How to make complaints and influence people

How to make complaints and influence people

An administrative stand-off with the taxman has sent me into a headlong search for the perfect angry letter.

Without getting too bogged down with the detail, earlier this year HMRC started demanding I fill out certain forms despite me telling them more than two years ago that these forms no longer applied to me - and being assured that my file had been amended accordingly.

Over the year we seem to have settled into something of a grim routine: HMRC sends me a letter with its demands and I fill out the relevant attached form, explaining that these demands do not apply, and that I have informed HMRC of this years ago.

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Appearing to ignore this, HMRC sends me another letter two months later, repeating its demands.

Losing patience, I call a HMRC helpline mentioned on the letter, only to find I have not been put through to a real person after 20 minutes on the line. I want to give up.

Fortunately a HMRC Twitter account aimed at dealing with individual queries has been more helpful, asking general questions about my situation before telling me I should write a letter to the taxman explaining my situation.

Which leads me to the question: how do I write the perfect irate consumer complaint?

In a job that sometimes involves reporting on consumer grievances, I have seen numerous examples of written complaints and noticed some classic pitfalls.

One is to make things overly personal. If you are attempting to persuade an organisation it has made a mistake, laying into what you perceive as the spite, malice and buffoonery of its employees is unhelpful to your cause.

Another common mistake is making a complaint too complex by adding multiple elements. Grievances often have lots of detail to them - a company may have complicated procedures, unhelpful staff, vague instructions about its processes, a woeful track record and a naff website.

And when a problem goes on for years, the incidents upsetting a consumer can simply stack up.

However, getting caught up in every niggle or anecdote can muddy what you want to be a clear, cogent argument making your case.

One other issue, which may be more of a personal gripe of mine, is that people sometimes use convoluted, excessively formal language, or even meaningless jargon, in order to sound sophisticated. But as I say, this may do more to annoy me than anyone else.

I have moaned plenty about both HMRC and badly constructed complaints - but what makes the angry letter a success?

My guess would be a clear argument, backed by facts and detail, with perhaps just a hint of sass.

People do seem to love a good moan. A friend of mine recently became “a person who complains”.

She likes to mix it up when writing a complaint: she may, for example, note that she often goes to a shop and loves its products before adding that someone working there had been unnecessarily rude to her recently.