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Six of the best customer complaint letters

17 min read

09 July 2015

Many customer relations teams dread a cutting complaint letter, but amid the anger, there are some classic finds. We've pulled together some of the most popular letters in recent times.

In a pleasant surprise, the NHS received a “complaint” letter recently, which was actually nothing of the sort. Yael Biran thought she’d be waiting for a while and would finally get a chance to have time to herself to read a book. 

“But no… the bloody nurse sees me in six minutes! Six ruddy minutes! All I had time for was to send a text, settle down, get my glasses out and find the right page, and they bloody call me in!” 

The dilemma went on – with Biran back home within two hours. 

“I left home and came back in less than two hours! Seriously! something must be done about this! what is a mum to do in order to get a few hours of quiet reading in this country???!!!

Sincerely yours, A frustrated mother of two little boys who don’t give her a second’s rest.
P.S. You rock! :)”

It was undoubtedly a refreshing change for the customer services department, as are the following seven examples which delivered on both the creativity and humour fronts. 

(1) No compilation of the best complaint letters would be complete without the Oli Beale’s exemplary description of his “culinary journey of hell”, penned to Richard Branson on a Virgin flight from Mumbai to Heathrow.

Accompanying his tale were pictures of the food he was served. Choice lines included: “On the right the chef had prepared some mashed potato. The potato masher had obviously broken and so it was decided the next best thing would be to pass the potatoes through the digestive tract of a bird.” It’s best read in its entirety here though.

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(2) In fact, some of the best complaint letters are the droll criticisms of airline passengers. 

James Lockley didn’t hesitate to post his Ryanair travelling woes onto Facebook, where they were promptly shared by nearly 70,000 people. He arrived at Stansted with his wife an hour ahead of the flight, knowing that there was a strict policy with check-in closing 40 minutes ahead of the flight. After being assured this would be fine, the situation soon unravelled. An excerpt of the long letter is below. 

“We complained and requested the attention of a manager. Out came Colin, a man so angry all his hair had literally fallen out. He was so aggressive I can only assume he had accidentally inserted something sharp into somewhere private and been unable to remove it before he came to work. 

He was definitely a Middle Gimp. I know this as Vacant and Not That Bright were clearly quite scared of him, and he can’t have been a Big Cheese as he was talking directly to customers and we all know from the papers that no-one in Big Cheese management at Ryanair has ever seen, let alone spoken to an actual customer.

Middle Gimp had clearly listened hard at Ryanair Middle Gimp school as he managed to take two perfectly calm and sane adults and in a matter of seconds reduce them to angry people considering violence.

‘Check in opens 3 hours before the flight’ he barked repeatedly as if it was the answer to every question in life. We tried to ask Middle Gimp direct questions about why it was necessary for us to miss the flight because the Child had forgotten to do his job, and Vacant had forgotten to do hers.”

Read more about customer service:

It went on to say:

“‘Why is this our fault, and why should we miss the flight because Ryanair staff have admitted they made errors?’
‘Check in opens three hours before the flight’
‘Do you acknowledge we have just cause for complaint as we tried to do the right thing and the only reason we are not on the plane is because of communication failures with Ryanair staff?’
‘Check in opens three hours before the flight’
‘What colour are my trousers?’
‘Check in opens three hours before the flight’
‘Do you think economic sanctions on Russia will diffuse the escalating situation in Ukraine?’
‘Check in opens three hours before the flight’
‘Were Man Utd right to fire David Moyes?’
‘Check in opens three hours before the flight’
‘My tinkle is hurting, could you take a look if I promise not to tell anyone?’
‘Check in opens three hours before the flight’”

He later rounded up the letter by saying: “You treated us badly, you cost us money and made us miss our wedding reception through a display of incompetence I have not seen since Greece was allowed to have money and a cheque book.”

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(3) There’s no love lost between angry customers and airlines, that much is clear. Another gem was this frustrated letter to Caribbean airline LIAT.

“Dear LIAT,

May I say how considerate it is of you to enable your passengers such an in-depth and thorough tour of the Caribbean.

Most other airlines I have travelled on would simply wish to take me from point A to B in rather a hurry. I was intrigued that we were allowed to stop at not a lowly one or two but a magnificent six airports yesterday. And who wants to fly on the same airplane the entire time? We got to change and refuel every step of the way!

I particularly enjoyed sampling the security scanners at each and every airport. I find it preposterous that people imagine them all to be the same. And as for being patted down by a variety of islanders, well, I feel as if I’ve been hugged by most of the Caribbean already. I also found it unique that this was all done on ‘island time’, because I do like to have time to absorb the atmosphere of the various departure lounges.

As for our arrival, well, who wants to have to take a ferry at the end of all that flying anyway? I’m glad the boat was long gone by the time we arrived into Tortola last night — and that all those noisy bars and restaurants were closed.

