When you (either as an individual or a business owner) enter into a transaction with another party, sometimes you have to roll up your sleeves and use leverage to get the other party to live up to their promises. If you want to get results from someone you are doing business with, learn how to write a business letter.
Writing letters may seem antiquated in the age of e-mail. But in reality, business letters are actually a more effective communication because so few people write them anymore. That means people who get your letter are really going to take notice. Every successful business owner knows that the lifeblood of her business is happy customers. If you, the client, take the time to write a letter, the business owner is going to sit up and notice. Use that to your advantage.
So how do you write a business letter that gets results?
1. Don’t Wimp Out
Your first impulse might be to shoot off an e-mail. After all, it’s immediate, easy and free. Pretty tempting. But please resist that impulse. Remember that most people actually will cave in and resort to e-mail. Because you won’t take the easy road, your letter won’t have to compete for the attention of the person reading the letter. And more attention equals faster results.
2. Don’t Vent
You want to get the other person on your side. The quickest way to make sure that doesn’t happen is to refrain from going on the attack. Keep your anger to yourself and do not attack the other person or the other business. No exceptions – not even when you are responding to IRS errors.
3. Be Clear
Before you start writing, make sure you know exactly what it is that you want. Articulate your request in one sentence — if you can’t, it probably means you are confused, and that’s how you’ll come off in your letter. The reader won’t know what you want. And if you don’t know what you want and your reader doesn’t know what you want, you probably aren’t going to be happy with the result.
4. Have Empathy
This might be tough, but put yourself in the other person’s shoes. She is a person just like you. She goes home at night to a family and wants to feel good about herself. Understand what her pressures and business goals are before you start your letter. Think of a way to help the other person get what she wants – while helping you get what you want. That is the key to successful negotiation strategies.
With these four points in mind, let’s write a business letter.
A few months back, I was reviewing my phone bill and noticed I was being charged for a data plan that I never ordered. It turns out we were billed for this unused service for more than four months. I look at my phone bill every month, of course, but this item just escaped my attention. When I called, the phone company told me that they could stop the service now, but they could not refund the billed amount for the previous four months.
Here’s the letter I came up with:
Dear Phone Company,
This morning I called your office to inquire about my bill. I learned for the first time that you have been charging me for a data plan that I never requested. I spoke to a very nice clerk who told me that even though I didn’t order the plan, she could not reverse the charges. She suggested that it was my responsibility to be on top of my bill every month.
She was right of course. I certainly should have been reading my bill more carefully. I also understand that your business is under a great deal of stress, and I can appreciate that you can’t allow every customer who feels like it to simply call after the fact to ask for their money back.
I also understand that there is a great deal of competition in your industry and that the value of a satisfied repeat customer is very high too. In fact, I have been a satisfied customer, and if you check your records you’ll see that rather than shop for a new plan and carrier every few years, I simply renew. I like doing business with people I can work with, and that certainly has been the case with your company.
If you continue checking your records, you’ll see that I am a great customer. I pay my bills on time and have done so for years. And I know that customers like me are very valuable for fine companies like yours.
Yes, I was irresponsible for not catching your error earlier. But it was, after all, your error. In addition, you can see that I never used the data package because I didn’t know we had one. Your representative confirmed that data was never accessed.
Bottom line: I am a good customer, and I hope you agree that I deserve a little consideration. Also, since I never ordered this service, I don’t see why I should pay for it.
Would it be reasonable to expect that you will reverse those charges in the next week? I would certainly appreciate it. I’ll follow up with you in 10 days to answer any questions.
Mr. Satisfied Customer
You can see that I am very firm in the letter, and I try to explain why it’s in the phone company’s interest to work with me.
In reality, I think that letters like these are much more effective on smaller businesses rather than large corporations. I think that’s because small businesses employees are closer to the customers and appreciate them more.
Final note: Of course it’s critical to make sure your spelling and grammar are perfect. And if you want to go the extra mile, have another person read your letter before you send it. If you are angry enough, you might unknowingly let some resentments leak through in your letter.
And make sure to tell your reader when you’re going to follow up, and do so. This starts the clock ticking and makes sure the other party takes action fast.
How do you write an effective business letter? What do you do differently?