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Complaints and Replies to Complaints
(from: F.W. King, D. Ann Cree. English Business Letters. - Longman, 2003. - P. 176-206.)

    Ideally, it should not be necessary to complain, since in business everything should be done so carefully – details of offers and orders checked, packing supervised, quality control carried out expertly – that no mistakes are made and nothing is damaged. Unfortunately, as in other walks of life, things do not work out as well as that. Errors occur and goods are mishandled; accidents happen, usually because of haste and lack of supervision. There is often a shortage of staff owing to illness or holidays, and there is sometimes a shortage of sufficiently trained staff, so mistakes are inevitable and customers complain.
    It should be a point of honour with a firm never to blame its em-ployees when writing replies to complaints: the firm has undertaken the work and the staff are part of the firm, therefore the firm itself is at fault and must take the consequences.
    Complaints may be of several kinds, and may arise from the delivery of wrong goods, damaged goods, or too many or too few goods. Even if the right articles are delivered in the right quantities, they may arrive later than expected, thus causing severe difficulty to the buyer and, possibly, to his customers. Then the quality of the goods may be unsatisfactory: perhaps they are not according to the sample or description on the basis of which they were ordered, or they may simply be second-rate products.
    If a customer is dissatisfied with the execution of his order, he will complain. In doing so he should refer clearly to the articles in question, by referring to his own order number or to that of his supplier's invoice, or both. He should then specify the nature of his complaint, and finally state what action he wants his supplier to take.
    Here are some examples of letters of complaint written by custom-ers to their suppliers:    

[1] Complaint of late delivery

Dear Sirs

Our order no. VF449766 of 4 July 2009

The goods ordered under this number arrived today in good condition, and your invoice has been checked and found correct.

However, we have to point out that these articles were ordered subject to their arriving here by the end of August. Since they did not reach us until 14 September, we have been hard pressed to meet our commitments to our own customers.    

As you will no doubt understand, a recurrence of this situation could well result in our customers placing orders elsewhere, and this is a risk we are un-willing to take. We must, therefore, insist that you observe delivery deadlines for future orders.

Yours faithfully

[2] Customer complains of repeated delays in delivery

Dear Sirs

Our order nos. 6531, 6687, 6866, and 6892

As we have repeatedly pointed out to you, prompt delivery on your part is essential if we are to maintain satisfactory stock levels and fulfil our produc-tion schedules.

Each of the four orders listed above has arrived later than the date stipulated, and order no. 6892 was delayed by almost a month, with the result that we
have had to reduce production by some 5 per cent.

We cannot possibly allow this situation to continue, and are sorry to have to tell you that unless you can guarantee to deliver supplies by the dates speci-fied in future orders, we will be forced to look for another supplier.

We hope to hear from you very soon.    

Yours faithfully

[3] Customer receives wrong goods

Dear Sirs

Our order no. J 733

We have received the documents and taken delivery of the goods which ar-rived at Port Elizabeth on the S.S. Castle yesterday.

We are much obliged to you for the prompt execution of this order. Every-thing seems to be correct and in good condition except in case no. 14.

Unfortunately, when we opened this case we found it contained completely different articles from those ordered, and we can only presume that a mistake has been made and that this case is part of another order.

As we need the articles we ordered to complete deliveries to our customers, we must ask you to arrange for replacements to be despatched at once.
We attach a list of the contents of case 14, and would be glad if you would check this against our order and your copy of the invoice. In the meantime we are
holding the case at your disposal; please let us know what you wish us to do with it.
Yours faithfully

[4] Complaint of inferior quality

Dear Sirs

We are very sorry to have to inform you that your last delivery is not up to your
usual standard. The material seems to be too loosely woven and is inclined to
pull out of shape. By separate mail we have sent you a cutting from this material, also one from cloth of an early consignment, so that you can compare the two and see the difference in texture.    
We have always been able to rely on the high quality of the materials you sent us and we are all the more disappointed in this case because we supplied the cloth to new customers. As we shall have to take it back we must ask you to let us know, without delay, what you can do to help us in getting over this difficulty.

