Saturday, February 23, 2013

Too Big to Listen: A "Brief" Course in Corporate Communications

One thing never ceases to amaze me: big companies whose responses to customers sound like they were written by robots.

Here is a recent example. At the risk of TMI, I recently wrote to one of my favorite big-box department stores about their men's underwear - or lack thereof. Here is what I wrote:

"I'll be brief - no pun intended.
Check out the men's underwear department at (my local store) sometime. You will find rows and rows and rows and rows of boxer briefs. And maybe two forlorn packages of briefs, of any brand - none in my size and colors, of course.
According to, 57% of men wear briefs, and 18% wear boxer briefs. Someone oughta clue in your underwear buyer. Thanks!
Best, Rich"

My note was short, to the point, well researched, and even a little humorous. It was not the least bit impolite. I even avoided the technically accurate groaner of signing off with my work address of Brief Therapy Associates (where I do actually practice as a therapist).

So here is the gist of their response -- with my thoughts in bold:

"Dear Richard,
Thank you for your comments regarding the current selection at your local store. At (insert name of big box store), our goal is to offer our customers a wide assortment of merchandise. In most cases, we offer a broad selection in our merchandise.
(Why, oh why, do most of these letters start by saying "Our goal is to do exactly the opposite of what we actually do"?)

We are continually looking for ways to best meet the needs of all customers and in turn, improve customer convenience.
(I am writing about something you do poorly -- and often -- and you respond by telling me how you are always busy improving? Methinks you've been looking under the wrong rock.)

Therefore, your feedback is very important and will be taken under consideration for any of our future buying decisions. We apologize for any inconvenience our current selection may have caused. We appreciate the time you took to contact us and look forward to serving you again at (insert name of big box store again).
(So my request has been put on the suggestion pile. Whoop-de-doo. I am thrilled, I tell you, thrilled.)
Sincerely, (whomever)"

So how should people react to this? Well, picture this. A mother catches her son with his hand in the cookie jar. He responds, "My goal is to only eat cookies at the appropriate times. I am always looking for ways to improve our supply of cookies as well as my dental health. Therefore your feedback is very important, and I will take it under consideration." Think this would work?

This is why the average six year old is smarter -- in fact, much smarter -- than the average big-box retailer. Meanwhile some corporate weenie is actually drawing a paycheck for penning words like these, for their customer service departments to cut-and-paste, thinking they will actually help.

Here is the response I was really thinking about: "Hey Rich. Sorry about that. We really should do a better job of stocking men's underwear. It's a hassle going all the way to a store and not finding something that basic in stock. We'll let you know when we fix this. Meanwhile, here's a five buck discount for your trouble. Thanks!" Now, would that be so hard?


Stan said...

Oh, Rich... I want to live in a USA (or a world), where the response YOU wrote is typical, and the response THEY wrote is a sure sign a company will be gone soon (and good riddance!). I applaud your efforts to get us closer to that ideal. Any chance of you getting to retrain the person who wrote that boilerplate for the big box store, or at least have him/her sit in one of your seminars?

Rich Gallagher, LMFT said...

I wish, Stan. One thing has been a constant in 15 years of training: the companies who quote-unquote "need" it are never interested, and the people who hire me are already good and trying to be even better. Thanks for your comment!