For complaining, the pen is mightier than the tweet

When you have a customer-service issue, are you more likely to call a 1-800 number (and get lost on hold), post a 144 character tweet (in hopes the company is actually listening), or write a letter to the head of the company (thinking it will never be read)?

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The editors at Slate.com recently highlighted strategies to get your customer service complaint not only heard, but acted on.  Guess what: The tips do not always involve firing off tweets, posting gripes on Facebook walls, or loading up YouTube video parodies of luggage getting beat up on the airport tarmac. Rather, the strategy is writing a good old-fashioned letter of complaint.

So what’s the anatomy of a great complaint letter?  Slate blogger Timothy Noah, in a column “The Art of the Gripe,” offers these suggestions to craft a letter to get attention and action:

  1. Don’t be nasty. To elicit results, show you’re a reasonable and intelligent person who wants to resolve a simple misunderstanding with a minimum of fuss.
  2. Be succinct. Brevity demonstrates that you’re not some rambling pain in the rear. Lengthy narratives of how you discovered the problem, how that problem made you feel, will likely go unread.
  3. Include the facts. State where you bought the item, identify the model name and serial number, give your full name, address, phone number, and e-mail address.
  4. Type your complaint letter. Handwritten letters can be hard to read, inviting your “escalation specialist” to psychoanalyze you.
  5. Propose a solution. The customer-services response team reading your typed letter doesn’t want to feel your pain. It wants to fix your problem. Propose a reasonable resolution and that might just happen.

To test his point, Noah recently posted a reader contest to discover the nation’s best griper. He invited readers to submit their top letters of complaint, previously sent to CEOs, state attorneys general, and the Better Business Bureau.

The complaint letter had to be real, and readers had to include not only the letter, but a review of how the company responded and the means for Noah to verify that response. Finalists were posted posted online, and readers voted.

The winner, even though he didn’t follow all the rules of a well-constructed complaint letter? It was Keith Bertrand, who had an issue with a company where he and his wife had purchased matching wedding rings. Bertrand maintained one of the rings was defective, yet early on, customer service reps suggested the ring had somehow been altered, thereby negating the lifetime guarantee. The company had initially offered to replaced the ring for $450. Bertrand wrote a letter to complain and later received a phone call from the company president, who offered to replace the ring free of charge.

Noah’s point? Customer service is not dead. It’s just hiding behind a call center overseas. As his “griper of the year” contest illustrated, one sure way to get attention and action is writing a well-crafted letter of complaint.

 

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