If you’ve been wronged and need some good examples of how to write a strongly worded letter of complaint, read on.
Just about every consumer experiences a let-down by a product or service, easily more than once in his or her lifetime.
Whether it’s terrible airline service (delays, canceled flights, and so on) or finding a dead mouse in your Cheerios. Sh*t happens.
Don’t just sit back and take it on the chin from corporate stooges.
Samples of Complaint Letters That Work!
Complaint Letter Sample #1: Delta Airlines
Over the years I’ve had a handful of incidents that have left me dissatisfied, if not downright angry. Air travel tends to top the list. The first time I took action by writing a well-crafted complaint letter, I was surprised by the quick and effective response.
In March 2013, Mrs. Cubert and I went on a lovely Caribbean cruise. It was one of those professional seminar boondoggles.
She spent a few hours each day with other chiropractors learning about something or other, while I read War and Peace by the pool. Heck, I’d have been happy dealing with troublesome Airbnb guests from my cell phone if I could be on a cruise deck while doing so.
It was on our way home that we ran into problems. Our Delta flight out of Miami had mechanical issues.
The real rub with this is they kept cascading the delays. So every hour, we were told it’d be ANOTHER hour. Finally, at around 9 PM, after five hours of this nonsense, the flight was canceled altogether.
Delta gave us zero options for what to do next, so we all queued up in line for another two hours to re-book a flight the next day, and beg for some help with lodging that evening. We’ve experienced this before in our travels, on a trip over to Switzerland in ’08. Air travel is just a roll of the dice, as with any travel I suppose.
Our Delta helper at the counter hooked us up with a voucher for a nearby hotel and a flight out the next day. The funny part was how, after the taxi dropped us off, we learned that THERE WERE NO VACANCIES.
Our voucher was worthless. Thanks, Delta.
We eventually managed to get to another hotel, order a pizza, and crash. $225.97 for a night at the Miami-Dade Sorority Inn.
Here’s the complaint letter I wrote to Delta, within a week of getting back home. Still glowing from a great trip, and sporting an okay tan:
April 7, 2013
Delta Air Lines, Inc.
P.O. Box 20706
Atlanta, Georgia 30320-6001
Dear Sir or Madam:
I am writing to request a refund check for $225.97 to reimburse hotel charges paid out of pocket on Sunday, March 24, 2013. We were unable to use the voucher issued by Delta on that day, upon arrival at the hotel, due to the fact the hotel was fully booked as of Saturday, March 23. I have attached documentation to substantiate our claim, including the actual voucher, the occupancy register for the Doubletree Hotel (provided by the on-call manager), and finally, the receipt for our eventual hotel, Spring Hill Suites. The delayed flight behind the voucher request was DL1860 Miami-Atlanta, March 24, 2013.
Please call me at (555) PEE-OWED if you need any additional details or background information. I am saving copies of all documentation for legal, and if necessary, PR purposes. Having been sent to an already fully booked hotel after waiting at the airport for hours on end, with a mid-term wife pregnant with twins, one can imagine the frustration we feel with Delta Airlines’ customer service. Your rapid response is appreciated.
CC: (Cubert’s estate lawyer, for added effect)
Within a week I’d received a letter from Delta’s VP of Customer Service. He was extremely gracious and apologized for the inconvenience we’d gone through.
We were compensated for a little north of the hotel cost in the form of a gift card to one of several retail outfits if I remember right. With kids on the way, this was super handy. I think we bought a rug for the baby’s room.
Better than the compensation was how quickly Delta jumped on this problem and made amends. I know they, like most airlines, struggle to balance customer service with profits, but for a brief shining moment, they were okay in my book.
As for the letter, you’ll notice there’s no secret to how I put those few paragraphs together. Maybe it was the reference to “PR” or Cc’ing my estate lawyer? We don’t have an attorney on retainer, so the lawyer who drew up our will (I figured) would stand in nicely.
(I never bothered him by sending an actual copy.)
