ooh, that’s going to sting

Why the language of customer service is a hot topic

In last weekend’s Sunday Times, an article in the Business Section caught our eye. It concerned Tesco’s response to a customer who complained he had been unable to find a ‘hotly advertised’ chilli in any nearby stores. This was the email sent by customer services:

“When I seen you were on about the Trinidad Scorpion Chilli I was slightly confused. Our support team here advised me it was a trail [sic], and after this success, they hope to have them back in store soon…I can only say after reading what some of the papers said, and videos online, I hope you have a lot of milk ready for when you find some.”

The article implied the customer’s reaction, understandably, went a little like this:

Language is the face that an otherwise faceless department presents to the outside world, and this is why it pays for companies to take care over the way in which their customer services use it. No one stays to have another drink at the bar stood next to an unkempt, presumptuous bore.

Where did this Customer Services rep (oh please, tell me it wasn’t a ‘writer’ that wrote the email) go wrong?

 Firstly, there are the obvious technical errors such as spelling mistakes and poor grammar. Customers want to feel that their complaints are treated with respect, as this reflects the company’s attitude towards them as individuals. Sloppy spelling implies a lack of care, time, consideration and expertise.

Secondly, the representative takes no responsibility on behalf of the company for the inconvenience caused. As Gary Oldman so eruditely illustrates, wasting our time can be frustrating, and we expect those responsible to acknowledge it as such.

Thirdly, the sting in the tail (ugh!) is the noxious attempt at humour in the final lines, made all the more galling by what has preceded it. Like a sweaty drunk flinging his arm around us to offer unwarranted advice, this clumsy attempt at ‘mateyness’ instead comes across as patronising.

Brand language should be hard to spot when its right, easy to spot when it’s wrong.

(For the record, here is an alternative reply that might have been better received:

Dear Sir,

I am sorry to hear that the Trinidad Scorpion Chillies were not in stock at any of your local stores, and I apologise for the inconvenience this has caused you. Our stores only carried a limited supply as this was part of a trial to see whether there would be demand for them, and as a result some of the stores sold out very quickly. I am happy to tell you, however, that the trial was a success and that the chillies will be back in stock on a more permanent basis soon. If you have any further questions regarding this product or any other, please do not hesitate to contact me.)

etc etc

If you’re having troble with yor words and brand stuff, ain’t tough, fix it. Email me and we talk. anytimes.