How To Write Effective Complaint Letters

How To Write Effective Complaint Letters
This entry is part 11 of 13 in the series How To

We’ve all had poor experiences with our travel.  Whether it be with the hotel or the airlines, something has probably happened to you where you feel like you got gipped on your vacation.  It can be as small as a flight attendant forgetting to bring you that blanket or as big as having your car broken into in the hotel parking lot of your hotel.

During a recent trip we were on, my cousin had his minivan broken into while staying in Bellevue hotel in Washington State.  The window was smashed after the geniuses tried to pry open the sliding door with a crowbar.  Criminal masterminds I’m sure.  This all happened while the car was parked in the hotel’s lot.  Most people may have written it off as bad luck and just accepted it but I took the opportunity to voice my displeasure, with excellent results.

What Happened

This stay was booked as an award stay for 3 nights at a mid-tiered hotel.  I am withholding the name of the hotel because they stepped up to the plate and provided better than expected compensation and this post isn’t about this exact situation, but rather, how you should structure your complaints if you have them.

The vehicle was broken into sometime between 10 PM and noon the following day.  The lot was supposedly monitored with patrols but not CCTV cameras.  There was no notification to the front desk staff that there was a break-in and there was no follow-up by the hotel after the incident was reported.

The Fallout

The break-in happened after our first day in Seattle/Bellevue and the rest of the vacation was spent dealing with getting a window repaired, filing a police report and waiting around.  There was definitely a feeling of unease after the incident so much of the vacation was wasted.  Insurance covered the damage to the vehicle and the repair, however, a $1,000 deductible was required to be paid.

The Letter

I don’t typically write complaint letters unless something egregious has happened but I do have a very good success rate in getting action for my issues.  Here is a copy of my letter with some information redacted to protect the hotel:

Good Afternoon,

I am writing to express my extreme disappointment with our recent stay at the [REDACTED].

On the morning of August 24th, we exited the hotel and made our way to the parking lot, only to discover that our vehicle had been broken into.  The previous night, we had left the vehicle at approximately 10:00PM and returned to the vehicle at noon on the 24th.  Sometime during that period, the passenger window was smashed and thieves ransacked the vehicle.  The damage to the vehicle was approximately $2,800 in addition to the $950 that was paid to fix the window.  The contents of the luggage in the vehicle also had a value of over $3,000 so all told, the amount of damage and stolen contents totals over $6,750.  And while insurance will pay for the damage and lost goods, I am still left to pay the $1,000 deductible.

Now, I can completely understand that the hotel cannot be held responsible for the actual break-in of the vehicle, however, I do expect that your private parking lot would have at least have some semblance of security.  When we brought the break-in to the attention of the front desk staff, they were kind enough to offer a vacuum to clean up the mess, but made no attempt to help in any other way.  The issue was not brought forward to a manager nor did anyone speak to us about the incident afterwards.  We found out later that the hotel did not have a single security camera overlooking the parking lot.  This lackadaisical attitude is not something that I have grown to expect from [REDACTED] and not something that I especially relish as a loyal customer.  The way that this incident was handled, or not handled, demonstrates a severe lack of service.  I actually have my doubts as to whether anyone other than the front desk agent knew that the incident even occurred.  Additionally, I would have expected that a hotel of [REDACTED] caliber would have invest in security for the hotel and its parking lot.  I find it unacceptable that placing a sign in the parking lot stating that the hotel is not responsible for damage or theft is a proper solution for the peace of mind of your customers.  I also find it hard to believe that this is the first time this kind of incident has befallen this hotel.

As a Platinum Member, I have grown to expect a certain level of service from [REDACTED] regardless of the hotel brand I stay at.  For the most part I have never been disappointed but during this stay, I was severely let down.  What makes matters worse is that we had children with us that were beyond frightened.

I am extremely upset about having to pay $1,000 for an incident that never should have occurred and so I am asking [REDACTED] to provide some compensation to help offset the cost.  In my estimation, the [REDACTED] is responsible for at least 80% of the costs incurred.  As you can imagine, we were unable to enjoy our stay in Seattle due to the incident as we were dealing with police reports, insurance claims and a severe feeling of unease as we were unsure whether or not we were in a safe area of town and whether the hotel had adequate security.  As such, I am requesting to be compensated $800 to help offset the cost of the insurance deductible and ask that the points I used for my stay are refunded.

I have attached photos of the incident for your review.

I look forward to your timely response.  Thank you.

Jayce Loh

The Result

I was contacted by the head office of the hotel within 24 hours of submitting my letter and was told that due to the nature of the claim that it was being sent to the hotel’s Claims Department.  I was contacted by the Claims Department within 24 hours with an offer.

The hotel agreed to reimburse the points I had used for the stay and $500 towards the deductible.  They expressed their sincere apologies and admitted that the way the incident was handled was not in line with their service standards.  Additionally, the hotel was kind enough to refund me the points I paid for the award stay.

It was also explained to me that the hotel is supposed to have patrols of the lot every hour to ensure that nothing is amiss, but did admit that they did not have security cameras to help offset the chance of a crime being committed in the parking lot.

Key Points

The way I structure my complaint letters is to first explain the situation and why I found it to be unacceptable.

In the second paragraph, I try to soften my stance by trying to be empathetic with the situation the hotel is in but ultimately reiterating my concerns regarding how the situation was handled.

If I am a status member of the hotel, I will most certainly let them know how much I use the hotel brand and how this incident does not meet my expectations as a member.  If you aren’t a member, that’s okay too.  Simply state that you chose the hotel or hotel brand based on their reputation and that you were disappointed with the service.

At the end of the letter, we move into what is the most important aspect of the letter – the request for compensation.  Now I want to be clear here.  This is not your opportunity to take advantage of the situation by being ridiculous in your request, but you should be firm and reasonable and lay out your expectations.  In this particular situation, I believed the hotel wasn’t be blamed for the act of the break-in but found their duty of care was lacking and assigned a percentage of responsibility at 80%.  As the deductible was $1,000, I asked for $800.

If I’m telling the truth, the $800 was a reasonable ask but certainly on the high side, so I was happy with their offer of $500.  I had fully expected to settle somewhere in the $400-$600 range.

The main point here is that you should have a defensible reason to make your demands and walk the fine line between asking for too much and asking for too little.  When you make your requests, you should anchor your position with a higher number so that when you are negotiating, you start at that number and move down.  If I had wanted $500 and requested $500, that’s where the negotiations would have started and I most likely would have ended up with $250-$300.

Ultimately, you are using your negotiating skills to get your desired outcome.

Conclusion

When you write a complaint letter, be sure to provide some good background information including why you felt let down.  You should establish an adequate solution to resolve your problem.  Try to understand the position of the hotel so that you make this a win-win situation but be firm in your request.  If you have had something happen during your stay, do not be afraid to demand satisfaction, but make sure you aren’t being obnoxious about it.  Remember, you’re dealing with people that hear complaints day in and day out.  Make your position clear and help them help you find

Make your position clear and help them help you find a resolution to your problem.

 

 

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