Bottom-line: Take 30 to 60 minutes of your time to write up your experience in a professional but assertive manner and get that thing in the mail. My hourly rate for writing this particular letter was $225. Next time we’ll find a last-minute Airbnb to stay at instead.
Complaint Letter Sample #2: Hertz Rent-a-Car
The following year, on a trip to Michigan with our now one-year-old twins in tow, we rented a car at the airport. The trip was fun. The car was not. A lot of driving was in store, and it wasn’t until we were well on our way that I noticed there was no cruise control.
Yeah, yeah, I know. First-world problem, right?
Well, I’d drive a stick shift but still expect a cruise, dammit! Funny how having twin infants causes you to melt at the first inconvenience life sends your way. No wonder I’m stressed out and dream of early retirement.
That wasn’t the worst of it though. The car rattled like it had been run off the cliff, ala Thelma and Louise, and put back together again for unsuspecting renters. Well, Hertz, thank you very little for giving us this little gem.
The kids usually slept through anything, but they were no match for this jalopy.
After we got home I figured it worth writing to Hertz, simply to share how disappointed we were being given such a piece of sh*t to drive around half the state in.
Let it be known the rattles didn’t happen until we got on the highway, so there was no simply turning back once we were well out of town.
Here’s the complaint letter I wrote after my wrist stopped shaking:
Mr. Scott (Evil)
Rent A Car Americas
225 Brae Blvd
Park Ridge, NJ 07656
Dear Mr. (Evil):
I am writing to request a partial refund (or credit towards a future rental), as a token of Hertz’s good faith, after a bad experience my family and I had with one of your rental vehicles. In short, our vehicle was the pits.
The Mazda 3 we were given at the Cherry Capital Airport in Traverse City, MI rattled and vibrated incessantly on the highway. Further, there wasn’t cruise control – a feature we’d come to expect as standard. These two factors made for a very taxing driving experience for me and my family. We had no problem with the missing wheel cover on the front passenger tire, but details like this certainly can make an impression on the customer, particularly when compounded with bigger problems.
I have attached records of our rental forms for your reference. There were few to no occasions for us to swap out the car due to our packed itinerary and open-jaw flight plan. We simply expected a solid car to get us from point A to point B, without the constant jolt of (I’m assuming) misaligned wheels or warped rotors, and, the fatigue from missing cruise control while traveling long distances throughout Michigan.
Please feel free to call me at (555) DUN-HURT if you need any additional details or background information. I hope I can continue to recommend Hertz to my friends and family. Your quick response is appreciated.
Who needs a hub cap?
I revealed to Mr. Evil the importance of perception of quality. I’m sure that’s why, within a week of this most effective complaint letter, I received in the mail a very nice phone call from Hertz, offering to cut my rental charges by half.
This was yet another case where spending an hour writing a letter yielded $200 back in my pocket. These are personal finance wins I can write about!
Complaint Letter Sample #3: Sleep Number Mattress
I’ve since written a complaint letter or two (or fifteen) similar to those above. In one instance, I received a complete replacement mattress for a Sleep Number Bed that had been known to have problems with mildew (GROSS!)
Ours had some suspicious spots and I wasn’t taking any chances.
The complaint letter I wrote directly to their CEO was greeted by a return phone call from a senior leader in their customer relations group. I was thrilled we had avoided a potential health issue, and they replaced our ten-year-old air bed for free:
President and Chief Executive Officer
Select Comfort Corporation
9800 59th Ave N
Plymouth, MN 55442
Dear Ms. So-and-So:
My wife and I recently discovered the presence of what appears to be patches of black mold on the surface of our Select Comfort mattress air-bladders. Our concern is whether this is causing or contributing to chronic allergic reactions that are particularly rough during morning hours.
This is an unfortunate development since my back health has improved markedly since switching to your product, nearly ten years ago. We would prefer to continue using a Sleep Number bed but are concerned about the long-term effects of the apparent mold.
Please let me know if there are any options for us (i.e., are new Sleep Number models less susceptible to this issue?). We would prefer to avoid the high cost of replacing our current bed, but we certainly have to consider our health and well-being first.
