Business Letter Writing - Complaints

( Originally Published 1918 )

Showing Justification. Somewhere between the receipt of an order for goods and their delivery to the customer, something, sometimes, will go wrong. And this in spite of the most careful systems of inspection, packing and shipping. It is often difficult to put one's finger on the time and place where the system broke down, but first thing we know a customer has received the wrong goods, they came in damaged condition, they were short, were of inferior quality, or they did not come at all.

From the standpoint of the customer how shall this condition, whatever it be, be handled? How shall the complaint be worded in order that the mistake may be rectified promptly and completely?

Human beings are largely influenced by their state of mind. A sour, vindictive, caustic letter of complaint makes the recipient mad, through and through, and most often fails to bring either the desired result or to show the willingness to "make good." A letter of complaint may be so worded, when considered in its relations to known facts, that it raises a suspicion of bad faith or of magnifying trifles to make them a ground for an abatement of the price.

The first thing to be borne in mind in writing a letter of complaint is, therefore, to avoid any suspicion that the complaint is not perfectly well founded and justified. In other words, so frame the letter as to put the obligation on the shipper, in all fairness, to make a prompt and adequate adjustment.

Substantiating Claim. — Wherever possible, send with the letter or incorporate in it, some other evidence as to the facts other than your own statement. Of one of the characters in re-cent fiction it is stated that he had the reputation of making a claim for shortage before he un-packed the goods. It is just this thing that must be avoided—any suspicion that the claim is not perfectly well founded. When your good faith is established in the mind of the shipper, then you will find that business firms are only too ready and willing to do the right thing, for they know that in order to hold a customer's trade that customer must be kept satisfied—but don't impose on that knowledge.

The following specimen letters will illustrate the proper ways to state the facts as to complaints :

Wrong Goods Sent.--In the case of the wrong goods being sent, the letter should be worded substantially as follows:

The mattresses referred to in your invoice of the 24th were received this morning. Upon unpacking them we found that they were all single bed size instead of double bed size as we ordered, as you will note by reference to our order No. 576, bearing date of March 14.

The mattresses received bear the maker's number 843 and your Stock No. 67. They are in pink stripe ticking, whereas our order called for blue.

Our stock of single bed mattresses is too large to take these in, so we are holding them subject to your order.

Kindly rush shipment of proper goods as our customers, like ourselves, are in urgent need of them.

Notes.-(1) The tone of the letter is entirely free from harsh criticism, yet it states the facts clearly and concisely. It gives the manufacturer's as well as the shipper's stock number, so that by reference to the customer's order, it may be seen beyond question that a mistake was made.

(2) The letter disposes, in advance, of any suggestion on the part of the shipper that the customer might be induced to keep the mattresses, even at a price concession.

(3) Instead of making immediate reshipment, the letter states that the goods are held subject to instructions of the shipper. This shows consideration, as it may be they can be shipped to some nearby dealer at a saving in freight.

(4) The letter emphasizes the need of prompt receipt of the sized mattresses ordered and thus increases the obligation on the part of the shipper to rectify the error at once.

Receipt in Damaged Condition.—Complaints regarding damaged condition of goods should bear all of the earmarks of accurate, conservative statements of fact that show a real loss in value, and whether that the whole or partial, for it must be remembered that except where a considerable sum is involved or the distance is very short, the shipper must rely upon the facts as stated in the letter, and the more complete they are, the better for the writer. If there are any corroborative facts that can be given, they should be stated. In such a case, the letter should be somewhat along the following lines:

Two of the phonographs included in your shipment as invoiced to us under date of April 21, arrived in a badly damaged condition.

One of them showed a long, deep scratch from front to back on one side just below the top, as though a nail had projected through the crate and the phonograph had been shoved in, against it, leaving the gouge across the side.

The other had one of the front legs broken. The case containing this one was smashed at that corner indicating that it had been done in transit.

We noticed the smashed case when the express company made delivery and we had the driver wait until it was opened and all the others as well, in order that there might be no question as to whether the damage occurred after they were in our possession. We also had the driver sign an acknowledgment of such condition, which we hold, and enclose a copy herewith.

We cannot accept delivery of these two machines and await your early advises.

Notes—(1) The shipment is identified by the date of the invoice.

(2) The damage is briefly told together with the apparent causes.

(3) The signed statement of the express driver as to the condition of the cases at time of delivery as well as of the contents, establishes the facts as clearly as though a representative of the shipper had been present, and the copy enclosed is sufficient to establish the fact that such a state-ment had actually been signed.

