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Complaining is easy, answering is hard: some discussion and reading about adjustment letters

by Steve Krause on October 5th, 2014

I just posted about the groups and process for beginning the peer review of the complaint/adjustment letter assignment– remember, your complaint letters are due by the end of the day on Monday, October 6! Post links to those in the comments on your group’s page.

But remember, this assignment has two parts, and complaining is the easy part. There’s also the answer, also known as the adjustment letter. Read on!

 

As I explain in the assignment, you need to write two adjustment letters to respond to the complaint from one of your group members: one that more or less agrees with the complaint and answers the complainer “yes,” and one that doesn’t and more or less answers the complainer “no.”  Essentially, you are taking on the role here of the company/person/whatever that your classmate was complaining to in the first place.  Instead of being a complainer who has been wronged by some company, you are writing as a representative of that company and trying to resolve the problem as best you can.

Here are some readings/advice to get you started– and again, as has been the term all semester, please share some links to similar bits of advice you may have found:

So like before, what do you see as the patterns here? What is generalizable about the advice on writing adjustment letters?

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40 Comments
  1. Ashleigh Swinehart permalink

    After reading through two of the above links and scanning through the flow chart on the third, the pattern is well-defined and laid out. The adjustment letters all start out the same (sort of) with sympathy for customer dissatisfaction, but then whether or not one chooses to agree to the adjustment or decline takes the flow of the remaining material included in the letter down separate paths. The declining path leads the writer to suggest (if a third party is involved) to the concerned customer to take up issue with the other party involved in the matter. However, if the company is going to take the road to fix the problem the customer brought to their attention, then the writer starts explaining their faults, apologizing, and closing the reply with a resolution the customer might like. To generalize: the company that is responding with take sympathy on the customer and either a) go forward with a solution to the problem or b) decline to fixing the problem, but offers up alternative routes for the customer to venture down.

    • Nijea Wilson permalink

      I liked the information on the last two articles and especially the flow chart. I will definitely be using that when writing my letters.

  2. Natasha Wickenheiser permalink

    I found all three readings very helpful. One thing in the Colorado State article I found really helpful was the idea to create an outline, and then turn each outline point into a full sentence. Our third reading reiterated this idea with its visual illustration of the general outline/format for an adjustment letter.

    Something else in the Colorado State article that stood out to me was the following sentence: “Explanations for why the situation occurred are of less importance than the solution.” It is clear that the focus of adjustment letters must remain on finding a solution and maintaining a positive relationship with the person who filed the original complaint. This concept is referred to in the other readings as well, since they talk about staying reader-focused. Additionally, the second article stressed the importance of staying positive and never ending an adjustment letter with a reference to the original complaint. This helps ensure that the last message our reader receives is a positive one, which should theoretically help improve the tense relationship we have with our client.

    Finally, I found this other link that discusses a few new things that are not presented in our three readings. https://www.prismnet.com/~hcexres/textbook/complnt.html#adjustment

    I like that this article stresses the importance of sending a physical letter, rather than an adjustment email. Personally, I appreciate when I receive letters and/or cards from others. It shows that the sender has taken the time to write, rather than rushing through an email. I also like that the website says, ” If you grant the request, don’t sound as if you are doing so in a begrudging way.” Our language choice is going to be really important in this assignment. We want to make sure it sounds like we’re making our decision with our client’s satisfaction in mind, not our own personal sacrifices.

    • Steve Krause permalink

      Thanks for sharing that other reading, Natasha. We’re going to look at some other sections from his online textbook this term, too.

      One of the tricker things to remember about this assignment too is you have to write two different letters, one that more or less says “yes” and gives the complainer what she/he wants, and one that more or less says “no.” And as I think we all know, saying no can be hard sometimes.

    • Nijea Wilson permalink

      Thanks for the link. I like the idea of having a formal letter instead of an email. Receiving an email back to a complaint letter I may write isn’t as professional to me and I would take it as them not thinking that my concern was as important as I feel it is.

  3. Jessica Kane permalink

    I liked the exercise at the end of the “How To Reply To Complaints” link. It was very helpful in driving the points home. I also like the flowchart form.
    The advice in these links reminds me of the customer service acronym LEARN – listen, empathize, apologize, react, and notify – but the listen part is exchanged with reading. I have used some variation of this in my previous profession as a bartender. It will be more difficult to verbally express my sincerity without the benefit of facial expressions (there’s that useful rhetoric again…).
    I understand that content is more important than format but think that the “feel good sandwich” (where you begin and end with something positive) the writers are endorsing is the format I will use. It makes sense that you would want to validate their concern right at the beginning of the letter. When I have a problem with a product or service, I tend to feel better just having someone acknowledge my dissatisfaction. After all, if the person is taking the time to write, the problem must have been upsetting enough to seem worth it to the consumer to seek a solution, or at the very least, validation.

