This suite of templates covers sales of goods between two businesses. They're not appropriate for use by a consumer who wishes to complain about goods that it has bought from a business and if your complainant is a consumer, you'll need to alter your reply as well.
(See our guide to goods, services and consumer rights for more background and help on handling complaints about your services from consumers.)
If you're responding to a complaint about goods being delivered too late, or goods being damaged, defective or not what was requested, you’ll need our separate suite of response templates for these scenarios.
And if you're the business wanting to complain about, you should refer to our guide to complaining when you've received goods that are defective, damaged or not what you requested.
Check the terms of your contract first
The very first starting point for checking whether your customer is within their rights and for what you may be liable, is what's written in your contract terms.
You might set these out in a standard form terms and conditions document that you apply to all of your customers, or they may be contained in a more substantial sale of goods contract that you've negotiated with that particular customer.
You should always make sure that your customers have access to these terms and they understand the basis on which you agree to supply them.
If your customer publicly says untrue things about you during the course of venting their frustration, you may also wish to consider combining the templates in this suite of correspondence with those in our suite of defamation (untrue statements).
Our guide to defamation may also be a helpful read in those circumstances.
Template Letter 1 - you've had a complaint, let's write a good reply
(For more background on terms and conditions, take a look at our guides on what to include in your terms and conditions when you're selling to consumers, and what to include when you're selling to other businesses](/guides/terms-and-conditions-for-selling-to-businesses-the-essentials-they-should-cover/).
However you've chosen to set out your contract, read them through thoroughly before you start to draft or communicate a reply to this complaint.
Striking the right tone
It can be annoying to spend time and effort choosing what you need, only to find that what you end up with is not at all what you wanted and if that's how your customer feels, they may well be inclined to vent their frustrations, on social media or in written correspondence.
However they choose to make their views known, if their tone becomes aggressive, inflammatory or otherwise inappropriate, do not allow yourself to match that tone of voice or language - it rarely achieves a constructive outcome.
Be concise, factual and unemotional in your reply. If your customer has reached out to you in a written format, you should do them the courtesy of replying in writing too.
The benefit of a written reply is also that it creates a helpful paper trail if the complaint escalates and you're unfortunate enough to find yourself subsequently facing legal proceedings.
This is the first response letter in our suite of correspondence templates covering the situation where your business customer has complained that they have not received goods that they ordered from you.
You'll see that our template provides you with several possible drafting options explaining the reasons for the non-delivery of the goods to date:
non-delivery has been caused by unforeseen events outside of your control
there was no contractually binding date for delivery, and the goods are coming shortly
an alternative reason - which might be as simple as an admission of fault and an apology
(though see the note of caution in the template about how you approach admissions of responsibility, as by admitting responsibility, you are handing the right to your customer to claim reasonable compensation from you. So, make sure you're prepared for that).
If you're concerned about the reasons for your non-delivery of the goods, it may be helpful to use our pay as you go service to speak to a lawyer and get a quick view on your position and how polite but assertive you can be in your reply.
Delays caused by events wholly outside of your control
Good contracts contain a clause commonly called a ‘force majeure' or ‘events outside the parties’ control’ clause.
This clause ensures that if an act such as an earthquake, terrorist act or major natural flood occurs and it causes unavoidable disruption to your business, you can essentially be ‘excused’ from not meeting your contractual obligations and you are not considered to be in breach of your contractual obligations to your trading partner.
If an event such as this is not responsible for the delay to your delivery of the goods, you should not select this optional wording within the template.
What if you were at fault or do not have an excuse?
If there was a binding delivery date and you did not meet it, you’ve technically breached your contract with your customer. In this situation, in whatever explanation you provide, you’ll essentially be looking to limit the damage.
Wilkes advise that the best approach here is often to apologise sincerely and assure the customer that you did your best to get the goods to them as fast as you could.
But before you go down that route and admit you’re at fault, you should be sure that you are in breach of contract and that there are no credible reasons you could give for the delayed supply.
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