(4) The responsibility for the damage is indicated, if not clearly fixed, by the letter and negatives any possible suggestion on the part of the shipper that it might have been occasioned by any carelessness on the part of the customer.

(5) The concluding paragraph leaves it open to the shipper either to order a return of the phonographs or to have them put in perfect condition so they will be accept-able to the customer.

Shortage in Goods. There is no class or kind of complaints scrutinized as closely as those involving a shortage of goods; there is nothing more frequently asserted by the unscrupulous and no case where the shipper is usually so completely at the mercy of the customer. Hence it behooves the honest customer with an honest claim to so make it that it "rings true." This will serve to bring about a prompt adjustment as well as to preserve the cordial relations that should exist between buyer and seller.

The complaint should in all cases be made as soon as the facts warranting it are discovered and not delayed until the bill is due and then set it up as a reason for deferring payment. To do this puts the badge of insincerity on the whole transaction and places the customer under a cloud which it will be difficult to remove.

In all cases of shortage of goods there should be set forth in the letter of complaint all of the facts in support of the claim.

Bad Order Cases.—Where the packing case shows evidence of having been tampered with at time of delivery, a notation of receipt in bad condition should be made on the carrier's receipt book and a memorandum to that effect taken, signed by the agent and such facts clearly stated in the letter, which should be substantially as follows:

We are this day in receipt of the goods covered by your invoice No. 978, dated May 15, and notify you that on checking them against your invoice we find a shortage of 6 boxes of Long Life Men's Hose, in sizes 10, 10% and 11, all in blacks.

Your shipping case, while yet in the freight house showed evidences of having been broken into. One of the top boards had evidently been hammered down and pushed to one side enough to allow the boxes to be removed and then replaced, but in doing so, the board had split and did not come back to its original position.

We called the attention of the freight agent to it and to the fact that there was an empty space just below the broken board where evidently the missing boxes had been. We made notation of receipt in bad order and took memo. to that effect from the freight agent, which we hold.

The exact amount of the shortage was deter-mined in our receiving department and in the presence of the writer, upon checking the goods against the invoice.

We want the goods and not a credit on the in-voice, so kindly replace them at once, making shipment either by parcel post or express. Kindly advise us by return mail as to the date and method of shipment.

Notes—(1) The shipment is identified by reference to the invoice by number and date, and the extent of the shortage is given in detail. This is always essential.

(2) The reference to the bad condition of the case while yet in the freight house and the bad order notation coupled with the agent's memo, clearly fixes the responsibility on the carrier, provided the shipper can show good condition when delivered to the railroad. In any event the customer's skirts are clean.

(3) The statement that the checking of the goods against the invoice, to discover the exact amount of the shortage, was in the presence of the writer of the letter, makes the customer's case all the stronger and removes all reason-able doubt as to the accuracy of the claim.

(4) The customer states that he wants the goods and not a credit, and states how the shipment should be made in order to save time in their arrival. It is a reasonable re-quest. If he could have gotten along without the goods, he would have stated that he would deduct their cost from his remittance.

Good Order Cases.—Frequently packing cases have been opened while in transit, goods removed and then the case has been most carefully closed so that no trace of pilfering remains. But in most of such instances, the same as in bad order cases, there is some derangement of the goods, or an empty space which no good packer would leave, which bears mute evidence of what happened.

All these facts should be most carefully noted, as they have a very important bearing on the claim for shortage, and set forth in the letter, along the following lines:

There was nothing in the appearance of the shipping case to indicate it had been opened, yet we found there was an empty space just large enough to hold the six missing boxes, by reason of which all the other boxes in the top row had slid around and some were badly smashed at the corners, but the merchandise appears to have been unharmed.

We cannot believe that the case left your factory in such a condition, and we have made careful notation of the facts and had it signed by three of our employees who were present when the case was opened and the goods checked. The goods were evidently removed after the shipment left your hands.

Thus far we have dealt with shortages from loss in transit. But even the most careful shipping department will once in a while leave out part of an order, and it is where the blame must be charged back against the shipper that the utmost care should be taken in verifying the shortage, and all of the facts set forth in the letter of complaint, which might be as follows :

The goods covered by your invoice No. 564 of April 22, arrived this day, and on checking them against the invoice we find that you omitted to include the dozen assortment of Sun Bright Flash Lights.

The checking was done by two of our men in our receiving department and rechecked by our department buyer, Mr. Thompson, who was promptly notified of the shortage, as is our rule in such cases.

The shipment came in good order and the contents were closely and carefully packed, indicating to our minds that the assortment was omitted at your end.

