WRITING TO WIN: A SKILL FOR EVERY CONSUMER

by guest editor Royce Murcherson

Royce top pictureWRITING TO WIN: A SKILL FOR EVERY CONSUMER
Most of you probably think every consumer dispute can be resolved with a phone call to customer service. This is not always the case, and you will need to be prepared to push past routine customer service responses that may not satisfy your grievance.

GETTING THE BEST CUSTOMER SERVICE
There are many types of letters that can be written in the workplace such as sales letters, reprimand letters, good news letters, and job application letters to name a few. But there’s one letter of great value typically not used in the workplace because it’s a tool for the consumer.

THE ARGUABLE CLAIM LETTER
The purpose of this letter is to receive restitution for unsatisfactory services or products. Think of it as a consumer’s tool because this is exactly what it is. It’s the way to validate a claim when it becomes necessary to resolve disputes. You will need to know how to write this type of letter at some point in your life because most of us are disappointed at one time or another when our expectations are not met. If you want to be able to have some remedy at your fingertips, you’ll want to know how to compose an effective arguable claim letter.

A GOOD CLAIM LETTER IS A GOOD ARGUMENT
The claim letter is also a strategically crafted argument that must be persuasive yet concise. This is the challenge. You probably think a good argument has to be long. Not in this case, your strong argument in a claim letter must also be concise. So, how do you create a worthy argument that should not exceed four paragraphs?

A GOOD ARGUMENT IS BASED ON GOOD STRATEGY
Use the Toulmin Model of Persuasion. This model is based on the work of Stephen Toulmin in his book, The Uses of Argument. In section three of my book, The Guide to Persuasive Business Writing, I explain how to apply the Toulmin argumentation model to different types of business documents. The model which includes six elements can also be applied to a claim letter. These elements must be strategically placed.

4 ESSENTIAL ELEMENTS THAT MUST BE INCLUDED IN YOUR LETTER
• Warrants – You must always establish early agreement with some congenial statement. It must also address what the ‘seller’ believes about their product or service. Usually the ‘seller’ believes no fault should be attached. You should address this and then move on to the ‘breakdown or failure’.

• Claim – This is your statement of the failure or breakdown in service.

• Support – This is all of your proof or evidence of the failure

• Rebuttal – This is the area in which you countermand all of the reasons the ‘seller’ may use to avoid making any restitution.

WHAT TO AVOID
• Claims Are Not Complaints – Claim letters and complaint letters are two distinctly different items. You must be familiar with the objectives of a complaint letter before composing your claim letter. Otherwise, your objective of receiving some type of compensation will be in jeopardy.

• Watch Your Tone – It is easy to become too combative and demanding. You run the risk of the ‘seller’ immediately dismissing your claim because it may be perceived as an emotional outburst and not a credible request. Remember, you are requesting, not demanding.

• Do Not Tell A Story – It is easy to begin writing a story of how a product failed or services were not up to par. This is simply being human because most of us want to describe what happened. Describing failures or breakdowns is the same as telling a story of dissatisfaction. To avoid this, remember you are presenting an argument that makes a claim for restitution of some sort. So, think strategy and stay with the Toulmin Model.

For a more expanded discussion on writing and formatting arguable claim letters and other workplace letters using the Toulmin Model of Argumentation in business writing, see my book:

Royce Murcherson, Ph.D., The Guide to Persuasive Business Writing: A New Model that Gets Results. Iowa: Kendall-Hall, 2013

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