Just about every consumer experiences a let-down by a product or service, more than once in their lifetime. Whether it’s terrible airline service (delays, cancelled flights, and so on) or finding a dead mouse in your Cheerios. It’ll happen.
The question is, what are you going to do about it? Sit back and take it? Or make an effort to pen a little letter to the Vice President of consumer affairs?
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 letter, I was surprised by the quick and effective response.
Letter Number One: The Delta Airlines Affair
Back in March of 2013, Mrs. Cubert and I went on a lovely Caribbean cruise. It was one of those professional seminar deals. She spent a few hours each day with other chiropractors learning about something or other, while I read War and Peace by the pool. I’m not sure which of those two activities sounds appealing in retrospect, but I’d have been happy balancing my checkbook in THAT setting.
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. Until finally, at around 9PM, after five hours of this nonsense, the flight was cancelled 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. Well, shit!
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 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 in the amount of $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)
How that turned out…
Within a week I’d received a letter from one of Delta’s VPs 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 room.
Better than the compensation though was simply the fact that Delta jumped on this problem and quickly 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 really 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, just take the half hour or hour 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.
Letter Number Two: He Hertz Me
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’s no cruise control. Yeah, yeah, I know. First-world problem, right? Well, I’d drive a stick shift but still expect cruise, dammit! Funny how having twin infants causes you to melt at the first inconvenience life sends your way.
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 shit 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 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 impressed upon Scott Evil the importance of perception of quality. I’m sure that’s why, within a week of this letter, I received in the mail a very nice phone call from Hertz, offering to cut my rental charges by half. Another case where spending an hour to write a letter yielded $200 back in my pocket.
I’ve since written two or three more letters 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 letter I wrote directly to their CEO was greeted by a return phone call from someone in their customer relations group. I was thrilled we had avoided a potential health issue, and moreover, they were willing to replace a ten-year old air bed for free.
In another instance, my sister and I were stranded at the airport for six hours after United refused to let us on the plane still docked at the jetway. 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 plainly see the plane sitting right there, with the walk-way thingy still attached. FUCK!
The insult here was that our grandfather had just passed, and we were trying to get home to be with family. That letter to United was greeted with a “too bad, so sad” response. I’ll never fly with them again, credit card bonus points be damned!
Tips for Writing Your Next Complaint Letter
- Be professional. Use professional letterhead and be sure to actually 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 a dick-move, and B.) that’d also be a criminal offense. 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 of time with family because United Airlines is a shitty carrier. Sometimes you will get what you deserve, and sometimes you’ll simply get a “sorry” back.
Please share in the comments any interesting experiences you’ve had with complaint letters. Happy Monday!