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Writing Within Organizations

Responding to a Complaint

Here is an email received by a short-term apartment rental agency:
It is pretty amazing how inept your agency is. You promised me that the apartment would be clean before Mr. A came back. They came into an apartment that was not clean and called me to complain. They ordered a cleaner to clean the apartment, who made all the beds. Then along comes another cleaner while they are out, obviously sent by you, who strips all the beds from the cleaned linen and re-cleans a clean apartment. The ineptitude of your agency is beyond words. You are to be ashamed of yourselves to collect commissions for months and the only thing you had to do was clean the apartment and you couldn't even get that right.
How should the agency’s representative respond? 

General Guidelines

Complaints come in many forms, but responses have key features in common. Here are some general guidelines to follow when you receive a letter or email of complaint.

1. Do not take it personally. 
    The complaint has as much to do with the person complaining as it does with you. You will be much happier if you do not take complaints personally.

2. Do not respond immediately.
    If possible, wait until your own feelings calm down before you respond.

3. Do not respond emotionally. 
    There is no benefit in striking back emotionally. Be the voice of sanity.

Analyzing the Situation

Before you can reasonably respond, you need to understand the issue. It is extremely frustrating to receive an “apology” which shows that the writer didn’t really understand the essence of the complaint.  Read the complaint slowly and think about it:

  • What is the real issue? How can you explain it, assign responsibility for it, and resolve it?

Four Steps to Resolving a Complaint

Whether you speak in person, by phone or by email, your response should include four key components. Here we use the components to create a response for the agency representative.
1. Acknowledge the writer’s feelings. Let him know you understand.
“I understand that you were upset that the apartment was not cleaned when Mr. A arrived.”
2. Explain without being defensive or aggressive. Have your facts together before you respond.
“I arranged the cleaner for yesterday, and when I spoke to him today to double check that everything went OK, he realized that he had forgotten about the apartment.  He is human, and this is not one of the apartments that we regularly take care of. He ran over immediately today to clean it. If we had known about the problem, we would have happily handled it yesterday. As it was, the cleaner did not know that the apartment had already been cleaned.”
3.         Apologize if necessary. Be generous with apologies: Even if the other person is partly to blame, you will soothe the situation if you apologize. 
“I am sorry that all was not in order when Mr. A arrived.”
4.         Focus on solutions. Bring the reader's mind away from the past and into the future.
“We would be glad to refund you the cost of the cleaner you hired, and to apologize to Mr. A for his inconvenience. Please rest assured that this was an unusual event. It will not happen again.” 
 Not taking complaints personally, not responding in haste or anger, and following the four key steps will give you the confidence to respond effectively when complaints come your way.
© Elizabeth Danziger 2016

Read Writamins on these topics:

Emailing Effectively

Writing Well

Choosing the Right Word

Thoughts on Writing

Writing Within Organizations

Why choose WorkTalk trainings?

  • Taught by a professional writer. +

    These courses are not taught by a general skills trainer who happens to teach writing. Elizabeth Danziger has been published by major publishing houses such as Random House and Harcourt Brace. Her work has appeared in many national magazines. She is an expert writer and editor who brings her knowledge as a resource to participants.
  • Customized. +

    Every Worktalk training is customized to the client's needs. We meet with you, analyze writing samples from your organization, and customize our training to target the specific challenges that employees in your organization face.
  • Energetic and entertaining. +

    With plenty of exercises and opportunities for interaction, the Worktalk trainings move quickly. Subjects that were terrifying in grammar school become fun and interesting in these outstanding programs.
  • Proven results. +

    In trainings all over the country, Ms. Danziger has enabled participants to streamline their organizing process, eliminate persistent errors, and drastically cut their revision time. Clients spend less time on key communications while producing better relationships and results. Sales people get more positive responses from prospects.
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