    • Natasha Wickenheiser permalink

      I had never heard of the LEARN acronym, but I agree that it is applicable to this activity.

      I also agree about the positive-negative-positive approach to addressing concerns is extremely effective. To add onto that, I think this could be expanded to include the use of “I statements,” which is when a person says things like, “I felt this way when ___ happened,” as opposed to, “You did this and it made me angry.” Nobody likes to feel like they are being attacked. To put it in perspective for the reader of our complaint letters, he or she will be less likely to be accommodating if they feel as if the complaint letter is attacking in any way.

    • Nijea Wilson permalink

      I absolutely agree that if I get on the phone with someone to talk about an issue, I will instantly be in a better mood if they acknowledge my frustration and problems instead of being rude and giving me a hard time. I’ve heard of the LEARN model before and I think its a good system to follow.

  4. Kourtney Lovett permalink

    For The Writing Studio link, I was able to get to the website but I was confused about which specific link I should click on the website. Therefore, I didn’t really obtain information from that link.

    However, I was able to view the second and third links. I found the information on about.com to be quite helpful. Being that I have never written an adjustment letter before, it taught me a lot of information that I did not know. I was aware of the idea that you are supposed to respond to your customer in a polite manner but I did not know what the actual lay out of the letter would look like. I really like when the author stated, “Whether or not your company is at fault, even the most belligerent claim should be answered politely” because some companies forget that it is imperative that they treat their customers well if they wish to stay in business.

    The flowchart, in my opinion, closely resembled the lay out that was given on about.com. However, I wouldn’t necessarily say that it includes a buffer at the beginning. It seems as though the flowchart kind of jumps right into the issue without first making the customer feel appreciated.

    • Brian Gardner permalink

      I also couldn’t find where we were supposed to go with the first link. None of the items on the navigation list struck me as relevant or important.

      The second link about adjustment letters on about.com. Even if some of it seems simple, the important thing is that it gives us an idea of how to start an adjustment letter. The flowchart too seems useful, giving us a good guideline for our works.

      It seems to me, the most important thing about responding (especially in rejection) is to make sure not to say anything that may be seen as offensive, which seems obvious but can be difficult when you approach different audiences.

      • Steve Krause permalink

        Brian, as I wrote in the text right under that first link: “This link hasn’t been working right for some reason, so if clicking on that link doesn’t work, try going directly to this link: http://writing.colostate.edu/guides/page.cfm?pageid=1462 There’s lots of other bits of great advice at this site about writing in business, engineering, etc.”

        So give that a try.

  5. LeeAnne Baumdraher permalink

    Oh man! That flow chart is amazing! It will be my right hand man for the assignment.

    “Remember, your company’s image and goodwill are at stake when you respond even to unjustified claims.” Tricky, but doable.

    Once, I made a complaint at a restaurant about the taste of a meal (really, it was just inedible), and the first words out of the manager’s mouth were, “If it wasn’t good, why did you eat it?”

    One: No, don’t start like that. You have immediately made me not like you.

    Two: I was just looking for a replacement, and now you’re looking for a fight.

    Three: I ate one bite, deliberately waiting for the manager before letting the server take the plate, but she took it when I was in the restroom :/

    • Carly permalink

      I’m honestly shocked that person even became a manager! “The customer is always right” policy was enacted for a good reason! No matter how bad of a night that manager was having, nothing calls for being that disrespectful. I hope you left some distasteful (pun?) reviews!

    • Nijea Wilson permalink

      Oh my goodness, I would’ve been so upset if that was the response I got from a manager. I’ve been a manager at retail stores and their absolutely no way I would’ve responded in that way. He definitely doesn’t have the attitude nor appropriate skills to be a manager of a facility.

    • Leah permalink

      Ditto,

      I had the same exact encounter, but with Friday’s.

      I don’t know what’s the deal with people having a attitude with you and YOUR the customer that’s not satisfied?

      Great example of POUR CUSTOMER SERVICE.

    • Brian Gardner permalink

      Definitely going to hold a tab open for the flowchart when I begin on the letters. It’ll reduce the anxiety of taking on a completely new writing project.

      Weird situation with the restaurant manager, though.

