Complaint and Adjustment Letters

This chapter covers two closely related types of business letters: complaint letters, which request compensation for problems with purchases or services, and adjustment letters, which are the responses to complaint letters.


Complaint Letters

A complaint letter requests some sort of compensation for defective or damaged merchandise or for inadequate or delayed services. While many complaints can be made in person, some circumstances require formal business letters. The complaint may be so complex that a phone call cannot effectively resolve the problem; or the writer may prefer the permanence, formality, and seriousness of a business letter. The essential rule in writing a complaint letter is to maintain your poise and diplomacy, no matter how justified your gripe is. Avoid making the recipient an adversary.

Note: Complaints by e-mail may not be as effective as those by regular mail so that option is not included here.

  1. Early in the letter, identify the reason you are writing – to register a complaint and to ask for some kind of compensation. Avoid leaping into the details of the problem in the first sentence.
  2. Provide a fully detailed narrative or description of the problem. This is the "evidence".
  3. State exactly what compensation you desire, either before or after the discussion of the problem or the reasons for granting the compensation. (It may be more tactful and less antagonizing to delay this statement in some cases.)
  4. Explain why your request should be granted. Presenting the evidence is not enough: state the reasons why this evidence indicates your request should be granted.
  5. Suggest why it is in the recipient's best interest to grant your request: appeal to the recipient's sense of fairness, desire for continued business, but don't threaten. Find some way to view the problem as an honest mistake. Don't imply that the recipient deliberately committed the error or that the company has no concern for the customer. Toward the end of the letter, express confidence that the recipient will grant your request.


Adjustment Letters

Note: Adjustment communications by e-mail may not be as effective as those by regular mail so that option is not included here.

Replies to complaint letters, often called letters of "adjustment", must be handled carefully when the requested compensation cannot be granted. Refusal of compensation tests your diplomacy and tact as a writer. Here are some suggestions that may help you write either type of adjustment letter:

  1. Begin with a reference to the date of the original letter of complaint and to the purpose of your letter. If you deny the request, don't state the refusal right away unless you can do so tactfully.
  2. Express your concern over the writer's troubles and your appreciation that she or he has written you.
  3. If you deny the request, explain the reasons why the request cannot be granted in as cordial and non-combative manner as possible. If you grant the request, don't sound as if you are doing so in a begrudging way.
  4. If you deny the request, try to offer some partial or substitute compensation or offer some friendly advice (to take the sting out of the denial).
  5. Conclude the letter cordially, perhaps expressing confidence that you and the writer will continue doing business.


Sample #1

111 White Horse Lane
8 October 1994

Director of Consumer Relations
One Microwave Plaza
Miami, TX 75249

Dear Director:

I am writing you concerning the purchase and subsequent return of a Waveport 5000 I made on 10 August 1994 in the amount of $225.

On 10 August 1994, I purchased a Waveport 5000 from your company in the amount of $225. This price included a two-day delivery and a 60-day money-back trial offer. The $225 was immediately charged to my Ritz card. However, this product did not perform satisfactorily, and on 15 August, I decided to return the Waveport 5000 to your company. When I spoke to one of your company's representatives by phone, I was informed that the shipping and handling charges, as well as the price of the Waveport 5000, would be credited to my account. I shipped the item by UPX and was notified 19 August of its receipt. Today, October 7, I received a statement for my Ritz card. But as of today, no credit has been applied to my account for either the Waveport 5000 or the shipping and handling charges.

If the Waveport 5000 was charged to my account immediately when I ordered it, I fail to understand why the same promptness was not used in crediting my account immediately upon receipt of the returned item. I rightfully deserve a refund to any and all finance charges that may be applied during this time period.

Your company's quick-detection products have greatly helped me in the past, and I would like nothing more than a quick solution for my problem so that I may be a customer of yours in the future.

John A. Somebody


Sample #2

0000 McDougal Rd, #123
Del Valle, TX 78000
February 12, 1994

Magnon Computer Systems, Inc.
P.O. Box 3919
El Camino, AZ 80006


This letter is in reference to my purchase of a Magnon JX-200 inkjet printer from Best Price #104 in Austin, Texas on November 11, 1993. Specifically, I am writing about your company's rejection of my request for a rebate as advertised for JX-200 printer.

I originally paid $269.97 (excluding tax) for the Magnon JX-200 inkjet printer and have since been waiting for the promised $30 Magnon rebate which was advertised by your company. I just received your letter and was surprised to find you had rejected my rebate claim. I believed I had made it clear as to the reason why I could not provide you with all of the material requested on the rebate coupon, particularly the serial number label from the shipping box, in the original letter (January 15) I sent you with the claim.

Once again, let me emphasize that there were no coupons available at the time when I purchased the BJ-200. Even after repeated visits to Best Price, I did not receive coupons until three weeks later. Unfortunately I had already disposed of the shipping box and consequently the serial number label attached to it and was unable to provide it as requested by the rebate instructions.

This was the reason that I sent a photocopy of the purchase receipt in the original letter even though it was not required. I am now including the original letter with the photocopy of the purchase receipt and a photocopy of the serial number located at the rear of the printer.

Although I am quite happy with the printer, I am very concerned about the problems I am having with this rebate. Especially disturbing is the fact that you stamped MUST BE RESUBMITTED AND POSTMARKED BY JANUARY 31, 1994 on the letter you sent me while the envelope (photocopy included) clearly shows that it was not mailed until February 4, 1994.

In the interest of fair play and in keeping a future customer satisfied, I hope there will be no further delays in resolving this problem. I expect to receive the rebate within the month and thank you for your prompt attention to this matter.


