You are a full-time student in your first year of graduate school and have a part-time job working for an upscale boutique that has shifted from a brick-and-mortar format to an online-sales-only format. One of the requirements of your job is to respond to letters of complaint from dissatisfied customers. Write an adjustment-refusal letter, using the modified semi-block format, appropriate to the following circumstance:
Alycia Aschkenasie-Martsch has mailed back the robin’s-egg-blue silk MEGALOPOLITAN-XIV blouse she bought from your online catalogue twenty-three days ago. She claims that although she expected a top-quality garment for the price she paid, the blouse is defective, and she wants a $98.97 adjustment to her credit card. Your textile technologist, Ottessa Halally, has discovered (a) that the blouse was machine -washed at least twice in hot water with a harsh detergent and (b) that detergent residue remained in the fibers of the blouse, causing further breakdown. The care label attached to the blouse states that the blouse must be washed by hand in cold water with a mild detergent.
Refuse the customer’s request for an adjustment, but don’t accuse—explain. For resale, mention that you are having a sale this month on blouses that have the look and feel of silk, cost only two-fifths the price of the MEGALOPOLITAN-XIV, and can be machine-washed. The customer’s address is 7938 West Tilghman Avenue, Binghamton, New York 13903. Your job title is Customer-Relations Associate; the name of the business you work for is Ferrazolla Fashionistas; your business address is 1201 East Muitzeskill Road, Schodack Landing, NY 12156.
1. Use the four-part indirect pattern to be discussed and analyzed in class.
2. Be sure that the tone of your letter is courteous and tactful.
3. Use your own words (avoid any dependence on the phrasing and sentence patterns above)—but don’t change any of the facts of the case.
4. Use reader-centered phrasing (the “you” perspective), and eliminate all negative phrasing.
5. Don’t end the letter by anticipating further trouble. Don’t apologize for your decision. Don’t reward your customer for her negligence.
6. Be sure to follow all of the style-sheet requirements for formatting the letter and for handling the presentation of numbers.
7. Proofread very carefully.
Modified Semi-Block Format
SPACING: Double-space between all major elements of the letter—except between the complimentary closing and the first line of the signature block, where triple-spacing is necessary.
THE HEADING: Position the heading about two-thirds or three-fourths of the way across the page.
THE INSIDE ADDRESS: Every line of the inside address begins at the left-hand margin.
Include the appropriate courtesy title before the recipient’s last name.
THE SALUTATION: The salutation begins at the left-hand margin. Include the appropriate courtesy title before the recipient’s last name. A colon, not a comma, follows the salutation.
THE BODY OR TEXT OF THE LETTER: Indent the first line of each paragraph five spaces. Single-space within paragraphs, and double-space between paragraphs.
THE COMPLIMENTARY CLOSING: Align the complimentary closing with the heading—roughly two-thirds or three-fourths of the way across the page.
THE SIGNATURE BLOCK: Align the signature block with the heading and the complimentary closing. Be sure to include your signature.
Four-Part Structure of an Adjustment-Refusal Letter
1. Relate to your reader with a buffer—a statement that softens the blow of the bad news coming later in the letter. With the buffer, you establish common ground with your reader: you emphasize that you and your reader in fact agree on a central point or principle related to the situation at hand. The central point or principle must be uncomplicated and commonsensical—not something obscure or difficult to understand. (The point is usually one that has been made either explicitly or implicitly in the claim letter to which you are responding.) The buffer will put the reader in a receptive frame of mind.
The buffer cannot be chosen arbitrarily or thoughtlessly; its central point or key idea will serve as the foundation of the argument that will be presented in the second segment of the letter. If the buffer fails to lead smoothly into the argument, the letter will lack coherence; if the central point in the buffer is not developed in the argument, the letter will lack unity.
The first segment of the letter should be brief. Often, in fact, a carefully phrased single sentence will do the job. The buffer must be pleasant in tone and neutral: it must not state or even imply that a refusal of the reader’s request is forthcoming in the letter.
