Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Write Way to Respond to Customers

Companies that spend tons of money on ad campaigns designed to get people to buy things seem to understand that words are influential. Sadly, the same companies can fail basic business communication tests.

A recent example: Boeing's response to a letter from a...well, let's say a potential customer. In fact, the correspondence was a crayon drawing of a plane sent to the aerospace company from an 8-year-old whose dad - snicker if you will - is a social media blogger. (A plant? Possibly, but I doubt it.)

If being a writer is a disease, it has an unusually high comorbidity with another affliction, called customerservice-itis. Those of us who suffer from both will attest it's an extremely painful condition.

One of my first episodes occurred in the spring of oh, about 1972. A delicious and well-packaged chocolate bunny in my Easter basket clearly labeled "solid" was in fact quite hollow. My dad said, well, why don't you write a letter to the company? So I did.

The company responded fairly well to my complaint, sending a letter of apology that included a brief explanation about air bubbles in manufacturing equipment (which even to a six-year-old, sounds like an excuse) and a package of hard candy.

I had unreasonably high expectations, I'll admit. I wanted replacement chocolate. And that air-bubble excuse didn't sit well with me. Still, I give the company points for trying.

Obviously, the episode stuck with me, leading me to become 1- hyper-sensitive to customer service slights and 2- a pretty good customer service manager, IMHO.

The real point of the story is this: after nearly four decades and a little brain damage along the way, I still remember the incident, the company (The Franklin Candy Company) and its response. I never bought anything from The Franklin Candy Company and on numerous occasions reminded my parents to avoid their products as well.

Forty years from now, the 8-year-old who wrote to Boeing may be a procurement specialist for DARPA or its lead engineer. Boeing, I suggest you review your customer service communications procedures. And skip any references to air bubbles, just for good measure.