It’s hard to know where to start when writing a complaint letter. If our inbox is any indication, this difficulty manifests itself in free-form rants and confusion about what to say. It doesn’t have to be that way: simply stating the facts and explaining why the company should help you is enough. If you aren’t much of a wordsmith, Consumerist is here to help.
Here’s an example letter, based on a recent successful complaint to a car manufacturer that crossed our desk recently. We’ve obscured the details, but the overall format of the letter remains the same.
The summary. If you can’t sum your problem up in two or three sentences, have someone else read your e-mail and do it for you. As Consumerist’s tipline reader, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of getting your point across before the letter-reader’s eyes glaze over.
In the first paragraph, put your problem and suggested resolution. Then get on with the details.
742 Evergreen Terrace
Springfield, USA 23456
July 19, 2014
Hoverbike Corporation of America
Attn: Customer Service
P.O. Box 1578
Kabletown, WV 25414
Dear Hoverbike Corporation:
I am writing to your company about a problem with my Hoverbike, a 2012 Skylark model. I began to have trouble staying aloft a few months ago, and this week the height control module completely failed. While the bicycle is a few months out of warranty, I believe that this occurred because of a design flaw in the Skylark, and I am asking that your company cover or share with me the cost of the required repair.
Next are the details: who, what, where, when? Include addresses, store numbers, and serial numbers if applicable to your situation. Here you can add more details about your incident or problem and elaborate on what you recounted in the opening sentences if you need to.
My parents purchased my Hoverbike (serial number 118532C423) for me on April 21, 2012 from our local authorized Hoverbike dealer, Krebs Cycles of Springfield. I have enjoyed riding my bicycle, but also taken good care of it, performing all recommended maintenance, keeping it meticulously clean, not hovering over bodies of water, and not riding recklessly.
After researching this specific problem and talking to other Hoverbike owners, I have learned that this is a common issue with Hoverbikes manufactured before 2013. I believe that the failure of this module was not due to neglect or error on my part. I am asking that the Hoverbike Corporation cover in full or share with me the cost of this repair.
I have enclosed a work order from my mechanic that details the repairs needed on my bicycle.
This next section is optional, but often helpful: discuss how your problem goes against the product’s branding and marketing, and also your relationship with the brand.
Of course, don’t feel the need to explain your relationship to the brand if you don’t really have a history of using their products or friends or family who do. Yet consider the product’s branding and marketing and how it relates to your situation: does the company tout its notebook computers’ portability while your own battery won’t charge, tethering you to your desk? Has a travel website that advertises itself as convenient and integrated caused serious problems with your travel plans? Mention any such contrasts if they apply.
Hoverbike’s reputation and marketing emphasize your bicycles’ durability, reliability, and safety. Before this mechanical failure, I was very pleased with my Hoverbike, and in a few years I will need to upgrade to a larger one as I grow, but now I hesitate to choose one. My brother and sister also own Hoverbikes that are functioning perfectly, and they aren’t so sure that that they will stick with the brand after watching my experiences with the mechanical failure of my Hoverbike.
If your marketing campaigns are any indication, I am your target customer, a young girl who is allowed to explore her town on her own and use her bicycle for travel and recreational rides. More importantly, I am eight years old and look forward to a future of eco-conscious commuting. I hope to have many decades of cycling ahead of me, and I want to continue riding Hoverbikes in the future. Please restore my faith in your brand, stand behind your product, and cover the cost of this repair.
Thank you for taking the time to read this letter.
That’s it! It can also help in some cases to give the company a reasonable deadline to respond to you, and to outline any other acceptable resolutions. Telling the company what you want is an important starting point, even if what you want is only an apology.