Do you ever have a problem with suppliers, business partners or even with stores that don't give you what you've paid for?

Many of us work in business. Even if we don't, all of us are consumers and thus have dealings with businesses. Sometimes, things go wrong. For example, the goods we have paid for do not turn up, or their quality is poor. We then need to try to resolve the problem, often using a telephone conversation. Sometimes, it is not possible to speak to the relevant person or we don't achieve the outcome we desire; we then need to make our point more formally. In this article, I will give three examples of business letters, each of which aims to get the same commercial problem solved in a different way.

Imagine you work for Widgets ‘R’ Us, a leading retailer of computer widgets. A widget is a colloquial word for any little item of technical equipment, the precise name of which you do not know. Last month, you ordered 10,000 components from Acme Components Ltd, a large wholesaler of components for widgets. So far, you have received only 2,500 components and the remaining 7,500 are now significantly late. This is making it hard for you to meet orders from your own customers. You need to take action.

1. Friendly Letter

In this first scenario, there is a close and ongoing commercial relationship between Widgets 'R' Us and Acme Components. Representatives of each company have already discussed the matter on the telephone and resolved their differences amicably. The example letter below records what was agreed upon during the telephone conversation. Consequently, the tone of the letter is a little informal.

Dear Bob

Re: Order no. 3679

Thanks for taking time to speak to me yesterday. As agreed, I am writing to you to confirm the outcome of our discussion.

I spoke to you about the difficulties we were having in supplying widgets to our retail customers because of your delay in delivering our latest order of components. You mentioned to me that you have now sorted out the problems you had with your suppliers. You went on to say that Acme can ensure that we will receive the outstanding components within three working days.

In view of the delay in delivery, you also agreed that Acme would reduce the overall price of our order by 20% and provide us with an extra 14 days to pay the relevant invoice.

I am pleased that we have been able to resolve our difficulties amicably. If you have any queries on this letter or need to speak to me for any other reason, please do not hesitate to contact me. Thanks again.

Kind regards,


2. Neutral Letter

In this scenario, there is a normal commercial relationship between the two companies but it has now been damaged by the delay. There has been no prior telephone conversation. You are writing to the head of the product delivery department, John Snodgrass.

Dear Mr Snodgrass

Re: Late delivery of order no. 3679

As you may be aware, Acme has failed to deliver 7,500 of the components we ordered. Delivery is now 14 days late. As a result, we are experiencing major problems in meeting pre-existing orders for widgets from our own customers and our commercial reputation is now suffering.

Our companies have enjoyed a mutually beneficial relationship for some time, however, your delay in delivering the latest order is now placing this relationship under severe strain.

In view of the above, we must ask you to deliver the outstanding components within three days of receipt of this letter. We also expect a 30% discount on the price of our order to compensate us for the damage to our commercial reputation caused by the delay. Please confirm your agreement to both of these proposals.

Should you have any queries on the above, please contact our head of procurement, Doug Black, on the number above. We await your prompt response.

Yours faithfully,

Widgets 'R' Us

3. Strong Letter

In this final scenario, the delay and the consequences are the same as in the situations described in letters 1 and 2. Though there have been telephone discussions, the problems have not been resolved.

Widgets ‘R’ Us is now totally fed up with Acme Components and will not use them again. Their only aim now is to get the remaining components delivered as soon as possible and/or compensation. This letter is from the legal department of Widgets ‘R’ Us to Acme Components for the attention of FAO, the managing director.

Acme Components Ltd

FAO Managing Director

Dear Sirs

Re: Late delivery of order no. 3679

You agreed to deliver 10,000 widgets by 13 December 2014. On 12 December 2014, we received 2.500 widgets from you. No further widgets have been delivered to date.

We refer you to the telephone conversations between our Mr Black and your Mr Snodgrass of 14 December 2014, 3 January, and 17 January 2015. Despite numerous assurances from Mr Snodgrass, as of today, you have still not delivered the outstanding 7,500 components, in clear breach of your contractual duties. As a result, we now require delivery of the outstanding components within three working days.

Your delay has caused significant damage to our commercial reputation and has resulted in lost orders from our own customers. Consequently, we will pay 50% of your final invoice in respect of the order in question, assuming of course that the outstanding components are delivered within the further three working days we have stipulated.

If you fail to make delivery of the outstanding components within three working days, this will result in court proceedings for breach of contract, damages, interest and associated legal costs, to be commenced without further notice.

Kindly acknowledge safe receipt.

Yours faithfully,

Widgets’ R’ Us Ltd

I hope I have given you some idea of the kind of phrases and writing styles that can be used in varying types of English business correspondence when attempting to resolve a problem. Thanks for reading.

Image Sources

Hero image by Kenny Louie (CC BY 2.0)