What Is an Adjustment Letter?

Claim adjustment letter

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An adjustment letter or a claim adjustment letter is a written response from a representative of a business or agency to a customer's claim letter. It explains how a problem with a product or service may (or may not) be resolved.

How to Handle the Response

If your business has received a claim letter from a customer, you'll want to handle your response diplomatically and with the proper "you attitude" to quickly and effectively repair or prevent any damage to your reputation. Even if the complaint can't be resolved exactly as the customer wishes or you have to give bad news, you want to still take a positive, professional tone. 

Andrea B. Geffner illustrates further:

"An adjustment letter should begin with a positive statement, expressing sympathy and understanding. Near the start, it should let the reader know what is being done, and this news, good or bad, should be followed by an explanation. The letter should end with another positive statement, reaffirming the company's good intentions and the value of its products, but never referring to the original problem.
"Whether or not your company is at fault, even the most belligerent claim should be answered politely. An adjustment letter should not be negative or suspicious; it must never accuse the customer or grant any adjustment grudgingly. Remember, your company's image and goodwill are at stake when you respond even to unjustified claims."​ ("How to Write Better Business Letters," 4th ed. Barron's, 2007)

Be careful to never promise something your company can't deliver (or a deadline you can't meet), or that will only compound the problem. Convey to your customer that you do have his or her interest in mind, and keep the door open to keep their business and for better success in the future.

Even as times change, some things remain true. Good business advice hasn't changed in the last 100 years, as evident from advice given by O.C. Gallagher and L.B. Moulton in "Practical Business English," from 1918: 

"Any showing of ill-feeling or anger in your adjustment letter will defeat its purpose. Indifference toward the customer's complaint or delay in answering it is likewise fatal to further business relations. The 'you,' not the 'I,' attitude will put the offended customer in good humor, and open the way for a pleasant settlement of the complaint. An adjustment letter characterized by the 'you' attitude becomes a sales letter."

Dealing With Internet Complaints

The same type of advice also applies to dealing with complaints or poor reviews levied against businesses on the internet or via social media. You still need to be diplomatic in your response. Speed in diffusing a complaint is of the essence—but not hastiness.

  • Remember that anything you type in an electronic message or post can be copied and forwarded for the world to see, and it's really difficult to completely delete something after posting it online or hitting "send."
  • Have someone proofread it and check for cultural sensitivity or other potential pitfalls before putting it out there.
  • Cut to the chase—keep the public-facing text short and to the point. 
  • Always have a cool head when responding to criticism online or else the problem can spiral. Any text online affects your brand and reputation.

A successful resolution to a complaint or claim also has the ability to spread far and wide, though likely not as fast or widely as a poor review or complaint, unfortunately. 

Sources

Gerald J. Alred, Charles T. Brusaw, and Walter E. Oliu, "The Business Writer's Handbook," 10th ed. Macmillan, 2011.

Philip C. Kolin, "Successful Writing at Work," 9th ed. Wadsworth Publishing, 2009.