complaint letters

How to get off a speeding ticket in NZ: Write a completely honest complaint letter

Ahh. New Zealand. Home of the long white cloud, Fergburger, and other holiday memories…

Also, home to this ingenious bloke who wrote a letter that humourously told the department of issuing stupid fines that their infringement notice was riddled with factual errors. Letters of note has the exchange.

Firstly, the ‘date of offence’ is listed as the 23rd of June 1974 with the time being at or around half past six in the evening. This is of grave concern to me because I was not issued a drivers license until sometime in 1990 and I have no desire to be charged with driving while not legally licensed. I do not have a clear recollection of very much at all before I was three and a half years old, so I rang Mum to see if she remembered what I was doing that day. She said that – coincidentally – I was born that day!!

He goes on (and you should read the whole thing).

“This is where it starts to get really strange. The car that I must have crawled into had the same license plate number as the one I have now – AEH924 (according to the infringment notice). However, my car is a dark gray Nissan Bluebird SSS, with dual cup holders, 1800cc’s of grunt, air-conditioning and electric windows.

You will notice that a time-travel option is not included on this model, so that rules out any ‘Back to the Future’ issues and the car I was driving back then could not have been the the one I drive today.

This is clarifed by the infringement notice which states that the vehicle was a Honda saloon. How this relates to my Nissan Bluebird, I cannot fathom. I can only hypothesise that, back in 1974, the first range of proto-type Hondas had an automated number plate changing mechanism (like on the A-Team) which were used to avoid parking tickets and facilitate safer getaways from burglaries, armed hold-ups and the like.”

In which I write a complaint letter to Pascall for the unfortunate pink/white ratio in a 500gm bag of marshmallows

To whom it may concern,

I love Pascall’s Marshmallows. Seriously. Our two person household probably powers through a 250gm bag of those bad boys a week. They’re almost fat free. They’re delicious. And they’re magical. I love the easy tear corners on the bags. Somebody over your way has obviously put a lot of thought into the optimal packet design.

When I say I’m your biggest fan it’s probably a little bit exaggerated. I don’t live in a house made from, or even decked out with, your product. But I consider myself at least in your top #7, and I would challenge anybody who suggests otherwise.

They are great in hot chocolate, they’re great by the handful, and they’re amazing just slightly toasted and consumed while hot (but not on fire). I can’t get enough of them. Pink or white. To me. It doesn’t matter. I’ll take either…

Which brings me, somewhat dramatically, to my point. Earlier this week I purchased a 500gm bag of your delicious marshmallows. I don’t think I’d ever noticed 500gm bags before, my local supermarket must have just expanded their range, which again shows you’re doing something right. Incidentally, how do you actually make marshmallows? I read on the Internet that marshmallows, in their original form, were some sort of sweet plant growth and what we buy and eat by the handful are artificial replicas of these original products. Amazing. Is that true?

I purchased a mixed bag. 500gm. Pink and white. Now, you would expect in a bag with only two flavour options, statistically speaking, to find roughly a 50/50 split of pink to white. I would think. Is this the case? Or are you aware that one particular flavour is more popular than another. That would be the kind of market research and knowledge I would expect from a subsidiary of the Cadbury company. So nothing would surprise me more than to learn you hand pack these bags, or at least use trained animals. I’ve seen Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I know about the squirrels. I bet that put a downer on things for you guys when Hollywood blew the lid on the confectionary industry’s biggest secret. Trained squirrels. Brilliant. You’d think an Australian animal would suffice, but I’ve heard koalas are suckers for marshmallows and kangaroos are rowdy and hard to pin down.

