Friday, October 21, 2005

art of the angry letter

A new restaurant is opening next week down the street from my apartment called "Rosati's Authentic Chicago Pizza."

A short conversation with the management confirmed my suspicions that the pizza is not actually imported directly from the Windy City to Westminster, Colo., nor are its ingredients. Thus, the food is neither from Chicago nor particularly authentic.

Idiotic, misleading advertising like this has become far too rampant in this country. So has crappy customer service. What's most disconcerting about this is most seem content to accept these conditions.

The less resistance we offer, the more this sort of nonsense proliferates. And the bigger the business, the more likely its leaders take their customers for granted. Corporate America believes, and often correctly, that we will sit back and bend over for them.

We, the consumers, have only one recourse. The angry letter.

A well-crafted missive can thwart this general malaise and spur the offending company to action -- or at least get you a refund. A good letter gives you room to present your grievances in an organized fashion. It also gives you the chance to be a legitimate thorn in the side of your much larger corporate adversary.

A couple of pointers when typing your grievance:
  • Be specific. Note the time and date your gripe began and the names of employees you dealt with.
  • By sending your letter directly to the CEO via the U.S. Postal Service rather than calling or sending an email, you can bypass the typical customer-service losers who have little authority to refund your money or solve a problem.
  • CC the letter to everyone imaginable. When I write an angry letter, I generally send copies to The Better Business Bureau, the state Attorney General's office, the Federal Trade Commission and the U.S. Department of Consumer Affairs. That's for starters.
Typically, the offending company finds it cheaper to offer some recompense for your troubles, rather than deal with the mere possibility of regulatory action. Even better, some will offer a genuine apology.

Take my friend Erik. I advised him to write a letter after receiving substandard service at a new restaurant. The manager apologized and offered a $100 gift certificate.

Here is one angry letter I wrote to United Airlines after a woeful trip. This netted me a $150 gift certificate for use on a future flight. I've used angry letters to receive complete refunds and extra certificates at places like Foley's, Hyatt Hotels, Avis Rent-A-Car and Boston Market, among others.

The point of this exercise is not necessarily for financial gain, although that's certainly a beneficial and reasonable byproduct. It's to fight the good fight against flawed products and shitty service.

I will post the response from my letter to Rosati's if and when it arrives.

Angry letters are not limited to consumer problems. My old college roommate Matt has effectively used them to resolve roommate problems. Right now, he is busy creating a angry-letter archive on his Web site, which should be a great resource for us all.

Since that portion of his site is still under construction, I will post here one of his finest letters ever. This concerns another roommate spurned by the sale of laundry equipment at our college home, and should whet your appetite for things to come:

From an e-mail from Dominic Guerrini:
There is one other thing that I would like to talk to you about, and it
regards the washer and dryer. To my knowledge, no one has called you
on the
carpet on this one, but I really don't like what happened. I do
however see
a way for you to ameliorate the situation. You put this ad in the
without consulting us. Now you gave Keith and Laci and I your
but in my mind, it was no sufficient enough reasoning to stiff your
Things would be much easier on both you and us if the appliances just
remained where they were. I was hoping that you would just tell the
that you sold them to, that the washer and the dryer broke and that you
unable to sell them. We would be more than happy to buy them for at
as much as you say you sold them to this stranger. Now these are your
appliances, and as much as I would like to, I cannot force you to sell
to us. I just think that it would be the nice thing to do for your
while still making out well for yourself. Let me know what you think
this. I guess that we can talk about this tonight too.

My response:

March 12, 1998
Plainsboro, New Jersey

Dear Dom,

Since you are the first to approach me in any manner about my washer
dryer, I will tell you precisely the evolution of circumstance
regarding my
decision and my transaction, and set the issue firmly and finally to
rest. I
had, for a long time, been meaning to charge the tenants of the house
the services of the laundry machines, and as Laci can attest, I decided
drop my pursuit of the issue for the 1996-97 term of the lease. When
year began, I was doing fine financially, so again I dropped suit about
issue. I thought, after all, that since we were friends, I would bear
burden of the $700 I paid for the machines and continue to let them be

One of the greater factors influencing this decision was the idea that
if I
were to charge for the use of the washer and dryer, I would be unable
claim sole proprietorship if the question arose as to how exactly I
that money. To remain singular in my ownership of the machines was
my prerogative, as is the right I exercise in choosing to sell them to
third party.

Where your questioning catches in my throat, as it were, is the idea
that I
am somehow cheating my friends out of the common courtesy of
One of the things I’ve discovered about living at Duke Street is that
is almost no quarter given for courtesy. Laci’s courtesy in doing the
has been repeatedly overlooked for the past two years, perhaps the best
illustration of exactly what I mean. Truly, the tenants of 55 Duke
have gone beyond friends in my mind, some transcending the boundaries
friendship, while others have damaged irreparably my relationships with
them. Laci and I will most likely remain merely as acquaintances, but I
wouldn’t be surprised if we didn’t speak once we moved out. Jeff and
are perhaps a more poignant example, in that their departure from the
was more like the secession of an unwelcome province from an estranged
mother country.

