How to Handle a Letter of Complaint

by Jody Hanson; Updated September 26, 2017
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If customers take the time to write a letter of complaint, they mean business. While a dissatisfied customer might phone and complain to a front line person or fire off an email that ends up in some complaint pile, a letter is official and a response is required. Letters of complaint that start with the CEO and work their way down the chain of command require particular attention as a second letter to the CEO could leave you in a bad light. Although handling a letter of complaint may seem daunting the first time you have to do it, there are certain steps in place to help you deal with it appropriately.

Step 1

Acknowledge the letter of complaint. This can be done with a phone call, an email or a letter. The Hong Kong Polytechnic University suggests you incorporate phrases such as “Thank you for your letter…” or “I refer to your letter…” as this will let the person who sent the letter know that his complaint is being addressed.

Step 2

Plan to write a response letter to the complaint. Because a letter of complaint is formal, it requires a formal response.

Step 3

Investigate the legitimacy of the complaint. Based on the investigation, decide if the company is going to accept or reject the complaint.

Step 4

Apologize for the problem if accepted. Use polite phrases such as “We apologize for the inconvenience …” or “Please accept our sincere apologies …” If, however, the complaint is rejected, express regret at the customer’s dissatisfaction “While we understand your frustration…” and then follow it up with “we regret to inform you that …”

Step 5

Propose to settle the difficulty if the complaint is accepted and offer an explanation of why it happened, such as “The mistake was caused by …” or “the manufacturing defect wasn’t detected.”

Step 6

Reject responsibility for the problem and offer reasons why it won’t go any further. Phrases such as “unfortunately the warranty has expired” convey that there is nothing more that will be done.

Step 7

Offer to make a refund, accept the returned good or give a discount if you are accepting the complaint. Hong Kong Polytechnic University suggests phrases such as “As a gesture of good will…” or “we have sent a replacement by courier…” are appropriate.

Step 8

Direct the letter writer to a third party – another person or organization – if the responsibility lies elsewhere. Use a phrase such as “We regret that we can’t assist you, but you may want to contact the manufacturer.”

About the Author

Jody Hanson began writing professionally in 1992 to help finance her second around-the-world trip. In addition to her academic books, she has written for "International Living," the "Sydney Courier" and the "Australian Woman's Forum." Hanson holds a Ph.D. in adult education from Greenwich University.

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