- By Art Gib
- Published 07/21/2010
Many have heard the oft-cited cliche of “the power of the pen.” Like other cliches, it is so commonly used because of the inherent truth in it. The written word does have power, arguably more than any other form of communication. It is solid in form for impact and it endures in a way verbal communication never can or will. If you have a message to share that is important to be taken seriously or to evoke action, there is no method more effective than a powerfully written letter. A well-crafted letter is an art as well as a skill. It is more than just slapping words on a page to communicate effectively. A letter that is a blast of anger or emotion with idle threats will never be taken seriously. At best, it ends up in the trash. At worst, the police are called. Neither will result in the action that is desired, one that will solve the problem. An effective letter must be grounded with rational thought, be well-organized, and contain researched, reality-based consequences to the receiver should action not be taken. Let’s look at an example of an ineffective letter complaining to an auto service company that has failed to fix a car problem: “I brought my car to you THREE TIMES to get it fixed and it STILL is running like crap. You incompetent fools OBVIOUSLY don’t know what your doing and I’ve HAD IT!!! I’m calling my lawyer to SUE YOU for everything you’ve got!!”
This letter will likely go instantly into the trash. Hysterical word capitalizations, insults, and mis-spellings (your vs you’re) do not communicate a worthy, educated adversary to be taken seriously. It does not state the problem clearly or state how the company can remedy the situation to the owner’s satisfaction. Threats of lawyers and lawsuits are rarely acted upon due to the expense of time and money and companie
s know this. Compare to a letter that is effectively written: “After three unsuccessful attempts to repair the electrical problem on my car, it has become apparent that this issue is something your company does not have the capability to handle, in spite of the guarantees I was given that you could. After having given you adequate time and opportunities to honor your guarantee, I now request a full refund of the payments I have made for service that was not adequately performed. You may credit the amount in full to my credit card used for the payment of service. If I do not see a refund in full within ten days, I will file complaints to the Better Business Bureau and the state Attorney General’s Consumer Fraud Division. I will also notify the local TV affiliate KXYZ consumer action reporter that could result in negative word-of mouth for your business.” Note in this letter that the problem has been stated clearly and unemotionally. It states the action that the customer desires within a specific period of time, along with clear justification for the request. There is also a statement of legitimate, credible actions the customer will take that will create hardship for the business if it doesn’t comply. It is apparent that the customer has done the research to know what actions are available and that can be done easily and without cost, therefore the company would be wise to take it seriously.
A single well-written, well-researched letter to a highly-placed company authority who has the ability to make decisions does get attention and it does get action. If your complaints to a company by phone or email have not resulted in your satisfaction or are simply being ignored, don’t waste anymore time doing the same thing to no effect. Write a good letter to the president of the company, or have someone else who knows how to write an excellent, effective complaint letter do it for you to get the satisfaction you deserve.
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by Art Gib