Zach Beauvais

How not to communicate

Written by Zach Beauvais

Mar 1, 2009

As you know, I’ve been emailing my ISP recently to find out why my connection drops every evening to around 500k. Following every email I’ve sent since January, I have received this automatic response (ISP name removed, for now…):


Thanks for emailing us.

Our Broadband team have received your email and will get back to you in the next 48 hours. We’re sorry to say that we’ve received more emails than normal over the past few days and this is why it might take us a bit longer to reply to your email.

Our call centres are also very busy just now so please don’t call us for an update on our email reply. Don’t worry, we’ll get back to you as soon as we can.

Thanks for waiting.

In the mean time, why not check out our broadband help pages…(link)

A few notes on why this is unsatisfactory:

Firstly, an automatic apology (“we’re sorry to say”) means nothing; and I would advise any customer services to not include one. It is cut from the same cloth as the oddly cheery recorded announcements broadcast at rail platforms: “We’re sorry to announce that the **** service to Manchester has been delayed by 45 minutes. We are extremely sorry for this delay.” It raises the blood pressure with its disingenuousness.

Secondly, to say you’ve received many extra emails is foolish in the extreme. It puts me in the role of one in a mass of unhappy customers who must all be receiving the same service; and I feel more than ever like shopping elsewhere. Additionally, an automatic response saying “over the past few days” for two months is hardly accurate. In fact, it’s a lie. If it’s been higher than “normal” for that long, it’s a new normal. Gradually, the meaning becomes something like: “We receive many, many emails of this nature each day—far more than we’re prepared for; and we’re don’t see this as a problem. We are happy with the level of service we supply enough not to expand our team. Join the club, and we’ll get back to you, eventually.”

Thirdly, the opening paragraph is contradictory. One cannot promise 48-hour turnaround in one sentence, then follow it with a sentence explaining it might take a bit longer. It illicits the thought pattern: “Longer than what? Longer than 48 hours; then you shouldn’t say it. Longer than expected; then I will expect less than 48 hours and be disappointed if it is around two days.” It doesn’t make sense.

Moreover, this email abruptly cuts off communication channels with the users: “Our call centres are also very busy just now so please don’t call us”. This is a slap in the face, especially for someone experiencing connectivity issues. I cannot stress enough how important it is to be open with customers, even for a large service provider. Perhaps, actually, especially for a large service provider. Telling customers in need of support not to phone is extremely unadvised.

I will not go into the grammar (team is singular, I therefore expect “Broadband team” to be predicated by the singular stative verb: has; and why is Broadband capitalised?), for this way lies pedantry (and I don’t want anyone even more pedantic pointing out all my mistakes!)

This is the first communication your customer receives after a complaint, it should be crafted with care. It’s not just an automatic reply; it’s the immediate face of your company. And, as it stands now, it’s not an attractive face at all.

I’d be more than happy to outline suggestions for such an email, and I welcome comments.

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