Yours faithfully

Here is a list of sentences which may be used in various types complaints:

Poor quality goods, wrong goods

1. You have supplied goods below the standard we expected from the samples.  
2. The bulk of the goods delivered is not up to sample.
3. The goods we have received do not tally with the sample on which we ordered.
4. Unfortunately, we find you have sent us the wrong goods.
5. On comparing the goods received with the sample, we were prised to find that the  colour is not the same.
6. Evidently some mistake was made and the goods have been wrongly delivered.
7. The finish is not good and the enamel has cracked in some places.
8. The heads of the screws should have been below the outer surface, whereas they stand out above it.
9. The chromium finish is not so bright as it should be and in some places is discoloured.
10. The pattern is uneven in places and the colouring varies.
11. We cannot possibly supply our customers with the articles we have received from you.
12. Our chemist reports that the content is not up to the (percentage) (proportion) agreed.
13. We have had an analysis made and the analyst reports (that the chemical content is … % deficient in...).
14. We cannot accept these containers as they are not the size and shape we ordered.
15. We find that you have sent us ah article marked DC/56 instead of the BC/56 we ordered; we take it that this was due to a typist's er-ror, but as the articles sent are not of the type we stock, we must ask for replacement by the correct number as soon as possible.

Missing from the delivery

16. On checking the goods received we find that several items on your invoice have not been included; we enclose a list of the missing articles.
17. Unfortunately you have not sent us all the goods we ordered; the following are missing …
18. There is a discrepancy between the packing list of case 52 and your invoice: 3 dozen tea services are correctly entered on the invoice but there were only 2 dozen in the case.    
19. We regret to have to tell you that case 20 contains only 10 plastic bowls instead of 12 entered on the packing list and also on the in-voice. The case shows no signs of pilferage and we shall be glad if you will check up with your packers before we make a claim.
20. You have short-shipped this consignment by 100 kg.

The buyers need not accept any goods received that are not in ac-cordance with their order, except as the result of alterations made by agreement with the sellers, but they may make an offer to keep the goods at a reduced price.
The buyers are entitled to return to the sellers any goods received that they did not order, but in the export trade it is usual for the buyers first to find out what the sellers' wishes are in the matter. This is a question of courtesy and consideration, as the reimportation of goods into a country will involve Customs entries and other formalities, to say noth-ing of the actual cost of freight and insurance. It is also possible that the wrongly delivered goods may have been intended for another cus-tomer in the same country as the receivers, and so the goods can be sent on to the correct address. It is better if the sellers instruct their own shipping and forwarding agents to attend to this, through their branch or correspondents in the country of the buyers, rather than involve the latter in the trouble of sending on goods. (Note the fourth paragraph of letter no. 7.)

Offer to keep goods at a reduced price

21. Although the quality of these goods is not up to that of our usual lines we are prepared to accept them if you will reduce the price, say, by...
22. We are only prepared to accept the goods sent if you are willing to make a substantial reduction in the price.

Complaint of delay

23.    When we sent you our order we pointed out (that prompt delivery was most essential) (that early delivery of the goods was absolutely necessary).
24.    We urged on you the importance of the time factor.
25. The delivery time was clearly stated on our order and your (acknowledgement) (acceptance).
26. In your acknowledgement of our order you stated that the consignment would be despatched within (two weeks) (a fortnight) and we are therefore very surprised that we have had no advice of despatch yet.
27. We are at a loss to understand why we have not heard from you.
28. We are still without your advice of despatch of the cameras; we are receiving urgent requests from customers and you will understand that this delay places us in an awkward position.
29. As you know from our previous correspondence, these goods represent a considerable part of a big order, and it is absolutely essential that the delivery should be punctual, otherwise the installation of the machinery cannot be carried out by the date agreed.
30. You will remember that it was agreed the goods would be shipped in time to arrive here by the end of the month..
31. If the goods have not yet been shipped we must ask you to send them by air.
32. Our stocks may become too low for us to be able to cope with the Christmas trade.    
33. An explanation of this delay will be appreciated.
34. We must ask you to despatch the consignment immediately, if you have not already done so, and in any case please inform us by cable what the position is.
35. We hope to hear from you by return that the consignment is on its way.
36. We have asked our bank for information but they say they have not received any documents from you yet.     
37. Any delay now will cause us a loss of  business.
38. Although we have had no news from you since your letter of the 5th of last month, we have no doubt that you did ship the goods on the 24th as agreed, but, owing to your failure to keep us informed, we have not been able to obtain insurance cover and the goods are therefore being carried at your risk.
39. Our import licence is due to expire on the 30th of this month, and if there is any delay in renewing it the consignment may have to be held up at the docks, which will add to the cost of the shipment and cause great inconvenience. We therefore urge you to do everything possible to hasten the despatch.

