ERIC WESTERVELT, HOST:

It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR West. I'm Eric Westervelt. Englishman Anthony Matthews is something of a master when it comes to the complaint letter. Over the years, he's become almost obsessed with them - writing to customer relations department of car companies, hotels and airlines all with surprising successful results.

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ANTHONY MATTHEWS: Dear customer relations just, imagine it.

WESTERVELT: That's Anthony reading from his first letter composer typewriter 25 years ago. It was about his luxury car that was falling apart - breakdowns, oil leaks, smoke from the air vents. The worst part, the heater was stuck on full-blast in the middle of summer. He had to keep his windows rolled down to keep cool. Then he got caught in what he describes as a storm of biblical proportions and his windows wouldn't rollup.

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MATTHEWS: There you are, cruising along the motorway. Your left side in the full blast of the heater is slowly cooking to a perfect medium-rare. Your right-sided is immersed in a torrent of cold water hitting at 70 miles an hour. The car is slowly filling with water - your sauna is turning into a paddling pool.

WESTERVELT: (Laughing) You got a positive response, they actually fixed the car.

MATTHEWS: Completely, yeah. They took the car away for a whole month and they basically rebuilt it from the shoddy upwards and that was it all.

WESTERVELT: Now, to many you're a customer relations hero, but do friends and family ever say, Anthony, you've gone a little bonkers here?

MATTHEWS: Oh regularly, yes. By the end of the day, it's all about having a bit of fun really. And these days a lot of people send their complaints to me and so I have great fun on a weekend going through my inbox with some of the stuff that's flying around the world. It's great.

WESTERVELT: Another one of your letters was about your local milkman, a guy named Barry, kind of the milkman from Hell so to speak. Tell us about Barry.

MATTHEWS: Yeah, he'd been ruining our sleep for many years. This guy delivered milk in the middle of the night, and this guy used to fly in into the cul-de-sac in his noisy vehicle in first gear and reverse back out again and make the most unholy racket. And so I wrote a letter to his boss when I found their website and actually found out that Barry was indeed called Barry. So I asked for them to keep him quiet basically.

WESTERVELT: So, Anthony, let's hear a little bit from that letter.

MATTHEWS: He entered the cul-de-sac in 1st gear with foot to the floor, breaks abruptly, jumps out to make his delivery and then reverses back the way he came with a needle on his rev counter well into the red zone before he performs a quick handbrake turn and then back to first gear before screaming off down the street to wake up other people. Barry evidently has yet to discover second, third and fourth gears. He may as well deliver in a Harrier jump jet.

WESTERVELT: So what happened if you sent that in?

MATTHEWS: He had to stop at the end of the street and carry the milk in on foot.

WESTERVELT: (Laughing) Success. It seems like you have a particularly British approach to this. Americans are much more likely to fire off an angry letter saying, you know, give us our refund. You're using humor, sarcasm and irony to try to get what you want.

MATTHEWS: Yeah. I think it's a British trait. And in terms of writing a complaint letter there are a number of recommendations I would make. One of them is humor. First thing is write a real letter not an e-mail because you can't delete an envelope. And people get too much e-mail so if a letters - these days they don't get many letter so your letter stands out. And it's worth doing.

WESTERVELT: Recently a painful Comcast cable customer service call in the U.S. made the rounds of social media. Did you happen to hear it?

MATTHEWS: Oh, I did yes.

WESTERVELT: So let's take a listen.

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UNIDENTIFIED COMCAST EMPLOYEE: I'm just trying to figure out here what it is here about Comcast service that you're not liking - that you're not wanting to keep. I mean why is it that you don't want keep that service?

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: This, this, this phone call is a really, actually, amazing representative example of why I don't want to stay with Comcast.

WESTERVELT: So, Anthony, if you'd been on the other end of that line how would you have handled that call?

MATTHEWS: The first thing I think I would've done is made sure I had his name. So let's call him Mike for the sake of this conversation. We're all program to diverge our attention immediately when we hear our name, so the first thing I would do is I would use his name a lot. I think, as I understand it, most of these guys who do his job they're not allowed to actually put the phone down. It has to be the customer. So you can then reverse it and keep him talking for another 20 minutes.

WESTERVELT: Go for a nice walk, go out to dinner, leave the phone on.

MATTHEWS: Yeah. Indeed.

WESTERVELT: Anthony Matthews, master of the complaint letter. He's working on a book compiling complaint letters from around the world of the years titled "Dear Customer Relations." Anthony, thanks for joining us.

MATTHEWS: You're very welcome. It's been a pleasure.

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