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.
If you're responding to a complaint about goods not having been delivered at all, or goods being damaged, defective or not what was requested, you’ll need our separate suite of response templates for these scenarios.
In England and Wales, sales between businesses are governed by the Sale of Goods Act.
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.
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.
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.
For a quick and friendly expert view on your position and your prospects of success, as well as how best to draft this letter, simply select our speak to a lawyer feature and we’ll rapidly match you with the right expert to get you the help you need.
Template Letter 1 - you've had a complaint, let's write a good reply
This is the first response letter in our suite of correspondence templates covering the situation where your business customer has complained that the goods they ordered from you have arrived too late for them to be used for the purpose that they intended.
In this letter, you’re either taking the position that any delay to your delivery of the good was caused by events outside of your control, or, that there was in fact no binding delivery date imposed on you.
Of course, if you don’t have a compelling reason for not delivering the goods on time, you should check first what your contractual terms say; for example, is the delivery date a binding date, or just an estimate.
Once you know what the contract says, you will know whether you’re in breach of it or not.
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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