Please feel free to call me at (777) 777-7777, if you need any additional details or background information. I can provide a photograph of the suspected mold if you’d like. Your quick response is appreciated.
Sometimes Even the Best-Written Complaint Letters Fail
In another instance, my sister and I were stranded at the airport for six hours after United Airlines (terrible) refused to let us on our plane (which was visibly still docked at the jet-way). We were held up by, you guessed it, way too long security lines.
Side-bar: There’s almost nothing worse in air travel than being told you missed your flight when you can see the plane sitting right there, with the walkway still attached to the terminal. Sigh…
The insult here was that our grandfather had just passed away, and we were trying to get home to be with family. That letter to United Airlines was greeted with a “too bad, so sad” response. I’ll never fly with them again, even if we have credit card bonus points about to expire.
6 Tips on Writing a Winning Complaint Letter
- Be professional. Use professional letterhead and be sure to sign in ink. The more professional you make the letter, the more they know you mean business.
- Express your dissatisfaction clearly, with facts, dates, and details (including copies of receipts and so on) to help substantiate your claim. Don’t just say “You guys suck!” Those letters get discarded out of hand.
- Be sincere. Don’t make false claims in the hope of getting compensation. A.) that’d be super unethical, and B.) that’d also be criminal fraud. If you’re going to write a letter, it’s because you’ve received less than the service or experience you expected. The companies you write should be grateful to hear from you, so they can resolve the situation and avoid a hit to their reputation.
- Be prompt. Don’t wait too long to send your letter. The sooner you get that thing written and in the mail, the more weight it will carry.
- Don’t expect compensation every time. In most cases, you’ll write because you feel cheated by a company. Either a voucher was useless, or a rental car had fits. Or maybe you lost a full day with family because United Airlines is a sh*tty carrier. Sometimes you will get what you deserve, and sometimes you’ll simply get a “sorry” back.
- Remember not to waste your time working your way up the corporate ladder with your complaint. In my experience, the smart approach is to start at the top of the org chart. Send the letter to the VP of Customer Affairs. You will (well, you should) get a response in relatively short order, especially if your letter is clear, concise, and can be backed up.
There you have it: 3 samples of complaint letters you can use to draw inspiration from.
Go forth with confidence that you now know how to write a strongly worded letter of complaint. Strong letter-writing skills will ensure that your voice is heard.
You never know how much (or if any!) compensation awaits. But if the complaint is valid, backed up with photos and/or receipts as evidence (and similar complaints have occurred from other customers), you can rest assured a favorable response will come.
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Susan Bee says
Happened to me regarding a visit to the E.R. I was left in a room with no all light for over three hours and was only attended to after I made a phone call to have a friend come help me. I wrote a letter (professional and to the point) to the head of the proper department and received a reply that basically said I was making it all up and they believed the staff. Ironically, I was an employee at this hospital! I still write letters to companies when they need a heads up.
Wow – That’s a real shame they wouldn’t take your word for it. Hospitals aren’t known for their shimmering customer service – much like airlines, they focus on the bottom line. Luckily the healthcare staff are often miracle workers.
Hahaha, great post Cubert. I never thought about this but this is definitely a rich (mindset) person skill. One thing I would add which you do implicitly and automatically is to document, document, and document. Many times the first line of defense is: well can you prove it? In this case you say, “Well yes I can. I have written down the time, date, and grievance of the last 475 you ticked me off and here it is!”
The point is that many of these companies are terrified of what you can do to them on social media. Even a handwritten list of problems is a huge potential PR problem. Of course do follow the steps you’ve outline. 🙂
Thanks, HM! The good thing about a transparent, free speech society is our ability to hold others accountable. Sure, you can provide poor service and get away with a few bad products. But with Facebook, Twitter, and ever present 24 hour news cycles, just about any bad news that gets out can go viral in a heartbeat.
Mr Defined Sight says
Haha, very timely. I’m about to write a letter concerning an electric recliner that we bought a couple weeks ago and just decided to short itself out. While I was sitting in it. I wasn’t eating rice crispies but it sure sounded like it. Calling for the manager hasn’t worked as he or she has been “in and out”. Perhaps something written will get their attention.