Bad packing

40. We regret that we have to complain about the way in which the consignment just received has been packed.
41. The packing inside the case (was too loose) (was insufficient) with the result that there was some shifting of the contents and several cups and plates have been broken. The attached list will give you details.
42. Some of the polythene bags seem to have burst, either as the result
of chemical action of the contents or because the polythene is not thick enough. It would be advisable to have tests made to discover the cause of the breaking.
43. The seams of the jute sacks do not appear to haw been strong enough, with the result that they have given way, thus allowing the contents to run out.  
44. The adhesive tape seems to have dried in some cases, so that the lids became loose. We would therefore advise you to see whether the tape used was defective in any way.    
45. The cartons appear to have been very roughly handled at some time during loading or discharging, but fortunately the metal bands held firm and the contents have hot suffered any damage.
46. One of the parts in case no. 69 came adrift and has been dented, in consequence of contact with the other parts. We believe we can have the dent pressed out, but this may affect the selling price and in that case we must reserve the right to call on you for compen-sation.
47. We have had the case and contents examined by the insurance surveyor but, as you will see from the enclosed copy of his report, he maintains that the damage was probably due to insecure packing and not to any unduly rough handling of the case.

Warnings of cancellation, etc.

Warnings and threats should hot be used too liberally, or they will only create bad feeling and in many cases would be quite unnecessary, even unwise. However, if there are constant or needlessly prolonged delays, or frequent mistakes in carrying out orders, the buyers may be obliged to write in this way. The following are the usual phrases in English writing.

48. We must ask you to carry out our orders more carefully in future.
49. We must insist on more careful (execution of our orders) (attention being given to our instructions).
50. We regret that unless we hear from you by return we shall be obliged (to cancel the order) (to terminate the agreement).
51. We shall be (forced) (compelled) to hand the matter over to our solicitors.
52. We are very reluctant (to take this step) (to take such action) and we hope it will not be necessary.
53. We trust you will not make it necessary for us (to do this) (to take legal action) (to take such a step).


    These should always be courteous; even if the sellers think that the complaint is unfounded they should not say so until they have good and reliable grounds on which to repudiate the claim. All complaints should be treated as serious matters and thoroughly investigated.
    If the sellers are the first to discover that a mistake has been made they should not wait for a complaint, but should write, cable or tel-ephone at once to let the buyers know, and either put the matter right or offer some compensation.
    On receiving the complaint the sellers will make investigations, and if the complaint is justified they will at once apologise to the buyers and suggest a solution. If the buyers have offered to keep the goods, the sellers will probably agree to this and to a price reduction. The amount of the reduction will depend on how bad the mistake is, and in some cases a substantial reduction, even with consequent loss, is of more advantage to the sellers than the expense and trouble of having the goods returned to them, and of causing inconvenience to their customers. However, if the value of the goods in question is high, it may be advisable to have them returned, although even in this case the added risk of damage in further transport may not be worth incurring.
    There is no need for the sellers to go into a long story of how the mistake was made. A short explanation may be useful but, generally speaking, the buyers are hot interested in hearing how or why the error occurred but only in having the matter put right, in receiving the goods they ordered – or at least value for the money they have paid – or in knowing when they may expect to receive the delayed consignment.
    In no case should the sellers blame their staff; their sole aim is to put the trouble right and restore good relations with their customers.

