Many business owners dread writing collection letters and formal apologies for fear of alienating or further offending their customers. In both cases, you must address an important concern and at the same time maintain customer goodwill. Once you understand a few underlying principles about writing problem-solution letters, you'll learn how these types of letters can be written in a way that generates goodwill.
Problem Solution Letter Format and Style
It might be helpful to think of a problem-solution letter as a miniature essay written in a business letter format. Follow the same format, adopt the same style and use the same 12-point Times New Roman font as you would in any business letter. The only changes you should make are in the words used in the body and closing sections. Most problem-solution letters also include enclosures. Indicate this by typing “Enclosures” one line below the closing and then list the name of each document you are including with the letter.
Emphasize Positive Words
Short, direct and personalized letters reduce the chance for misunderstandings and are often the most effective. In addition, words with a positive twist are more likely to produce a positive response. The Purdue University Online Writing Lab suggests that you avoid words and phrases such as “unfortunately,” “unable to,” “problem” and “failure,” which convey unpleasant facts. Instead, emphasize what you can or are willing to do rather than what you cannot or will not do.
Opening and Closing Statements
Open and close the letter with simple, direct statements. An opening statement such as “Thank you for taking the time to explain your concern about …” references and identifies the problem. Close with a statement that emphasizes your desire to preserve the relationship. Statements such as "We value your business" or "We recommit to providing the high-quality customer service you expect from our company" are two common examples.
Request to Solve a Problem
In the first body paragraph, reference relevant background information and any previous communications to show that you understand the customer's concern. Offer a clear, specific solution to the problem – including goodwill gestures and actions you’ve already taken or plan to take – in the third paragraph.
For example, if you’re writing a first-request collection letter, note the customer’s previous good payment record, but remind the customer about payment due dates. As a solution, offer to work with the customer to set up alternate payment arrangements or extend the payment date in exchange for a return phone call.
Based in Green Bay, Wisc., Jackie Lohrey has been writing professionally since 2009. In addition to writing web content and training manuals for small business clients and nonprofit organizations, including ERA Realtors and the Bay Area Humane Society, Lohrey also works as a finance data analyst for a global business outsourcing company.