Electric recliner? You’re kidding me, right? Sigh… Two things wrong with that – “electric” and “recliner.” Don’t worry though. No face punches here. That’s someone else’s territory. I’ll just give you a strong wag of the finger. 🙂
Mr Defined Sight says
I made fun of it too until I sat in it. Then I was smitten…….until it stopped working. Now it’s kind of a funny story. Did I mention it has light up cup holders? They don’t work either right now.
You need to write a post about that, and make it a true confession. Replace that thing with a physio ball as penance! 😉
Dylan | Trail to FI says
Ha, I have never been very assertive in voicing my unhappiness with a product or service. I am afraid of inconveniencing people, which sounds lame. But now that I know I might make some money off it…
Hey man. A good letter accomplishes a win-win. It helps the business improve and avoid bad publicity. And it helps you recoup what’s actually LOST money. Remember, we were out $225 on that hotel stay, and that’s not even including the taxi fare. So yes, lame lame lame, Dylan! 😉
Yesssss! There’s a right way to complain. You do need to be polite, accurate, and actionable (tell the company what they should do about your complaint). Too often complaints are vague and only bash the company.
Exactly. And I think the part I failed to mention is this: Do a little cost-benefit analysis before picking up a pen. If I’m honest about the value of my time, I think something worth about $50 or more is worth the effort. Anything less, and just choose not to use that product or service anymore.
Dam Millennial says
Nailed it! I recently went through a dispute with a rental car company. At first my gut reaction was to become angry because no one likes to pay out of pocket when they feel they are getting screwed. After I calmed down I wrote a letter similar to yours as to why I was disputing the claim and would not be paying the bill without more information. They dropped the claim and life goes on. I wondered how many people just fork over the money in those situations.
Thanks, DM. That’s just it. If you let people, companies, etc. roll you over, you’ll be rolled over. Over and over and over again. Over and out.
Miguel (The Rich Miser) says
For small affronts, I usually don’t complain, and either just let it slide or stop using that business. If I’m really angry or the potential compensation is worth it, I’ll write a complaint letter. I try to be specific, detailed, and diplomatic. My success rate is like 70%, though I find that, more and more, customer service departments (especially with internet companies) are resorting to canned answers that don’t really address your issue. In that case, my success has been far less, since they tend to just keep repeating the same stuff in response to your communications.
If the letter does not work, I’ll sometimes escalate with a Better Business Bureau complaint. So far, I’m 2 for 2 with that.
Hey, that’s a pretty good success rate, Miguel! Of course, you’re a good writer, so I’d expect that. Good call on BBB complaints. If all else fails, they are a good last resort. Curious, what two situations warranted BBB outreach?
Miguel (The Rich Miser) says
Thanks Cubert! The first situation was when I ordered a laptop from a big computer store in NYC. The website showed the computer as being in stock, but, upon ordering, I received a message saying it was back-ordered (though the website still showed it as being in stock). There, I was angry (and younger and more hot-headed) and went straight to the BBB. About a couple of days later, the laptop materialized.
Second, I bought a table at a furniture store here in Miami. They never delivered it, and I kind of procrastinated on following up because we didn’t really need it at the time. After a couple of months, I e-mailed the store several times, and they never answered. Then, I filed the BBB complaint. After a few weeks, the manager called me, and wound up refunding half my money and still delivering the table.
Good work! Now, I gotta give you some crap for that table. But, maybe you bought it knowing you’d need it later on (hence, “at the time”?)
I’ll be sure to consider BBB in the event my handy letters go unanswered!
Hahaha, good tip on cc’ing your estate lawyer. He doesn’t charge for that?
Also, another tool to use is Twitter. Tweeting the company and the CEO works like a charm.
Well, if he KNEW he was CC’ed, and I actually SENT him a copy…. 😉
Great tip with respect to Twitter! I’ve heard of that used to great effect, as well as Facebook. Social Media does have some value after all???