[5] Supplier's reply to letter no. I   

Dear Sirs

Thank you for your letter of 17 September. We are pleased to hear that the goods ordered under your no. W449766 arrived in good condition, but must apologise for their delayed arrival.

We have looked into the matter and have found that the delay is due to a minor fault in one of our routines, which has now been rectified. We can assure you that future orders from you will be dealt with promptly, and that consignments will reach you by the dates stipulated.

Once again, please accept our apologies for this delay.

Yours faithfully

[6] Reply to letter no. 2

Dear Sirs

Your letter of 6 October 2008: your order nos. 6531. 6687. 6866 and 6892

We have received your letter, and must ask you to accept our apologies for despatching these orders later than the scheduled dates.
As we informed you in our letter of 8 August, there was some disagreement between management and the trade union in the latter part of the summer, and this resulted in greatly reduced production at two of our plants in the north of England. It was at this time that we introduced electronic data process-ing of orders here at head office, and, like most other companies, we had one or two problems to sort out in the early stages.
However, these difficulties have now been cleared up, and our production is now running according to plan. We are, naturally, very sorry for the incon-venience you have had to suffer on account of our own problems, but we can promise you that you can rely on prompt delivery on our part now that the situation is back to normal.

Yours faithfully

[7] Supplier's reply to letter no. 3

Dear Sirs

Your order no. J733. Your letter OG/Mfr of October 2009

Thank you for your letter. We are pleased to hear that the consignment was delivered promptly, but are very sorry to lean that case no. 14 did not contain the goods you ordered.

On going into the matter we find that a mistake was made in the packing, through a confusion of numbers, and we have arranged for the right goods to be despatched to you at once. The documents will be mailed to you within the next forty-eight hours.

We have already cabled you in this connection, and enclose a copy of the telegram.

We would be grateful if you would kindly keep case no. 14 and its contents until they are called for by the local representatives of World Transport Ltd., our forwarding agents, who we have already instructed.

Please accept our many apologies for the trouble caused to you by the error.

Yours faithfully

[8] Exporters’ reply to letter no 4

Dear Sirs

We have received your letter of October and thank you for sending us the two samples of cloth for examination.

We have passed these on to the factory for comment and we quote the following from their reply: "It was found that some short-staple yarn had, by accident, been woven into the material, and this cloth was put on one side for disposal in a suitable market. Evidently through an oversight some of the cloth was packed in your consignment. The factory manager was very grateful for the samples, as it is possible other buyers may have received these imperfect goods, and enquiries are being made accordingly."

We told the manufacturers how greatly concerned we were over your disappointment in the quality, and the fact that you had supplied the cloth to new  customers. They expressed their very great regret, and we have arranged with them for the immediate despatch of replacements, franco domicile, duty paid.
Furthermore, they guarantee the quality of the cloth now sent.

If you care to dispose of the inferior cloth at the best price obtainable for it, we will send you a credit note for the difference, as soon as we hear from you.

We apologise sincerely for the trouble caused to you, and will take all possible steps to ensure that such a mistake is not made again.    

Yours faithfully

In the case of letter no. 8, the sellers might not admit any fault in the cloth, and among the following sentences are some that they could use:

Replies to complaints of poor quality

54.    We were very sorry to receive your complaint that the material you received was not of the quality expected.
55.    We have been supplying the same material for some time past and have had no complaints about it so far.
56.    The defect may be due to a fault in a machine and we are having a check-up made on all the (machines) (looms).
57.    The samples you sent us are not large enough to judge by and we shall be much obliged if you will return us the whole piece. The cost of returning will, of course, be borne by us.
58. We think the best procedure will be to have the pieces examined by an expert and we are arranging for this to be done.
59. We have asked our shipping agents to collect the case from you, for delivery to the customer to whom it should haw been sent.
60. We shall be glad if you will return the goods to us, and we have arranged collection by...    
61. The (articles) (appliances) were carefully examined in the usual way before being packed and we cannot understand how the enamel came to be cracked. As our Export Manager is paying a visit to your country next month he will call to see you, and we shall be much obliged if you will keep the articles on one side until he can inspect them.
62. We greatly regret the mistake in the number, which resulted in your receiving the wrong articles...
63. We were sorry to see from your letter that you expected to receive no. BC/56; on looking at your order again we see that what looked like a ‘D’ could indeed be ‘B’, but the typing was smudged and not clear. If you will examine your own copy of the order we think you will see that this is so. Furthermore we stated DC/56 on our acknowledgement and this must have escaped your notice.

