Tuesday, December 12, 2006

6 Tips To Writing A Winning Complaint Letter

Many years ago I read a book that was a tutorial on how to write letters to corporate executives and actually get them to read them. The trick was to order and use the engraved stationary from Tiffany because, their stationary was watermarked with the Tiffany name and was quite impressive to the recipient. Remember, 20-30 years ago Tiffany was known for their beautiful engraved personal stationary items and usually purchased by those that had good taste and a good bank account. Today, I believe you can only purchase their over-the-counter stationary items because they no longer print this custom stationary.

The concept of using their stationary is quite ingenious. You see most key executives receive tons of mail and have their staff sort through it for them. Only those letters that appear to be important or of a personal nature written by the execs wealthy friends, would ever make it to the executives desk. When you address the envelope, you always address it to the executive, c/o of the company and mark "Personal" on the outside. Because the envelopes have your engraved name and address on them and the quality of the paper is of course Tiffany quality, the secretary will put this on the executives desk "unopened" thinking you are a personal friend of their boss. Once the exec opens your letter and looks and feels the impressive and expensive stationary, they will read it and in all my cases using this stationary, I have received replies.

I can tell you the last time I wrote a letter on my engraved stationary it was to report a manager of a local movie theater to the head of his company...Shari Redstone. Shari is Sumner Redstone's (CEO and controlling shareholder in Viacom and the man that fired Tom Cruise) daughter and a key executive who's day-to-day task is to guide their National Amusements theater chain. With some 1,500 screens and more than $500 million in revenues Shari is guiding them through the toughest patch in the industry's recent memory.

But with all she has to do each day, this intelligent and caring woman took the time to cordially answer my letter and then took the necessary action to correct the problems I had described in my letter.

Without getting into too much detail here is the story...

The manager of our local NA Multiplex theater was acting in a rude and unprofessional manner and was in fact a bully. One evening I had decided to venture out with my wife to see a movie. I had a torn Achilles tendon and in a cast and on crutches. We were waiting on line outside the theater, in the lobby area, while they cleaned it for the next showing. As we and about 80 other patrons waited to go in, I asked if I could get a head start to the seat before the crowd trampled me. After all the theater seats around 300 and it wasn't as if I wanted a special seat.

He actually refused my request and explained it wouldn't be fair to the others. Now you know that folks that are handicapped, elderly or in need of additional time to reach a seat are always afforded this simple courtesy. The people around me that heard him, couldn't believe it and were in shock, yet he still refused. This was only one of the poor decision's we witnessed this man making.

There was no question in my mind that a letter was due and who else should receive my letter then Shari Redstone.

I knew from my own experience as a marketing executive that companies want to know what they are doing wrong so they can make adjustments when necessary. Companies spend tons of money running focus groups to determine what we think about them...so I was sure a well written letter on my fancy stationary would receive an answer.

A couple of weeks later I did receive a reply directly from Ms. Redstone and it couldn't have been more cordial. I was told this matter would be reported to the local Regional Manager for action and he would contact me within a couple of weeks. Shari even invited me to write back to her to inform her of the resolution to this problem.

The regional manager had not contacted me as promised by Ms. Redstone and after waiting almost two months I wrote a follow-up letter to Ms. Redstone to thank her for her letter and concern and to inform her that I was never contacted by her regional manager.

In less then one week after my follow-up letter, the regional manager's secretary contacted me to let me know he was on the road and would call me soon. He contacted me a day or so later, apologized profusely and explained what course of action would be taken regarding the manager.

He offered me a number of free passes to the National Amusement theaters, which I refused. You see it wasn't about compensation, I explained, it was about letting people know that they are accountable for their actions. He insisted I accept the free passes and I did and a few days later received about 20 or so which we used over the next few months.

The manager was ordered to attend a course in "People Skills" and is a born again gentleman who now takes great steps to endear himself with his patrons. Each time we go to this theater, the manager gets up at the front of the audience with his megaphone to welcome and thank us for attending his theater. He even explains a bit about the making of the movies or runs trivia contests to keep us entertained until the movie begins.

I think my letter of complaint in this case has had a very positive effect on all of the customers that attend the movies shown in this Multiplex theater and a positive effect on the manager who is now a better person and one that does his job the way it should have been done.

Here are six key tips on writing an effective complaint:
  1. Purchase that expensive, engraved stationary, from any upscale company that watermarks the paper with their name.

  2. Do your research on the net and find out who the top person is at the company you want to write and address the letter to them.

  3. Keep the letter as short as you can, but do explain the facts, accurately to them in your letter.

  4. If you can, give them your recommended solution to the problem. In this case I clearly explained that this manager needed to improve his "People Skills". I did not ask them to fire him or demote him, just to send him for training.

  5. Don't get angry in the letter or you will lose their interest and they will simply think you are another nut case writing one of these letters.

  6. Be clear, accurate and professional...do not become emotional in your letter.

I have used my Tiffany Stationary now over the past 25 years about 2 dozen times and each time I have had amazing results. At the time I paid about $100 or so for a few hundreds sheets and matching envelopes, but that was 20 years ago or longer. I figured it cost me around $1-$3 or so for each letter I had to send, but I can assure you it was well worth it. Over the years I have received thousands of dollars in compensation and free gifts from companies and all of this was deserved, but would never have happened if I didn't take the time to write my letters on my engraved stationary.

Watch for more success stories, coming soon.



  1. Great info about getting complaint letters read! How would one get their hands on some of this Tiffany letterhead?

  2. Unfortunately, Tiffany no longer sells this custom stationary. Looking at their web site I only saw wedding announcements and similar offerings.

    I am certain doing a google search under engraved stationary would give you many options. Any find engraved stationary shouts out money and class on personal stationary and I am sure will do the same trick.

  3. Hi,

    Thank you for your wonderful blog. I found your site as I was looking for complaint letter samples. I have also found an excellent source of consumer complaints and actual complaint letter to companies.

    Mike P.


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