, on a resort, in Hawaii, at the same time the beach was closed. I guess the manager agreed with him.

  34. jscott73 says:

    Dear Chevron-
    I have been a beloved supporter of your Techron gasoline additive since it first came out. I have used your gas exclusively for years and I have convinced several friends and family member to switch from inferior gasolines to the pure liquid joy that is Chevron with Techron. I even occasionally purchase a car wash.

    However, I have noticed as of late a disturbing trend in your prices. It seems that your gas in now over $4 per gallon. While I was not disturbed at first since I knew this must have been a glitch in your system and since I know you value your customers more then your profits you would naturally remedy this situation as quickly as possible by drastically reducing prices to a more reasonible level. Much to my chagrin the price reduction I was expecting has not happened.

    In order to continue using your most excellent gasoline I would appreciate a full refund of my and my family’s gasoline purchases over the last year along with an additional two years supply of Chevron with Techron.

    It is with a heavy heart that I must inform you that if this does not happen I will have to swear off your gasoline entirely, and would encourage others to do the same.

    Thank you and regards,

  35. MyPetFly says:

    @Underpants Gnome:

    Crap. No wonder I haven’t had any luck. I keep adding “P.S. I am not a crack pipe.” ; )

  36. MyPetFly says:

    @jscott73:

    Dear Mr. jscott73,

    Thank you for writing us at Chevron. We certainly appreciate your choosing us for your gasoline needs.

    As you may know, gasoline prices are set based on a wide variety of factors, most beyond our control. However we DO value you as a customer, so it is with great pleasure that I include a coupon for one free car wash.

    Sincerely yours,

    Pat Rolium

    : )

  37. Skorpeyon says:

    @Intangible_360: Calling it “How to Complain Carefully and Just to Get Back What You Deserve” just doesn’t have the same ring to it. ;)

  38. jscott73 says:

    @MyPetFly: woo hoo, free car wash, how do I print it out??

  39. MerylBurbank says:

    I wrote my very first complaint email yesterday, and got satisfaction this morning to the tune of $70. It feels great! It makes me wonder what else I can complain about… and then it makes me realize why I loathe people who are always looking for something to complain about….

  40. Ben Popken says:
  41. edosan says:

    So this guy is a “professional complaint letter writer”?

    Wow. Just…wow.

  42. MyPetFly says:

    @jscott73:

    Color printers are available from our channel partner, starting at $2,799.99.

    @MerylBurbank:

    A wise newspaper photo editor once told me that he doesn’t push hard for every photo he wants to run, so that when he’s passionate about a photo, his comments carry more weight. It’s the way to beat “cry wolf” syndrome.

  43. Snakeophelia says:

    So far, this guy’s advice seems right on the money to me. What’s wrong with a little judicious, well-phrased, legitimate complaining every once in a while? The advice about starting out with praise is a good idea, not just because it makes the medicine go down easier but because companies need feedback on what they do right, too.

  44. MissPeacock says:

    @Sudonum: Thanks for the clarification. That WOULD make a bit of a difference.

  45. I’ve had to write letters in the past, and be rewarded greatly for it. Although my rewards aren’t the presidential suite, they have been comparable to what is appropriate compensation for the situation.

  46. Hands says:

    @stevejust: I’ve stayed at several of their properites, and I can tell you you will simply not get bad service from them.

    I’ve worked for them and I can tell you that you can get bad service from them. But I can also tell you that during my training in 2004, every single employee from general manager to a part time housekeeper was authorized to spend up to $2000 to fix any problem a guest might have had. In other words, if a poolboy heard you had a bad meal at the restaurant last nite, he was able to comp it without asking permission. No one ever really did that but they could.

    I still didn’t like working for them tho and wouldn’t do it again.

  47. arungupta says:

    It is true that sometimes the results of a properly worded complaint can be great but it really depends who you are dealing with. Typically, if it is a small business, you are unlikely to get anything, contrary to popular belief that small businesses will go out of their way to have a satisfied customer. Big corporations on the other hand, tend to be more generous with compensations. Their profit margins are higher and lawsuits are more expensive for them.

    What you get also depends upon the demand/supply factor. If something is in demand, the manufacturer/provider will not care about your complaint. His stuff is selling. There are a lot of factors.

  48. Torley says:

    @ConsumptionJunkie: Sometimes, I say the squeaky wheels get replaced by better wheels. :)

    I wonder if this book will be available on Amazon.com ? Incidentally, there’s a similarly-named but different book already there.

  49. Now that he has opened his big mouth and exposed himself to the world – whenever he complains again — they will know what he is up to…..

    If others start using similar writing tactics – managers might get wise to the new dramatic style and dismiss their complaints….

