Qui vive (kee-VEEV): A noun meaning alert or lookout. As in, we serious consumers are always on the qui vive for ways to extend our consumer dollars.

And writing good consumer letters is one of those ways, fellow qui vivers.A good consumer letter gets results; therefore, I suggest you put your own qui viveness into a letter format that will result in genuine relief to your consumer woes. In your letters: Heed the audience.

In a previous career incarnation, one of my responsibilities was to answer some of the many letters sent to a Utah governor. On an average day I sifted through at least an inch-deep pile of letters requesting (sometimes demanding) something or other. The good qui vivrants remembered that a person-not-an-institution read and responded.

In the corporate world that person is typically not a senior level decisionmaker. It's a nice staffer, sometimes an entry level person who does not have a screaming clue how the system actually works. The reader's job is to move that paper along, not to set policy. Qui vivateurs must make it as easy as possible for the reader to give them what they want.

Include your full name, address and daytime phone number.

Make it convenient for the reader to respond to you.

Be specific.

Identify the problem and the redress you expect. In another previous career incarnation, I spent one day a month in Denver serving on a powerful consumer panel. At the flick of a pen, we could tell the car company on whose board we served that they must give a consumer a brand new car. We did that once.

Never did we speak with a consumer. We based our decisions on the letters and reports of the consumer and the company. Those of the qui vive who got results had specificity on their side.

Effective qui vivizers always used these elements in their letters:

- "I request ( a new car or a refund of a repair bill or a new transmission)."

Be very clear about what you want.

- "I request this because (I had to replace the engine after I had driven my brand new car only 10,000 miles)."

Why? The bigger your request the more important it is to thoroughly answer that question for the reader.

Do not confuse your messages. Are you complaining about poor service? Bad product? Incomplete service? Defective merchandise? Make your point quickly and clearly. Expressions of frustration and anger are appropriate in small doses. Consolidate them and emphasize the facts that will result in your redress of choice. As a car company panelist, I soon tired of complaints liberally laced with criticism of the company. Creative sarcasm did not persuade me to agree with a consumer.

And don't use words like "qui vive" or derivatives such as those I conjured for this article.

-"I have attached copies of (receipts, previous correspondence I sent and received, repair bills)."

The paperwork helps make your case. Attach everything you feel is germane. Circle or highlight the dates, prices, items you want the reader to note. Do not expect a reader to study your documentation. Again, the best at the art of qui vive show the reader all pertinent details in the easiest way possible.

- "Thank you for (your answer, your prompt attention to this request.)"

Be appreciative of help even if you are furious with the company.

For us on the qui vive in whatever form, consumer letters are one of the best ways we can guarantee getting full value for a newly purchased bibelot. (BEE-buh-low - A noun meaning a small or decorative trinket.)