Goods missing from the delivery short-shipped—short-delivered

64. On receiving your letter and list of goods you say were missing from the consignment, we checked up with the packers. It appears that an extra case had to be used to take all the articles of the order, and this case is included on the bill of lading, as you will see if you examine one of the copies. We would suggest that you make enquiries with the agents in your port.
65. We greatly regret that you received only 2 dozen instead of the 3 dozen ordered. On investigation we find that the packers misread the number, and we have arranged with them for the immediate despatch (of the missing 1 dozen) (of the 1 dozen short-shipped).
66. According to our records the complete dozen were packed and we are afraid that the case must have been opened, although it may show no signs of this. We can send you evidence of the correct ship-ment, so that you can take the matter up at your end. If you require any action on our part please let us know.
67. On making enquiries concerning the missing drum we have discov-ered that it was left behind on the quay; the shipping agents inform us, however, that it was put on the next ship, the M.V. …, which is due to arrive at your port on 6 February. The local agents have already received advice of this and will communicate with you on the arrival of the vessel.  

Replies to offer to keep goods at a reduced price

68. We appreciate your offer to keep the goods wrongly delivered,  and we are ready to allow …% off the invoice price. We hope this will meet with your approval.
69. In view of the high quality of the article, we regret that we cannot reduce the price. If you are unable to accept it, we will make arrangements for its collection and (return to us) (delivery to another customer).
Replies to complaints of delay

70. We received your letter of September 4, and immediately cabled you, as per copy enclosed, stating that the goods were despatched on the 1st, which we confirm.
71. There was a slight delay due to the breakdown of a machine, which held up (production) (packing) for (a day) (a day or two), but as we knew it would not affect the delivery limit we did not notify you.
72. The goods are already on their way and the documents were duly handed to the bank.
73. Our advice of despatch was mailed to you and you will doubtless have received it by now.
74. We regret that you had the trouble of writing to us, and your letter must have crossed with ours advising you of the shipment of the consignment.
75. The factory have advised us that owing to unexpected demand, they have not been able to cope with orders and are behindhand with some deliveries.
76. We have asked the manufacturers to give your order priority, which they have promised to do.
77. Owing to a lightning strike in the factory the production was held up for twenty-four hours. The strike has been settled but there is likely to be some delay, although the workers are on overtime.
78. We regret that no priority can be given, but you can be sure that all orders are being executed in strict rotation.
79. We are extremely sorry about this delay, which you will realise due to circumstances beyond our control.

Note: All contracts contain clauses exempting suppliers and transport people from any liability due to strikes and such actions outside the control of the senders and carriers.

Replies to complaints of bad packing
80. As soon as we received your letter we got in touch with the packet
and asked them to look into the matter.
81. We have passed on your complaint to the firm of packers that handled this consignment, and have asked them to send us a report.
82. We have been in touch with the manufacturers of the bags and have asked them (to strengthen the material) (to reinforce the seams).
83. Our stock of adhesive tape has been carefully examined and it seems to be in very good condition. We can only surmise that the tins were exposed to heat, or the cartons may have been stowed near boilers.
84. The packers do not agree that there is any defect in the material used, and there have been no previous complaints; they maintain that the cases must have (had) (been subjected to) very (rough handling) (rough treatment).
85. We are very pleased to hear that the metal bands held firm, but we will use stouter packing in future.    

Replies to warnings of cancellation    

86. It was with great regret that we read your final remark, and we sincerely hope you will not consider it necessary to take such a drastic step.
87. We should like to say that we greatly appreciate your patience in this most unfortunate matter, but as we have hopes of getting it cleared up in the very near future we must ask you to do nothing final yet.
88. We feel that your threat of cancellation is unjustified and we shall be obliged to hold you to your contract.
89. As we do not feel we have had the co-operation from you (that we expected) (that we were entitled to), we ourselves are not pre-pared to continue the contract and will give you due notice of termination.