So in my mixed bag, thus far (I probably have 150gm to go), I’d say I’ve had a 90/10 ratio of pink to white marshmallows. I assume this isn’t normal. It’s like the old conundrum about picking out two different coloured socks from a drawer. If you’ve got ten socks that are red, and ten that are blue, after three socks you will definitely have a pair, and after ten socks you’ll definitely have one of each sock (you may have ten red, and one blue, or vice versa – but in this case the next nine socks will all be the same colour). Eventually. Over time. The two colours will become evenly represented in your outside-of-drawer collection. Imagine my surprise when this didn’t happen. I wasn’t expecting socks from my marshmallow bag. I’m not an idiot. No. I was expecting to eventually see a normalising of the ratio of pink:white. But it didn’t happen. That’s a statistical anomaly that I think we’ll all agree you should be made aware of immediately. Hence my writing to you.

Now, I’m not just being a good citizen of the world who passes on feedback to companies simply for their edification. I have a bone to pick. Metaphorically, if I’d found a bone in my marshmallows this would be a very different letter, and would probably involve the police. No. My metaphorical bone is this. My wife does not like pink marshmallows. If marshmallows were people she’d be a racist. She’s not a racist, because they’re not… but she doesn’t like the taste. Which means I’ve eaten lots of pink marshmallows from this packet and she hasn’t eaten many at all.

So, from one marshmallow fan to another, or more correctly, from a marshmallow fan to the creators of delicious marshmallows, I would ask you to lift your game a little bit, or, at the very least, fire the squirrels. They carry all sorts of lice and disease anyway. It might be time to move on.

Yours in confectionary,

Nathan Campbell

Bringing back Pluto

A bunch of kids in third grade took exception to the decision to withdraw Pluto’s planetary status. So they did what people taking exception have done for generations. They wrote complaint letters. To the astronomer responsible. The curator of the New York planetarium.

There are more here.

Including this rather conciliatory missive.

How I write complaint letters

You may, if you’re a regular reader, be wondering what became of my complaints to Cadbury and Jetstar.

Well.

Cadbury sent me a voucher for $5 to spend on Turkish Delight and Jetstar sent me $100 to spend on my next flight.

This complaint letter thing is fun and rewarding.

Here are my six tips for writing a complaint letter that gets read…

  1. Establish a connection with the company – tell them that you’re familiar with the product you’re complaining about. Being a regular customer who is sold on the brand will give you credibility with the reader – and make them want to help you out.
  2. Find the right person to contact – for the Cadbury one I phoned Cadbury rather than using an anonymous web form, for the Jetstar one I emailed it directly to the Customer Service manager as well as posting it. The more senior the person you address the letter to the better.
  3. Give good details – tell the reader exactly what your experience was from start to finish. Set the scene. Help them to pinpoint the nature of your complaint.
  4. Use the right tone – be polite – don’t complain about rudeness by being rude. Try using humour – it’ll make your letter different to the hundreds of other letters they receive. Be memorable.
  5. Have a call to action – give the company some recourse – let them know what you expect in return for your letter. Do you want a reply detailing what went wrong and what they’ll do to fix it? Do you want a refund? You won’t get exactly what you want without asking for it.
  6. Be contactable – give good details for follow up – you won’t get free stuff if the company doesn’t know where to send things.

Those are the things I do – how ’bout you? What are your tips for writing complaint letters that bear fruit.

Keep the Customer Satisfied

You may think this post, with a nominal reference to a Paul Simon song, would be about our return home. Given that the opening lyrics are: 

“Gee but it’s great to be back home
Home is where I want to be
I’ve been on the road so long my friend
And if you came along I know you couldn’t disagree”

But it’s not. Today’s story is about our recent experiences with each end of the customer service spectrum. 

The good (it’s a long story)

Just prior to leaving Townsville we decided to buy a TV. We’d heard that prices were going to go up post Christmas and we’d been saving for an upgrade for a while.  We spent an evening price matching at various outlets in Townsville. We knew what we were looking for and we were quoted various prices roughly within the same $800 ballpark. Until we got to Dick Smith Powerhouse  – where we were quoted a figure of $650 for a Panasonic we’d seen elsewhere for $1000. We were pretty sure it was a good deal. But we wanted to check two more shops before confirming the purchase. We were told by another shop that this was below cost – and we should take it. Upon our return our friendly salesman went out the back to get the TV. He came back empty handed. The TV out the back was broken. He could only sell us the display model. I asked if we’d get a further discount. He said yes, he could sell it to us for a further $20 off – for $830. $830? But he’d just quoted us $650… no, the salesman couldn’t possibly give us that price. It was a mistake. $830 was still the best price we’d found on the unit in question – and we had decided we liked it. We got to the counter, and much to our surprise the salesman told the guy at the counter to sell it to us at $630. Hooray. At the last moment he went around the counter to check the details – and ammended the cost to $830. But I said this was the good. We reluctantly paid the $830 – having made noises about how we should have been given the $630 price – even though it was a mistake. The customer is always right. Right? 