Since I have distanced myself from the proceedings at the house largely
to the circumstances of my schedule, I have found that the cushion
makes our
relationships far more comfortable. Without the tension that arises
friction, it’s hard for me to have anything to squabble about with any
you. But I will not have my business affairs tied into that house
because I
simply don’t trust that all parties have ever acted in complete good
towards each other. Quite honestly, I believe that every single person
has lived in that house had staunchly defended his territory to the
point of
uneasiness, and my response to that is to withdraw as much involvement
as is

I had originally been planning to move out of New Brunswick and into my
parents’ house during this year, but extenuating circumstances such as
desire for independence and the commitment to a lease to which I had
signed my name overrode my wish to do so. However, I will not become
embroiled in dealing with the members of the house in any significant
ever again. I simply refuse the emotional baggage that has
accompanied any involvement in the affairs of the house, and that also
applies to all the things I own. As a matter of convenience, I had
the pickup of the machinery until well after the date of sale (one of
reasons I agreed to the discounted price), but I will not even venture
far as to ask the members of our house to provide a storage space for
me one
day beyond the term of my lease.

I take a great deal of umbrage at the idea that I have in some way
any of you by doing this. Perhaps it would have been wise to understand
the entire convenience of several of the appliances in the house was
predicated on the generosity of others. The washer and dryer are not so
great a matter that alternatives can’t be sought. But in the larger
scope of
things, it would do you all well to take stock of what other items you
be left without. For example, the kitchen table, the kitchen chairs,
microwave and the toaster are all departing the premises at the end of

I also take umbrage at the suggestion that I dishonor a commitment that
have made in faith. My name is the entire range of the honor that I
and I will not debase that in the name of preferential treatment,
of whether I may have done so in the scope of your recollection. You
argue that it was dishonorable that I withdrew my dealings from the
realm of
the tenants of the house, but I would return the arguments that it was
volitional choice to do as I pleased with my property, and that the
of the constancy of any appliance in the house has had no root beyond
he who provided the appliance gave it.

I am well aware of the vindictiveness and subterfuge particularly that
Laci and I have exhibited in carrying out portions of our personal
in the past two years, and I think it’s deplorable that we have
resorted to
such childish and wanton disregard for the territory of others as we
stood so firmly in defense of our own. But because I am thus aware, my
concern has been raised that this reality, which you and the other
of Duke Street are unable to change, may give you the impetus to turn
vendetta upon me and my property. Be advised that I am not retaliatory.
accept that if it exists in the nature of others to disrespect me, my
are tied. I am no crusader, and I am no vigilante. But neither am I
ignorant. My action and my decision, as upsetting and annoying as they
be to you, should elicit no response from you beyond your displeased
acceptance. You may slander me and libel me, you may break that which
represents the ground that I will not surrender and the code by which I
live. This, too, will I accept with the full realization that it is not
but those who wrong me, who have made the mistake.

Furthermore, if you seek to hold a discussion with me at the point of a
I will not provide you with my energy or my assistance in any way,
shape, or
form. I find it reprehensible that so dedicated a student of history
and of
the law would resort to such meager logic and thinly-veiled threats as
have. I resent your assertion that I in any way deserved a “call to the
carpet” or that your interpretation of my reasoning was intended to
your hunger for validity, when our concepts of what is valid are at
loggerheads. If you don’t understand it, then there is a gap that must
bridged in order for you to be able, but I have made my decision, and
will be accepted. And it is utterly unpalatable that you could contend
things “would be much easier on both [me] and [you]” and that you are
to force me “as much as [you] would like to,” as if to suggest that
manner of harm might come to me or mine. Those who seek to force logic
diplomacy will find that the ultimate result of their search is death,
death is a code I do not live by. If you wish, within the range of this
primitive reasoning, to destroy that which you cannot possess, you will
yourself in a void, because ultimately, the will of others is not
subject to
your restraint.

Thank you for your suggestion, but I do not appreciate it, and I do not
choose to exercise it. I will not resort to diplomacy to resolve this,
and I
will not beg your indulgence and understanding. I have given you my
and more of my reason than you asked for. There is simply nothing left


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At 2:08 PM, Blogger jeffro said...

being lazy kind of hampers my letter-writing campaigns

At 8:50 PM, Blogger Pete said...


I am lazy, too, so I think of it like this.

At my job, I receive a pedestrian wage that most would describe as middle class.

If it takes me an hour to write a letter that nets me a $50 refund, then I spin it in my head as if I have been paid $50 per hour, which is far more than I make at my job.

This helps when motivation is low.


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