As a consumer, what’s the first thing you do when a product or service falls far beneath your expectations? If you’re like most people, you complain about it. But to whom?

If your dissatisfaction goes no further than whining, ad nauseum, to your friends, you’re dropping the ball for getting the problem resolved. Your friends may sympathize, but soon they’ll tire of hearing about it. The lesser tactful may even encourage you to “DO something about it, or shut up, already!”

An effective complaint letter can accomplish much more than just getting it off your chest, although that’s good too. Check the product package or go online to get the company address, then sit down to compose a real letter. An email dashed off while you’re upset won’t cut it; you need to put your concerns down on paper.

It’s harder to ignore a written document—there’s no delete button. A letter is tangible, and most often requires a reply in kind. If you present the facts in a logical manner, perhaps even throwing in a touch of humor, then ask for the results you desire, many times you’ll be surprised at the end result.

On March 7, I posted a blog whining about the poor quality of the “fish fillets” I had purchased. Immediately after posting that entry, I sat down and composed a letter to the company, including the UPC code and grocery receipt. Then I asked for a refund.

Within two weeks, the company sent me a personalized response and two free coupons for any of their frozen seafood selections, totaling twice what I had paid for the original unsatisfactory product. My letter not only helped me vent my displeasure, but doubled my return! Not bad for a few minutes at the keyboard!

Now all I have to do is find one of their seafood entrées that’s actually edible!