Maria S. Alguien
Encl.: Copies of original letter, sales receipt, serial number


Sample #3

Nancy Aletho
P.O. Box 2572
Austin, TX 78720
November 19, 19XX

Ms. Suzanna Maywine
Marcella Brindisi Manager, Frailey's
1001 Airport Blvd.
Buda, TX 78700

Dear Ms. Maywine:

I am writing you concerning a problem that has arisen from the purchase of one of you cosmetic products on August 16, 1994 at the Frailey's Mainland Mall Store. The item is your Brindisi Ultra Sable Mascara priced at $64.95. The sales girl sold me this mascara, two shades of blush and a jar of Fango masque on this date.

The problem developed shortly after applying this mascara for the first time. Within one hour, my eyelids became puffy and red and began to itch. After two hours, my entire eye area was swollen and remained so for two days. No other cosmetic product had been applied to my eye area, and I feel sure that this mascara caused an allergic reaction for my skin. I have used various brands of mascara including Estee Lauder, Channel and Maybeline and have never experienced this sort of reaction before. My dermatologist advised not to use your Brindisi product again. I had purchased this new tube of mascara in preparation for a head shot which was scheduled for the day on which I first used your product. I was unable to keep this appointment for which I had paid a nonrefundable deposit of $150.00. I also incurred a dermatologist fee of $95.00. Copies of receipts for these services and the mascara purchase are included in this letter.

I would appreciate being compensated in the amount of $319.95 immediately for the discomfort and trouble the use of your product has caused me. This sum is to reimburse me for the doctor's visit, for the $150.00 photographer's fee, and for the purchase price of the mascara.

I have used many of your products in the past without any problems and hope to continue a positive relationship with your company and its products in the future.


Nancy Natho

Encl: Receipts: Foley's, $64.95
Dr. Gary Zelazney, $95.00,
Rick Patrick, photography, $150.00
Photograph of swollen eyes


Sample #4

1313 Horse Trail Rd.
Buda, Texas 78610
6 June, 1996

Customer Relations/Claims Company
John Duke Manufacturing Company
1104 Sutton Drive Suite #112
Cairo, MI 45006

Dear Representative:

I am writing in regards to a Digital Multimeter (DMM) that I recently purchased by mail-order from your company. Because the DMM only functions partially, I am requesting repairs, another DMM with comparable features, or a refund equal to the purchase price + C.O.D. charges, and shipping and handling.

I purchased the meter for $250.00 by calling the 1-800 number listed in an advertisement. My phone order occurred on August 20th. The meter was delivered on August 23rd via UPX C.O.D. The total purchase price was $282.50. The following items were included with the DMM: one set of meter leads, one power supply cord, and one black nylon-fiber carrying case.

The DMM (Duke Model 8012A) will not register an accurate voltage or current reading. The other features function exactly as intended, and the fuse that protects the AC circuitry is in good operating condition. However, when a regulated AC voltage or current is applied to the meter leads, the only reading displayed is a low negative value. This is true whether the function switch is set to measure either AC voltage or current.

When I received the DMM, I inspected the packaging in which the meter was shipped, and there was no evidence of damage. Styrofoam inserts were used to protect the meter from any shock during the shipping process. Because I saw no loose components upon inspection of the primary fuse, I am led to believe the problem somehow occurred during manufacture. No doubt, there is a temporary malfunction that can easily be fixed.

Your prompt attention and response would be greatly appreciated as I intend to use the meter in conjunction with my job.


Terry Ward

Enclosed: 1 Duke 8012A DMM, Lot #3308-WIC4
1 Set of Meter Leads
1 Power Supply Cord
1 Black Nylon-fiber carrying case
1 Purchase Receipt
Original Packaging


Sample #5

774 Keokuk Court
Manor, Texas 78602
04 September 1993

Mr. Mack Simons
Manager of Merchandise
High-Mart Stores, Inc.
2400 Highway 81 East
P.O. Box 95
Elgin, Texas 73602

Dear Mr. Simmons:

I am writing you concerning three polymer lawn and garden sprayers that I have purchased within the last two months from the High-Mart Store in Elgin. The polymer sprayers are XXL Spray-Master two-gallon hand held sprayers, model number 1992, and cost $18.96 each. I purchased the first sprayer on June 28, 1993.

All three of these sprayers had a faulty flow control. The handle control that regulates the amount of spray by the amount of pressure applied in the handle is made of plastic. After about two hours of use, the plastic lever controls wear out. I have followed the instructions that came with the merchandise. All three sprayers have had the same problem. I have exchange the first two sprayers a week after each sale. The third one I have on hand. I have a copy of the receipt and the instructions/parts manual enclosed.

Since this is the only type of sprayer High-Mart Stocks and since High-Mart is the only store in Bastrop that carries sprayers, your customers are forced to either buy this faulty sprayer, or go out of town to meet their needs. I am requesting that you and High-Mart Stores confront the manufacturer to correct this problem and that you stock a different name brand sprayer. I am also requesting a refund of $18.96 (for the third sprayer) and a follow up with a letter (either from High-Mart personnel of from the product's manufacturer) indicating progress on this problem.

I choose to do my business in Elgin and to back High-Mart's belief in buying products from American manufacturers to help the local and national economy. Stocking below-standard American products forces customers to seek other sources of merchandise, which foreign markets and out of town businesses are only eager to provide.


J. Raymond Rink
Triple TNJ Ranch

Encl.: copy of receipt, operation and service instructions

Source: David McMurrey,
Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Last modified: Wednesday, January 20, 2021, 4:06 PM