I first learned the power of a letter in seventh grade, when I wrote the eighth grade science teacher about what I viewed as mistreatment of the school rat. I regret the arrogance of the letter now, though it was probably in keeping with pre-teen passions and views. Still, the letter brought the changes I wanted. Since then, I have written letters that have accomplished a wide variety of tasks, including helping me get loans, bank accounts, and jobs; dispute credit issues; and resolve other problems.
No personal communication equals the effect of a good letter. Taking the time to write a good letter shows commitment to your position. It’s much harder to ignore than a phone call. And in some cases, it’s legally required for a dispute. If you have a problem with a company that you need to resolve, begin with a letter.
When you write your letter, follow these pointers for maximum effect.
No matter how wronged you feel or how angry you are, write your letter with the utmost courtesy and respect. Do this for three reasons.
First, the person receiving your letter probably didn’t cause your problem personally. Even if you are writing a CEO to protest a company policy that the CEO may have been responsible for, that letter will probably be read first by someone else.
Second, you will get a better response. When people are abused or insulted, they become defensive and adversarial. If you want cooperation to solve a problem, you need to avoid that. Finally, every person, no matter what he has done, deserves to be treated well (more on that another time).
Assume the Best
Figure that the problem you want resolved is an aberration. Even if it is not–perhaps you are writing about a repeated problem with bad service–you can assume that the person in charge will want to improve things. People frequently live up or down to expectations. When you act like the people are going to do the right thing, they tend to do it.
Be Clear About What You Want
Don’t just say you want the problem resolved–state how. Do you want a credit to your account, a replaced product, a gift certificate for a free meal? Even if you don’t want something tangible, you still want some sort of resolution, so spell it out. In a recent letter, all I wanted was for an organization to consider a policy change. They may not do so, and I may not be in a situation again to find out. But I still stated what I wanted.
In an initial letter, don’t threaten any action or consequences (other than announcing your regrets if you end up having to stop patronizing the business). If another letter is required, however, politely indicate what action you are prepared to take. That might include contacting the Better Business Bureau or a government agency or an attorney. Don’t say you will take any action unless you are prepared to follow through. Give a time limit, and if the problem isn’t resolved, do what you said.
Let Someone Else Review It
Unless you are absolutely confident of your grammar, punctuation, and spelling, have someone else take a look at your letter. Reviewers can also check that you’ve followed the other tips listed here.
Get Help If Needed
Writing an effective letter can be challenging if it is new to you. You can find books at your library with sample letters. You can also find samples online, including some government consumer websites. For an especially effective letter, you can hire someone, like The Word & Web Smith, to write it for you.