    You do not want to manipulate people and you do want to show empathy because you could be in their shoes

  50. Aibyouka-kun says:

    When it all boils down to it, this should only be used if you really get screwed over, rather than to save yourself money, and as infrequently as possible. This not only gives other true victims a chance to be compensated, but also ‘what goes around comes around’; you’ll avoid giving karma a reason to pay you back for abusing the wonderful power of complaints. :3

  51. goodkitty says:

    I suppose his extraordinary luck with getting free comps has nothing to do with his use of letterhead that suggests he is a media consultant and/or reviewer?

    Still, he at least knows how to write a complaint into a good story. From my days as a customer support rep, I recall how many times someone would complain on and on in an email and NEVER EVEN MENTION WHAT THE PROBLEM WAS in the first place!

  52. Hotels and other businesses know there are professional complainers, people who are just looking to get something free. They know the tricks and are on the lookout for them. They also now have software at hotels that will track the guests who constantly complain and they give them no quarter.

    I could see the Ritz to comping a stay for a guest in Hawaii for a week. You’d have to fly there to use it, they’d put you in during a slow week and you’d probably come back paying full rack rate next time. But I don’t think you’d get a suite if they had a conference. The only reason they’d put you in one is if it were empty anyway. An empty suite is making the hotel just as much money as an empty room.

    And it’s a good thing the guy didn’t complain about the bellman. If he did someone would make sure he got a wake up call at 3 a.m.

    Every night.

  53. @Ben Popken: Until I took the time to read that, I thought it said tall popken syndrome.

  54. grumpygirl says:

    you don’t need company letterhead, you just need to write a good letter to the right person and if the company has any desire to be seen in a good light they will help you.

    a bad business stay at a W hotel ended up giving me a weekend in an NYC W hotel, comped.

    a day from hell waiting for the fed-ex guy gave me $200 in gift checks, a story i sent to consumerist today.

    i know that there are many companies you cannot win with, but find the ones you can and use their business

  55. Valhawk says:

    I can tell you why this worked at the Ritz-Carleton, as someone who works in another field at a high quality place. Once you reach levels like that reputation is everything, and establishments with a high reputation will bend over backwards to maintain it. This will only work at the creme de la creme of restaurants/hotels/etc, because corporate will freak out when they get well written complaints.

  56. drb023 says:

    The only way he’ll sell any books is if it goes on sale, because the only people that will buy it are CHEAP.

    Life is unfair for everyone. Complaints are only to fix the problem, not to get something or to make it right.

  57. @ConsumptionJunkie:

    You need to lay off the hallucinogens.

  58. Considering how ostentatious Ritz-Carlton properties are, how could anyone ever expect (and receive) anything but the best service on earth.

  59. Thorny says:

    I’m sure millions of people around the world (including those in Myanmar and China) would be pleased to overlook the clattering kitchen carts in order to stay at the Ritz, much less a Super freakin’ 8 if they had the chance.

    This is a clear example of abusing the channels reserved for actual complains.

    I figured this out when he complained about the WEATHER. For God’s sake, like the Ritz Carlton Corporation has ANYTHING to do with the weather?!?

  60. bonzombiekitty says:

    @Corporate-Shill: Might also help him some that he is a well known advertising executive (at least according to his profile on the website for the book). It’s possible that he gets some additional freebies just because of who he is.

  61. TheNerd says:

    My favorite company for good customer service is Virgin Mobile. When we messed up our pre-paid service plan selection, rather than say “tough luck”, they gave us twice the bonus minutes that I asked for! I think that they try harder, because there is no contract with them. When they know they could lose a customer at the end of any month, they do what it takes to keep the customer happy.

  62. RAEdwards says:

    To use the methods of this author’s letters….

    Let me tell you a story of a frequent traveler that has had to suffer indignities by all kinds of companies along the way. This traveler was looking to find a way to properly complain to the various companies he has had to deal with on a regular basis and stumbled across this book while consuming an RSS feed from one of his favorite sites, Lifehacker.

    Now, imagine this same traveler’s feeling of outrage when he sees that one of the chapters is about a complaint to an airline about a “Passenger of Size”. Being a person of considerable girth himself and having experienced the indignity of Southwest Airlines telling him he would have to buy two tickets (one of which he may not get to use) in order to fly with them, he was rightfully upset when he saw the author complained about something that was well beyond the airline’s control. The airline has no way of knowing a passenger’s size when the ticket is purchased and seating assigned. This traveler has heard all the different things that can be said. “Why don’t you lose weight?’, “You brought this on yourself” and all the others. Recently, the traveler experienced the “look of contempt” from another passenger that didn’t say anything but immediately turned around and asked the flight attendant for another seat. Even though the frequent traveler usually tries to keep the armrest down between himself and another passenger and puts the armrest up in the aisle to not inconvenience anyone but himself, he is still treated with scorn.
    The travelers big complaint is not the this letter was about the size of another passenger, but how things were stated in the letter. It’s obvious the author has contempt for larger people. When flying Southwest, the Passengers of Size have to buy two tickets. Of course, if the flight is not full and we don’t actually need the extra seat, we get our money back. If we do need the seat however and don’t actually get to use it, then we don’t get our money back. Only in travel can you get charged for something you don’t get to use. No additional charges are made for passengers that have illnesses like the flu or a cold and are sharing them with the others in the recirculated incubators called airplanes. Nor are their charges for passengers with screaming infants or a lack of personal hygiene that is inconveniencing others. But since it’s “acceptable” to make fun of the obese, the author decides to do so in his letter.
    Well, as you may have guessed, I am the traveler. I will not be purchasing this book after all. I cannot demand or ask for recompense as i did not purchase anything. I can only voice my opinion and ask others not to purchase this book either. While I am sure I will get flamed by people for posting this message, I take solace in one fact. While I may be obese, the author appears to be an ass. At least I can, and am, losing weight.