  6. Melanie Waller permalink

    After reading these articles, I remembered some things about writing that I learned in high school. Introduction which identifies the problem, the body which is the nature of the complaint and all the information is located and the conclusion which gives the end result or solution.
    Plus relying on facts. Sometimes we tend to stretch the truth a little and get a little long winded when writing about a problem. Some seem to think that the reader needed to know every little detail and word that was spoken. This can be condensed and still make the point. I hope my letter comes close to this

  7. Justin Trudell permalink

    I really liked the About.com article. They had some really good tips in there to remember about writing an adjustment letter. Most notably to be firm about the decision made. I think this is a trap people fall into when it becomes an issue with trying to be warm to people and respect their feelings. I believe with a letter it becomes easier than a phone conversation or face to face interaction to stay firm with the denial of a request, but it’s important to be clear the decision is final. Otherwise, the issue is not really resolved.

    On occasion I personally find it annoying to get a response that is obviously trying to be respectful to my feelings instead of being real. I get bothered when I call a helpline for cable or internet problems and there is constant babble about my wants and needs. Perhaps this is just because I am so used to it, but it doesn’t really make me feel better when I hear it.

    Also, are the edits and rewrites for BOTH the complaint and adjustment letter due on Friday or just the complaint? I may have overlooked the due dates but just so I am clear on when to finish editing everything.

    • Steve Krause permalink

      I think that’s a good point. Certainly it’s not good for companies to be rude or inconsiderate. At the same time, I get kind of irritated when they overdo it. I mean, I don’t need to be reminded by Comcast every two minutes how much they value me as a customer while I’m on hold for 20 minutes.

      • Chelsea Idzior permalink

        I agree with you both here. It is so obvious when the company is just saying sorry because they have to. When I called Comcast last week, the first thing I said was “We have a big problem,” and the representative replied, “We are so so sorry about that and hope that we can do everything we can to fix it.” I hadn’t even told her the problem yet, so the rehearsed response kind of irritated me.

        • LeeAnne Baumdraher permalink

          I agree that the rehearsed response can be frustrating, but may I ask why you started with, “we have a big problem?” That immediately puts the rep on edge. I know. I’ve been there.

          It’s like the guidelines for writing a complaint: start positive and lead in to the issue.

          • Jessica Kane permalink

            I think this can also depend on the tone of voice. If a letter/email started out in this way, I could see how it could be seen as combative, so I do see your point.

      • Brian Gardner permalink

        This is something I worry about in “Public Relations” type assignments. I know that when I get an email or something like that, I’m aware they just say nice things to keep company reputation up, so I’d rather them get to the point immediately.

        On the other hand, when I’m writing for a broad audience, some have a preference for flowery language, I suppose. Seems like balancing on a tightrope sometimes.

    • Natasha Wickenheiser permalink

      I agree that it is probably easier to be assertive with a “no” via a letter, rather than face-to-face or phone conversations. Personally, I struggle with telling people no because I do not want to hurt their feelings. It is important, however, to be able to tell people no… so I’m hoping to develop that skill through my adjustment letters.

      • Jessica Kane permalink

        I recently wrote a client to tell them I could no longer accept any offers of employment. It was actually much harder than I thought it would be! Finding the right words to say “no” and not ruin my company name while at the same time thanking them for their past business was extremely difficult (and time consuming). I found the opposite to be true for me; It is easier to say no face to face, but I’ve also had a lot of practice.
        I’m also hoping to develop the written skills to say “no” effectively with this assignment. If the time comes (which I’m sure it will) where I’ll have to say no to a coworker or boss, I am sure this will be useful. In a way, you are working for both the company and the consumer so presenting equal respect seems like the proper thing to do.

    • Jessica Kane permalink

      “… It’s important to be clear the decision is final.”

      Thanks for this – I will definitely keep this in mind when writing my “no” adjustment email.

  8. Kristen Smith permalink

    Of the three readings, I found the flow chart especially helpful and interesting. I liked the fact that it was broken down to show both the acceptance of fault and how to compensate the customer while it still showed the other side of the spectrum of how to reject a complaint letter. As someone who has never written a complaint letter that was to be sent to a company, I’ve obviously never received a response letter and therefore don’t have a real world example to use for my own response letter. I enjoyed that this page gave sample sentence starters. Out of the three pieces for reading, it seems that all of them give the same basic structure for writing a response letter. As I write my own response letters, I will keep the idea in mind that whether you’re writing an acceptance of the complaint or a rejection, the goal is always to keep the customer and ensure they feel your sympathies lie with them.