2. Reason with your reader in a carefully constructed argument. The argument is always the longest segment of an adjustment-refusal letter; it requires more than one paragraph. In it, you lay the groundwork for the refusal by applying the central point of the buffer to the specific facts of the case at hand. The first paragraph of the second segment must gently and tactfully remind the reader of a company policy relevant to the customer’s circumstance. The second paragraph of the segment must apply the relevant company policy to the specific facts of the customer’s situation. Emphasize how the agreed-upon principle introduced in the buffer has guided your handling of the claim and that the action you are about to take follows logically from the same principle. Emphasize that the particular assumption you share with the reader is actually at the heart of a company policy that is fair to all concerned. Be specific, but do not blame the reader—even if the reader is at fault. (Use passive-voice phrasing to avoid accusing the reader of any negligence.) In short, the second segment of the letter must provide justification for your decision (to be expressed implicitly in the third segment) to refuse the reader’s request for an adjustment.
3. Refuse the reader’s request for an adjustment—but do so without using any negative phrasing. Present the refusal as the inevitable conclusion or climax that follows logically from the argument. Emphasize what you can do for the reader—not what you cannot do. Rely on the weight of implication to get your point across. The first sentence of the “refusal” segment typically begins with phrasing such as “Therefore, you are sure to understand why the best that can be done for you is . . . .”
4. Reconcile yourself with the reader in an upbeat, positive closing. Re-establish a cordial relationship with the reader by emphasizing goodwill. Resell (promote) the product or service, or direct the reader’s attention to another product or service that you sell and that will resolve the reader’s problem. Do not apologize for the decision you have made, do not dwell on the problem, and do not encourage any further correspondence from the reader. The reader needs to understand that your decision is both fair and final.
Use reader-centered and positive phrasing throughout the entire letter.
An ineffective adjustment-refusal letter (using the direct approach and negative, writer-centered phrasing):
I regret to inform you that we are not able to accommodate your request.
Your local Electra dealer has informed us that she refused to honor the warranty on your speakers because the speakers had been damaged through faulty use. She reports that you respliced two lead wires, removed one of the booster magnets, and also removed the top insulation from one of the speaker cabinets.
It is very obvious that you did not review the terms of the warranty before you tampered with the speakers. The warranty clearly states that if the speakers are removed from the cabinet or tampered with in any way, the warranty becomes null and void. Thus, we cannot possibly honor your request.
Because you did not heed the terms of the warranty, your dealer is required to charge you for any and all repairs. Since you are an Electra customer, we will grant you the same 30-percent discount on repairs that we grant to all of our customers.
I sincerely regret any inconvenience this episode may have caused you, and I hope that you will get many years of satisfactory service from your top-of-the-line Electra speakers. If you have any further problems, please feel free to contact me. As always, it is a pleasure to serve you.
An effective adjustment-refusal letter (using the indirect approach and positive, reader-centered phrasing):
You’re right! You have every reason to expect excellent performance from your top-of-the-line Electra Ultra 3X-9 speakers.
In fact, to ensure your continued delight with the superior quality of your speakers, an exclusive warranty is included with every speaker you buy. The warranty, as you know, states that the expert technicians at your nearest authorized Electra dealer will do their best to help you keep your speakers functioning optimally, provided that the speaker cabinets are returned in their original condition.
As soon as your letter was received, Diane Gurson of Gurson Electronics in Hartford was contacted on your behalf. She explained that upon examining the speakers, she discovered that two lead wires had been respliced, the top insulation had been torn off one of the cabinets, and one booster magnet was missing.
Therefore, you are sure to understand that the best that can be done for you is offer you the 30-percent discount on repairs that you are entitled to as a valued Electra customer. The qualified audio experts at Gurson Electronics will be happy to restore the sound quality of your Electra speakers as soon as you give them the word.
You might also be interested in learning about Electra’s new state-of-the-art noise-cancellation headphones—the Electra Ultra 5X-8. A fact-filled brochure has been enclosed for your convenience.
