Customer complaint letters: Pick the winner!

How to protect your pockets.
Jan. 20 2011 7:39 PM

The Gripe Sweepstakes

Customer complaint letters: Pick the winner!

Illustration by Robert Neubecker. Click image to expand.

On Jan. 14 ("The Art of the Gripe") Slate invited readers to enter their best customer-complaint letters into a contest. The results were dismaying in one way, and encouraging in another.

They were dismaying because a customer-complaint contest turns out to be the sort of competition that attracts a lot of unhinged people whose complaints, even when persuasive, ignore the crucial first two rules I laid down: Don't be nasty, and be succinct. Now that I've plowed through about 150 entries, I'm full of compassion for the "escalation specialists" who must spend their days answering irate mail from pissed-off customers who've figured out how to get past the Manila call center. They aren't a fun, or particularly rational, bunch.

The many godawful entries are encouraging, however, in this respect: If you're one of the very few people who know how to write a complaint that's calm and gets right to the point, your letter will really stand out from the crowd. The catch is that you really have to be that type of person—not one of the many who think they're that type but miss it by a mile.

Of the 150 or so entries, I'd say no more than about 25 made the grade. I have now winnowed that list of 25 very good letters down to nine finalists. I invite you, dear reader, to make the final decision. The nine finalists are reprinted below. Vote for your favorite in the poll at the end of this column. The winner will be announced in my next column.

You will note that even the excellent nine complaint letters that made it to the finals sometimes depart in various ways from my instructions. Rules were meant, I guess, to be broken. One rule I feel compelled to honor is not to include among the finalists anyone who didn't actually enter the contest. It is therefore with a heavy heart that I've omitted Matt the Electrician, a singer-songwriter in Austin, Texas, whose You Tube video, "For Angela," is a customer-complaint letter set to music. It's embedded below.

And now, the finalists.

1)    If I wanted to watch commercials I'd stay home and watch television.

Gary F. Krannacker
Carmike Cinemas, Inc.
Columbus, Georgia 31901

Dear Sir,

My wife and I have been visiting Carmike Theaters for 8 years now. We usually attend your theater in Oakdale MN since that is the closest theater to our house, but we have also other been to your theaters in 3 states.(IA, WI, and NE).  We like the Oakdale Theater for the comfortable seats, and the large amounts of parking.  In a normal month we see 4-5 movies

I am writing you because of our experience at the movie Knight and Day which we enjoyed greatly.   The movie had a start time of 7:05pm but it was 7:26 before we were actually watching the movie!  I am a big fan of previews, but having 6 previews makes me feel like you are taking advantage of my time.  The actual product commercials are insulting.  If I wanted to watch commercials I would stay home and watch network TV.  I paid $10 to see a movie in your theater and I feel like making me watch 6 mins of commercials insults my intelligence.(7:05-7:11).  I don't mind seeing commercials before the 7:05 start time because that is just dead air anyways, but playing commercials after the start time makes me not want to visit your theater in the future.  My wife and I also visit CEC theaters which do not play commercials after the start time that I have seen and if we have a choice of the two we will probably start choosing CEC.