  9. Sabrina Gissendaner permalink

    I, too, have found these articles to be very helpful. Specifically, I found the article on About.com to be most helpful. Responding to a complain sounds like a daunting task itself, but saying “no” to a customer complaint is something I’m a little more concerned about accomplishing. This article put the process plainly and concisely. I like how it says to state the customer’s problem so that they know you understand what they are struggling with. If it were me receiving a “no” to my customer complaint, I would at least feel like the person responding is making an effort to read and understand my issue and how I’m feeling. Of course, compassion and understanding are both concerns when addressing someone either way, so I like that this article says that either position you’re taking needs to be taken with such poise.

    • Chelsea Idzior permalink

      I was also glad for this article. I know that the letter in which we say “no” to a customer will be the most difficult, so having something to use as a guideline will be great. I think the conciseness of this article is one of its biggest strengths because it gets right to the point and tells you what needs to be done. That was my only complaint about the “How to Reply to Complaints” flowchart. It was very thorough and detailed, but almost too thorough–there was a ridiculous amount of content.

  10. Chelsea Idzior permalink

    The article on About.com will definitely be helpful for writing the “no” letters. I know that those are going to be a bit of a challenge so I am glad to have this as a guideline of sorts. The “How to Reply to Complaints” flow chart is very detailed and I love that it gives plenty of examples. It gives you some phrases to use as a jumping point for each part of your response letter. The main point I see here with writing adjustment letters is to be polite, always make sure to acknowledge that you are sympathetic to the issue at hand, and reassure your customer (regardless of your decision) that you have their best interests in mind.

    • Natasha Wickenheiser permalink

      I agree with everything you said, Chelsea. The flowchart was extremely helpful. Because I’m a visual learner, flow charts and other info-graphics tend to help me understand material more easily.

      I also think it is important that you note the real key to writing adjustment letters: being polite and reassuring that you have the reader’s best interest in mind. Granted, this can sometimes be difficult for readers to accept, but it should be easier if the adjustment letter is written firmly.

  11. Carly permalink

    I’ve spoken to a number of customer service people who could benefit from some websites like these. I suppose when I’m dissatisfied with a response from now on, I may just be emailing these links out (I kid, I kid).

    But I really enjoyed the About Education article. Mention of the buffer was nice, I didn’t know there was a name for that. As the adjustment is a lot harder to write, having these specific guidelines is a lot of help. I particularly like the flow chart. Will be following that as closely as possible!

    • LeeAnne Baumdraher permalink

      I haven’t written a complaint response in three years, and I’m writing yours. I hope I don’t disappoint. Just so you know, if it was completely up to me, I’d give you 15 free dresses!!

  12. Nijea Wilson permalink

    About.com and How to reply to complaints were really good articles. The only complaints I have made were face to face or over the phone and my issues were usually always taken care of so I’ve never had to actually write a complaint to a company. The advice on these articles were definitely helpful especially the flow chart. I was kind of confused on how to write an an adjustment letter saying no to someones complaint but the articles definitely gave me some insight on how to say no in a nice way and how to flip it to a positive.

    • Steve Krause permalink

      That’s kind of a good point too, Nijea. Part of the nature of complaining and answering complaints is if it is something that can be done right on the spot, that usually doesn’t merit a letter. So one of the things to look for in a good complaint letter is something that actually does merit a letter, if that makes sense.

  13. Leah permalink

    About.com Website:

    I enjoyed and also gained the most information here because this website was the first link that I clicked on, and also because this website interest me the most. I loved how the writer pointed out the “You Attitude”. The You Attitude is very significant when you are trying to convey a company about the terrible service that YOU have or had encountered, when writing a complaint letter.

    The “How Not to Write a Letter of Complaint” was hilarious to me. I don’t know if anyone else finds this funny, but “Whew” my stomach hurts from laughing so hard, after reading. This lady was obviously upset and on top of her being upset she thought that being sarcastic would further help her. Not professional at all, but if I was the manager I would politely handle her situation, quickly.

    The “How to Reply to Complaint” link will be very helped for this assignment and also for future references.

    Very useful links Professor Krause.

    • Jessica Kane permalink

      I am going to speculate a little here and say that many complaint letters we will receive in our professional life are going to be fairly emotionally charged and accusatory. Learning to professionally answer good complaint letters will prepare me for dealing with bad ones.

  14. Melanie Waller permalink

    I liked the one that gave an outline to follow. It helped a lot and helps the letter flow so smoothly. By writing both letters it help to figure out how to be more aware of customers needs and handle them. Yet sometimes there are no easy answers and the right answer must come from another department. It makes me better understand when I call a company and they transfer you to someone else who deals with issues. But it still frustrates me when you still get a rude worker on the other end of the line

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