Kindly look into this and see that another assortment is forwarded promptly as we are low on these goods.

Notes—(1) The letter shows that the checking was thorough and when the shortage was discovered, it was verified by the buyer who was immediately notified.

(2) The reference to the case being in good order and the goods closely and carefully packed was made in order to make it all the more certain that the omission occurred in the shipper's packing department.

(3) The request that the shortage be looked into gives opportunity to the shipper to check his stock on hand against inventory and ascertain, within his own organization that the claim was well founded. It is such a letter as would inspire confidence in the shipper that the facts were as stated.

Inferior Quality.—Where goods are of an inferior quality or not up to sample, the buyer may either reject the goods and either return them or notify the shipper that he holds them subject to his shipping instructions, or state that they will be retained provided an allowance be made to compensate for the difference in value.

In all such cases the shipper should be given an opportunity to see the goods or, if they are small, one or more of them should be returned to bear out the assertion of lack of quality. This is urged, as this ground of complaint is one that is also much abused by those who consider it good business to avail themselves of every pre-text to beat down the price of merchandise. Every manufacturer and jobber acknowledges that once in a while inferior goods will slip through in spite of the most careful inspection, and when they do, the customer unfortunate enough to get them, is most certainly entitled to either have them replaced with perfect goods or to have an allowance made to compensate for the difference in value. But when such complaints come too frequently and the same customers make them, then the presumption of good faith in their making soon approaches the vanishing point. Avoid giving the impression of seizing upon every minute, unimportant defect or imperfection as a ground of price reduction and business relations between buyer and seller will be friendly, yet cordial, as they should be.

The following would be a typical letter dealing with goods of inferior quality.

The shipment of rubber balls covered by your invoice No. 423 of May 16, has just been received. Upon unpacking them we find that more than half of them are so imperfect that we cannot sell them as "firsts." There are ridges where the halves are moulded together and on others there are gashes that go nearly through. The samples from which we bought were perfect goods and we feel that the shipment should correspond.

We are sending you under separate cover a box of a dozen, taken at random from the lot, so that you may see their condition.

We have built our business on quality merchandise and accordingly would not care to sell these even as "seconds" so we have sorted out the imperfect ones and they aggregate dozen, including those we are sending you.

If you can replace these with perfect goods, do so, otherwise give us a credit memo. and instruct us as to what disposition we shall make of them.

Notes—(1) The first paragraph clearly states in what respect the goods are imperfect and that they do not correspond to the salesman's samples.

(2) The goods being small both in size and weight, a dozen are returned to the shipper for his inspection. This relieves the customer of any suspicion that the complaint is not well founded. If the goods had been bulky or heavy, the letter should have stated that the customer held them subject to inspection by any representative of the shipper.

(3) Some business houses do not handle "seconds" and consequently no price concession would be satisfactory. If the customer could have used them as "seconds" the letter would have so stated and the price at which they would be retained.

(4) The exact quantity of the imperfect goods is given, so that the shipper can either replace with perfect goods or make the necessary allowance.

(5) In the last paragraph the shipper is asked to give shipping instructions as to the rejected goods, instead of being bluntly notified that they are being returned. This is the considerate thing to do, as the shipper is then in a position to order shipment to some other customer who can handle them, or have them returned.

(6) A letter of this type insures prompt and satisfactory attention and adjustment, as the complaint on its face gives every evidence of entire good faith on the part of the customer.

Goods Not Arrived.—Of late years the non-arrival Of goods has been a fruitful source of complaint. The railroads have been congested, and that has affected freight, express as well as parcel post shipments. Even in normal times shipments are sometimes too prone to go astray, to the very great inconvenience of both shipper and consignee.

When more than the usual time for arrival has elapsed and the goods have not come to hand, and the customer is advised as to the way they were shipped, inquiry should be made of the local agent of the carrier, and a memo. of such non-arrival secured if possible and enclosed with the letter of complaint. If such memo. cannot be had, the letter should state the fact of the inquiry and the reply.

The letter should be very brief and to the point.

We are not yet in receipt of the goods represented by your invoice No. 654 of April 25, although goods shipped since that date have come to hand.

We are advised by the local freight agent that no such shipment for us has been received, and enclose his memo. to that effect.

Kindly have shipment traced, and if they can-not locate the goods, we must ask that you make duplicate shipment.

Notes If the local agent of the carrier will not give a written statement of no such shipment having been received, the letter should say that "upon inquiry at the local freight office we are advised that no such shipment has been received."

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