Two days later I wrote used the Dick Smith website’s customer feedback page to write a letter. The basic format of a good complaint letter is some heartfelt praise for the company, the reason you chose to do business with them, a lengthy description of the circumstances, and a closing argument “I know you’re a company that prides itself on customer satisfaction… blah, blah blah…” and contact details. The letter worked. After Christmas I got a phone call from the store manager promising to refund the $200 on our return to Townsville. That happened today. So good on Dick Smith Powerhouse and their most excellent customer service. We now have a $630 TV that we are more than happy with – and they get a mention on the internet, unsolicited.   

The Bad

I mentioned the grumpy lady at Hanmer Horses in my review of our time at Hanmer Springs – she was not a great picture of customer service – but she was not the worst case we came across on our New Zealand adventure. The worst case predated our arrival in New Zealand – and carried through to our travelling companion’s (another gratuitous Paul Simon reference) departure. Cancellation fees can be a legitimate way for a business to recoup lost earnings, a protection for operators against unscrupilous bookings designed to hurt the bottom line, they can be a tax on stupidity, or they can be extortionate revenue raising. Cancellations are the bane of tourism businesses. I know this. Robyn and I both booked accommodation through the same company in the same town on the same night – and they graciously waived the cancellation fee for us. $30 they could by rights have held onto. For that, Alpine Holiday Homes can have a free link. And a hearty recommendation as a cheap, good quality accommodation option in Hanmer Springs. But this is “the bad” – the Interislander Ferry has a monopoly on travel between the North and South Islands of New Zealand – unless you want to fly. The Interislander also demands a 50% cancellation fee on any of their bottom end bookings. Sure, it’s there in the terms and conditions, but that shouldn’t rule out compassion – particularly if you want to maintain a reputation as customer focused. That 50% figure comes regardless of notice – and regardless of the fact that they will operate cancellations notwithstanding. This is an example of extortion. We learned the hard way. Robyn’s sister booked us on to the boat thinking that we would be accompanying them to the North Island as they departed. We were planning to continue circumnavigating the south. We notified the Interislander service by email as soon as we realised a mistake had been made. A month prior to their departure. We received no reply. We had to call them three days before to check that the cancellation had been made. It hadn’t. They gave no quarter. Showed no compassion. And whacked us with a $65 fee for what essentially was an innocent mistake. That was poor. Dreadful service – and a dreadful way to handle customer emails. Even a cursory response to acknowledge the email had been received but ignored because of heavy email traffic would have been nice. A standard autoreply. But no. So they earn a terrible review here. I hope lots of people google the Interislander and find their way here. The interislander ferry is evil.

The Ugly

This is not a first hand experience – unlike the others. This is a case of terrible practice using the user generated content phenomona. I linked to the initial story using my google reader shared items post yesterday. Belkin. Maker of modems, routers and other technowizardry, has been caught trying to solicit 5/5 reviews from users on Amazon. Amazon has a service called Mechanical Turk – a chance for human users to be paid to do pseudo robotic tasks too simple for computers to manage. Collate articles on a topic, summarise an article etc… you can earn Amazon credit – or get paid cash. Not only did Belkin want reviewers to write perfect reviews, in perfect English, they wanted them to pan other reviewers who had been less than flattering of the product. Worse still, Belkin got caught. Now everybody knows what a flagrant disregard they have for customer feedback and customer satisfaction. That’s ugly.

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