A note here on the taking of legal action: no sensible firm does this except on the advice of a lawyer. The language of the law in all countries is inclined to be rather old-fashioned and difficult to understand, but more simple language is often dangerous as it may be differently interpreted; for this reason the actual wording of contracts of any kind should also be subject to the approval of a lawyer. Businessmen prefer to write in a straightforward and simple way, but care must always be taken in writing a letter to a firm in another country. Misinterpretation may lead to legal action.

Explanation of reference numbers in this chapter

(1) other walks of life: people in different circumstances (другие сферы деятельности)
(2) a point of honour: a matter of conscience (вопрос чести)
(3) we have received the documents: the documents are the shipping docu-ments (see Chapter 8) {зд. мы получили отгрузочные документы)
(4) we are holding the case at your disposal: this means that we have not accepted the case and contents, which are still the property of the senders (мы задержали ящик до принятия Вами решения)
(5) to say nothing of: not to mention (не говоря уже о)
(6) say, by...: (1) Used, as here, to indicate a suggestion; (2) To indicate sum of money repeated in words after the figures (скажем, … фунтов и т.п.)
(7) at a loss to understand: we cannot find any reason (трудно … понять)
(8) to be held up: to be delayed (быть задержанным)
(9) have given way: have not been able to hold firm and have therefore broken or collapsed (зд. швы в мешках разошлись)
(10)  came adrift: became unfastened (it is derived from boats and ships; ‘to cast adrift’ is to unfasten the vessel) (открепилась, отлетела)
(11)  short-staple yarn: the thread or yarn used in weaving may have a basic short or long length, according to the natural wool; long staple gives the cloth greater strength (штапельное волокно)
(12)  franco domicile: (see the price terms on page 19 of Chapter 3) (франко домициль)

awkward (adj.): difficult, inconvenient (неудобный)
bulk (n.): (1) The goods delivered in a sale by sample (поставленный в виде образцов); (2) The majority, most of the goods (большинство; большая часть)
check up (v.): to see if everything is all right (проверять)
cope with (v.): to manage, but always with some difficulty (справиться c)
dispose of (v): (1) To get rid of (избавиться от); (2) To sell (продать, сбыть)
finish (n.): the completed surface of the article or material (отделка)
item (n.): used only to refer to something in a list, in a catalogue (изделие в каталоге)
line (n.): the kind of material or article dealt in or made, the kind business (направление в бизнесе)
missing (adj.): what is not there but should be (отсутствующий)
pilferage (n.): petty theft (мелкая кража)
replacement (n.): in the case of breakage or wrong delivery another consignment of the goods ordered is sent to take the place of the broken, damaged or wrongly delivered goods (замена одной партии товара другой)
staff (n.): the employees (персонал, сотрудники, аппарат)
substantial (adj.): big, large (существенный)
take for granted (v.): to presume (usually abbreviated to: take it) (считать само собой разумеющимся)
texture (n.): structure of material, thickness, weave of fabric (строение ткани)
viewpoint (n.): point of view (точка зрения)


1. Write a letter from buyers, saying that some articles are missing from a delivery.    
2. As the suppliers, reply to the previous letter.
3. As buyers, write to your suppliers and ask them why you have not had any advice from them yet of the despatch of a consignment.
4. Write a letter from buyers in an eastern country, informing suppliers that certain articles they sent have been affected by the heat, in spite of a guarantee that this would not happen; say what you pro-pose in the matter.
5. As exporters, write to your customers advising them about a strike that may delay shipment of their order.
6. Write to your suppliers and inform them that several articles in one case have been broken, owing to insecure packing; the insurance surveyor has reported this.
7. As the exporters, write a tactful letter to customers who have complained that the material they have received is not like the samples on which they gave the order.
8. As suppliers, reply to a complaint of missing goods, asking customers to make a careful check at their end, as everything was correct when the goods were packed and shipped.


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