  63. speed1961 says:

    It’s correct to complain diplomatically regarding below-par service. It’s morally reprehensible to complain in a manipulative manner with the intent of getting “free stuff”… although this is pretty much what Americans have come to expect with the grotesque decline of our societal values. Writing a book to cash in on this trend is questionable, and calls into question the writer’s integrity. If your complaint is legitimate, by all means complain using these techniques. But if you don’t get all the freebies you’re expecting, better be prepared to write another complaint letter about the lack of responsiveness to your previous complaint letter. Better yet, why not just beg for free stuff. That’s probably next on the list.

  64. I think I have a problem with phrase, ‘How To Complain For Fun And Profit.’ Complaining for the fun of it is immature and heightens the risk of unjustified whining. Complaining for profit is similar, in that the justification for it is less than ethical.

    Some suggested alternatives:
    How To Complain to correct an unpleasant situation
    How To Complain to right a wrong
    How To Complain to receive what you paid for
    How To Complain to receive what you are legally/ethically/morally due
    How To Complain to prevent a situation from happening again
    How To Complain to stand up for yourself in a rational and effective way

  65. SanjivaniElymus says:

    My wife and I were treated with hostility and insult rather than
    hospitality at the Lexington Hotel in New York. When I complained to the
    manager Mr. Holmes, he asked us to feel free to check out! We would have,
    except the hotel stay was prepaid for 3 days with a Globatel voucher. A
    complaint in the hotel’s form given to the concierge for the attention of
    the general manager Mr. Sam Bhadha got no response.

  66. arl84 says:

    Oooooooooooh.

    This guy is good.
    I haven’t read too much yet, but from the looks of it he is using his power for evil, which is sad :-( Letters like this should not be written just to get free stuff, but to help people resolve serious issues with companies.

  67. @TheNerd: Virgin Mobile’s British subsidiary gave me a £50 voucher to buy a competitor’s SIM, because their network was not strong enough to complete a call in my flat. Now, if only the US subsidiary would roam on GSM…

  68. OmicroN says:

    @RAEdwards: Well stated! Excellent use of verbal judo (using the attacker’s words against himself.)

  69. OmicroN says:

    Test

  70. Raul_Pevre says:

    I recently got my kitchen-aid mixer replaced out of warranty, the selector knob cracked and the hinge bolt was loose, free shipping and all. I made a point to stress in my emails that I had used commercial kitchen-aid mixers and hoped their home gear would be as rugged. I dont know if mentioning I was a chef made it happen but they did ship me a $200 machine.

  71. TwoScoopsRice says:

    Here’s some background information that may be of interest for those speculating about the timing of the author’s Ritz-Carlton Kapalua visit. First, John Toner (one of the classiest Hawaii hoteliers around) hasn’t been GM there since the early part of this decade when he relocated from Maui to Oahu. Second, the writer’s mention of humpback whales offshore pins the time of year of his visit to winter, which fits in with the multiple suppositions that the comped trip took place in the offseason.

    At the risk of sounding a little snarky … most stationery is stationary … but it’s always [correctly] spelled with an E.

  72. CruiseMates says:

    For an example of a professional complainer getting her just rewards, do a search on Brenda Moran and Royal Caribbean. The woman complained so much that she was eventually banned from the cruise line. Oh yes, they did give her plenty of perks before they just got fed up and let her go, including a check for $500, but in the end her name was MUDD in several online forums and subsequent newspaper articles. She could be the world’s most famous professional complainer, by now, and I can’t help wondering is she got started by reading this book.

  73. DrRamblings says:

    As a previous poster stated, RC makes its bones on reputation and service. A few years ago I stayed at their property in Sarasota, and they really dropped the ball. I told them I was disappointed, and they said they would make it up to me. They comp’d my room and meals for the weekend, which I’m guessing probably cost them ~$1000. I felt like they really went out of their way for me, which is something most places don’t do in today’s world. They have a customer for life now.