When Good Trips Go Bad: How to Write a Letter That Gets Results

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Steve Faber of CruiseOne has assembled the "Eight Commandments of Writing a Complaint Letter."

adventure travel Bay Area

Vacations are meant to be stress-free escapes from the workaday world, and for the most part they are. With travel, every once in a while things don’t work out exactly as anticipated, and the vacation fails to live up to expectations. Fortunately, for cruise travelers, such hiccups are rare; that segment of the travel industry has an admirably high degree of customer satisfaction and an enviably high percentage of repeat business.

According to Steve Faber, San Francisco Bay Area expedition cruise, adventure travel and river cruise specialist, and owner of CrusieOne, San Rafael, Calif., there are ways to significantly improve the positive results of a negative critique. He’s assembled those points into what he calls “The Eight Commandments of Writing a Complaint Letter.”

Aim Low – According to Faber, one of the biggest mistakes is thinking that the higher in the corporate structure the more likely customers are to get results when they have a complaint. Faber points out the fallacy of that approach: “If, while stuck in a hospital waiting room, someone tries to buy a cup of coffee and the vending machine eats the money, that individual doesn’t complain to the head of surgery. I’m exaggerating,” he continues, “but trying to get criticisms on the desk of the airline or cruise line CEO does little to get them read by the people who count, those whose job description is wholly or primarily concerned with client satisfaction and/or service improvement.” Getting critical comments in the right hands ties in to Faber’s second “commandment.”

Enlist a Professional Go to Bat – At first glance, hiring an expert with years of day-to-day experience working hand-in-glove with vacation providers would seem an expensive proposition. But if a customer booked a vacation through a travel agent they already have a pro on their team at no cost. “Assisting clients with dream vacations is one of the most important things travel professionals do. They also play a major role in helping those customers resolve any issues they encountered during that vacation,” says Faber. “In fact, our M.O. in those situations is to have the clients write their critical letter to the travel agency, not to the cruise line. That letter, accompanied by a strong cover letter from the agency, is presented to the right people with the right amount of clout most likely to get results. Of course, a travel pro works closely with the client to help them fine tune their letters, providing them with guidelines to maximize effectiveness.”

Assert Customer Value – A customer’s greatest asset in the eyes of the cruise line is their potential for future, ongoing business. Whether a first-time guest or loyal repeat customer, always lead off by conveying a desire to have concerns addressed so future business is not interrupted. Conversely, starting off a letter, “…my experience was so terrible I wouldn’t book the cruise line (hotel, resort, airline, etc.) on a bet” is the biggest mistake of all, and probably the one made most frequently by travelers. If the vacation provider feels they’ve lost the customer, any leverage that customer might have to get an accommodation is gone.

Don’t Be Tone-Deaf – This is actually a subset of “Commandment 3” above; if a critical letter seems to cross the line from dissatisfaction to rage the reader is likely to assume the writer can never be assuaged. In verbal communication the tone of voice conveys level of anger. Written communication has a tone as well, and since the reader lacks the benefit of the sense of hearing, writers have to be exceptionally cautious of their tone being misinterpreted. Always assume the written word can be interpreted in the worst light. By all means, minimize signals of “shouting”: excessive use of capitalization, bolding, italics, and exclamation points.

Be Constructive – The flip side of not simply venting is balancing every criticism with a solution to the problem as the customer envisions it, in other words, being constructively critical.

Be Instructive –Specify shortcomings. “The food was mediocre, the comedian was unprofessional, the shore excursion manager had an attitude” are not specific enough. These examples are all “conclusions.” Instead offer descriptions of what transpired. Give evidence not conclusions.

Ask and Ye May Receive – Conclude the letter with a specific request of the vacation provider. That is to say, spell out what is adequate compensation for the problems experienced. Be as specific and detailed about accommodations while describing criticisms.

Be Realistic – Let the punishment fit the crime. Having reasonable expectations is the way to have customer requests taken seriously. Vendors welcome feedback; it’s what makes them better. It’s also worth noting that the vast majority of vacation experiences are positive. In the infrequent cases when the experience doesn’t live up to expectations, try to be tolerant and patient. After all, there are bound to be a few wrinkles, or, expressed another way: ships happen.

About the company:

Traveling the world as a travel writer to report on cruises, Steve Faber has been blessed with the opportunity to sail on 98 cruises on 71 ships of 31 cruise lines. As an independent CruiseOne cruise specialist, Faber capitalizes on combining his knowledge of ships and destinations with the powerful marketing clout and superlative client service of CruiseOne, the world’s largest seller of cruise vacations. Faber serves the Bay Area. Contact him to discuss cruise itineraries, cruise discounts, adventure travel, river cruises and more by calling 415-485-0100 or book online at http://www.sfaber.cruiseone.com/travel/HomePage.html.

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