So thank you, LIAT. I now truly understand why you are ‘The Caribbean Airline’.
P.S. Keep the bag. I never liked it anyway.”

Read on for more creative customer complaints letters directed at Vodafone, Sainsbury’s and Polo.

(4) You’d hope that a company specialising in communications would actually be alright at, well, communicating, but Vodafone apparently isn’t. 

At least according to a certain Mr Jenkins, who wrote the CEO Nick Read, a highly irritated (and very long) letter when the firm just couldn’t deliver the sharer plan he had asked for.

The highlights included: 

“I need your help Nick.

I’ve started dreaming about you. I wonder what you look like; I wonder if you really are the savior of Vodafone. I want you to be Nick, but then I check my inclusive minutes and I realize you are not. I check my voicemail to see if Vodafone Business Relations have called me back but they haven’t Nick. They haven’t called me. It’s all been a dream and I want to die.

You see, for five months now Nick, I have been in a communicational conundrum, a sort of Newbury Hell.

I wanted a Sharer Plan; I needed on average 3000 minutes per user, so for 15 users I needed 45,000 minutes. I also needed them on 12-month commitments and free calls to 0870 numbers.

I was promised all this Nick, the world was my oyster. Vodafone was my Morrissey and I was a young Russell Brand, all gushing with enthusiasm and gusto, but with sexual tension replaced with 500 texts free every month.

We were flirting Nick, Vodafone and I were courting and there was nothing the world could do about it. You wanted longer commitment, but I couldn’t give it, you said 24 months, I said no, give me time, lets take it slow, lets not rush into this, I want to give you my heart but I’m unsure how Google Maps works on the Nokia N95.

We agreed on 12 months contracts.

Next up was the plan, now I’m no Shakespeare Nick, but I would proclaim to have a certain grasp on the English language, so when I uttered the words:

‘I do not want 3000 minutes fixed per phone; I want the whole 45,000 minutes to be shared between the 15 users’

I stupidly assumed that Vodafone would understand this, but in hindsight, I now see that this was all too much for Hayleigh Hegar and Jenna Bird to comprehend.

I mean, they barely could grasp the concept of phoning people back, and as for email, well; this alien concept was lost on these two.

You see Nick, after the first months bill arrived, I couldn’t wait to open it. The morning it turned up I was like a little boy at Christmas, all exited and red faced. My wife even commented that my cheeks looked like the little Vodafone logo, you know, the one which look like a speech bubble. The irony only added to the moment Nick, it was heaven.

There it was, in a white cardboard box. It looked like a well organised letter bomb. I couldn’t hold it any longer. I wanted to see my savings, I wanted to open that letter bomb Nick and I wanted the savings to jump out of the page and blow up in my face like corporate Anthrax. I ripped the highly emissive carbon paper and there it was Nick, there it was…

I was overcharged £500 because I wasn’t on a Sharer Plan.”

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(5) Effective complaint letters need not be page upon page of witty prose though. Just ask Lily Robinson, who was three and a half when she penned a letter to Sainsbury’s. She wanted to know why the company had done something as silly as naming tiger bread after the wrong animal, when the markings more closely resembled that of a giraffe.

Chris King, the customer manager (aged 27 and a third) replied that perhaps the baker who had originally named the bread was “a bit silly”, and renaming the bread was a brilliant idea. He also gave her a £3 gift card to buy her own bread.

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(6) Elephants never forget and neither did aggrieved James Barnard, who was suddenly struck with the reminder he never received £10 for finding a green polo in his packet all those years ago, despite Nestle saying it was offering £10 cash prizes at the time for different coloured polos. 

The highlight of the letter is probably his speculation about what this amount could have meant to an 11 year-old boy and the career opportunities that were surely stunted as a result of this deprival.

Nestle righted that wrong, admitting its customer service had been “hole-ly unacceptable”. 

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Finally, if we’re not just considering recent times however, we can look back to around 1750BC for a first class complaint letter. The British Museum boasts a tablet from Nanni, an angry Mespotamian who was notably unimpressed at being sold poor quality copper ingots.

“When you came, you said to me as follows: ‘I will give Gimil-Sin (when he comes) fine quality copper ingots.’ You left then but you did not do what you promised me. You put ingots which were not good before my messenger (Sit-Sin) and said: ‘If you want to take them, take them; if you do not want to take them, go away’.

How have you treated me for that copper? You have withheld my money bag from me in enemy territory; it is now up to you to restore (my money) to me in full. Take cognizance that (from now on) I will not accept here any copper from you that is not of fine quality. I shall (from now on) select and take the ingots individually in my own yard, and I shall exercise against you my right of rejection because you have treated me with contempt.”

Unsurprisingly, after having his money withheld despite Nanni failing to receive the prearranged goods, he decided he was going to be more exacting about deals in the future.

Image: Shutterstock