Substituting Reader-Centered Phrasing for Writer-Centered Phrasing to Achieve the “You Perspective”
Classic Reader-Centered Advertising Slogans: You deserve a break today. (McDonald’s) Have it your way. (Burger King) This Bud’s for you. (Budweiser)
Writer-Centered: As a result of recent public-health findings concerning secondhand smoke, we are pleased to announce that Westmoreland Mall, as of January 1, 1995, is a smoke-free environment. Thanks for keeping the air fresh! Exterior smoking receptacles are conveniently located at all mall entrances. Smoking is permitted in designated areas of the Food Court and the restaurants.
Reader-Centered (a student’s revision): You’re sure to find shopping at Westmoreland Mall to be a breath of fresh air. As a result of recent public-health findings about secondhand smoke, your mall is now a smoke-free environment. But you can still feel free to enjoy a cigarette in designated areas of the Food Court and mall restaurants—and smoking receptacles are conveniently located at all mall entrances just for you.
Substituting Positive Phrasing for Negative Phrasing
Negative: The glass is half empty. Positive: The glass is half full.
Negative: We regret to inform you that we cannot possibly ship the laptop before December 1.
Positive: Your laptop will be shipped on December 1.
Negative: We assure you that there will be no further delay in shipping your order.
Positive: Your order will be shipped at once.
Dear Mrs. Markson:
You’re right! Your son’s Windspirit is rated as the fastest, most durable ten-speed on the market. In fact, the U.S. team has chosen it for the Olympics.
As you know, the advertisements highlighting the Windspirit as the toughest, most durable ten-speed emphasize that it’s a racing or cruising bike built to withstand the long, grueling miles of intense competition. Your bike is built of the strongest yet lightest alloys available, and each part is calibrated to within 1/1000 of an inch. That’s why your bike can be fully guaranteed when it is subjected to the strain of competitive racing.
To ensure that you’re familiar with the Windspirit’s capability, your owner’s manual, as you recall, stresses that the bike should be carried over curbings and similar drops because even an eight-inch drop could damage the front rim. Your guarantee, as you know, covers the performance of the bike when it is used for its intended purpose—as a racing bike.
In order to withstand the impact of ramp jumps, however, the rims and front fork would have to be made from a much thicker gauge alloy, thereby increasing weight and decreasing speed. Since your Windspirit is a racing bike, such a compromise is unacceptable.
Therefore, you’re likely to decide that a bike capable of absorbing the impact of high jumps would be better suited for your son. You could recoup a large part of the Windspirit’s price by advertising the bike in your local newspaper. You’re sure to find that many novice racers would welcome the chance to buy one at a reduced price. Or if you prefer having the bike repaired, you can take it to Jason’s Bike Shop, the dealer closest to you.
EDITING GUIDELINES FOR ADJUSTMENT-REFUSAL LETTER:
1. Make sure that you have used the four-segment structure required for the assignment. The argumentative segment must consist of at least two paragraphs. (Review the instructions on pages 1-2 of the adjustment-refusal-letter handout, as well as the two sample letters.)
2. Be sure that you have an effective buffer.
3. Include all of the relevant details.
4. Make sure that all of the details are accurate.
5. Make sure to use reader-centered phrasing throughout the entire letter. Eliminate all writer-centered pronouns (I, me, my, mine, we, us, our, ours).
6. Eliminate all negative phrasing—including words such as no, not, cannot, impossible, unfortunate, refuse, and fail.
7. Do not blame the reader.
8. Make sure that the refusal is stated in positive, not negative, terms.
9. Make sure that there are smooth, logical, orderly transitions between sentences and between paragraphs.
10. Make sure all phrasing is clear, direct, precise, and concise.
11. Be sure to paraphrase all phrasing on the assignment sheet that can be paraphrased. Avoid derivative (i.e., plagiarized) phrasing.
12. Make sure that you have followed all of the guidelines for the modified semi-block format for the letter.
13. Proofread very carefully to eliminate all grammatical, punctuational, syntactic (sentence-structural), and typographical errors, as well as misspellings and errors in capitalization. The errors that will have the most catastrophic effect on your grade are the sentence-structure errors: comma-splice errors, fused-sentence errors, and fragments.
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