A good example of bad customer service writing

I recently discovered Leslie O’Flahavan’s Writing Matters blog and thought I’d share her analysis of some bad writing. Follow the link to see how she re-wrote the email. I look forward to reading more of Leslie’s work.

Text of Customer Service Email Leslie Explains Why This is Bad Customer Service Writing Click on the Links for Tutorials in Each Area
Thank you for taking the time to contact Clinique.
 I am sorry to learn of your disappointing experience with our Quickliner For Eyes in Smoky Brown. Please be assured that . . . It uses an officious, blowhard-y tone. This e-mail should be shorter, simpler, and more personal. Cut the words “Please be assured that…” Nobody but a lawyer in a PBS miniseries talks that way. Managing Style: Tone
. . . all of our product formulas are extensively researched and evaluated prior to approval for manufacture. Part of this testing is devoted to determining the packaging that will best protect the specific formulation during shipment and while in use. The Quickliner For Eyes is an air-sensitive product, and will dry out quickly if exposed to the air for long periods of time. It is therefore important for the product to be tightly closed after each usage so that its air-tight seal is fully engaged. It gives a huffy answer to questions the customer didn’t ask. I didn’t ask, “Do you research your products extensively?” And I also didn’t ask, “Is it OK to leave the eyeliner cap off?” If Clinique wants to tell me to put the cap on firmly each time I use the eyeliner, that’s OK. Just don’t load up the email with information I don’t care about or need. Developing Content: Informative Prose
Nevertheless, we regret to hear of your experience. It blames the customer. When I read the sentence, “Nevertheless, we regret to hear of your experience,” I got mad. What is Clinique saying? “Even though you don’t know how to care for your eyeliner, and you probably left it out in the sun, in the desert, with the cap off, we will grudgingly send you a new one.” Look, the eyeliner isn’t a big-ticket item. It costs $16. But I have been buying about four of these per year since 1999. (I will NOT do the math. I don’t want to know how much I’ve spent on eyeliner.) Do not blame the customer when a product is of poor quality. Just be gracious. Just give; don’t blame. Managing Style: Tone
Since your satisfaction is important to us, I am happy to send you a complimentary replacement Quickliner For Eyes in Smoky Brown. Please allow 4-6 weeks for delivery. It buries the information the customer cares about most. I am glad Clinique is going to replace my eyeliner. That’s decent and generous. That information should be at or near the top of the email. Customers want the bottom line up front. Organizing Content: Bottom Line Placement
Once again, thank you for taking the time to contact Clinique. I appreciate the opportunity to respond to your concerns. You are valued as our consumer, and I hope you will continue to use and enjoy our products with confidence and satisfaction. It over-thanks the customer for writing. In this e-mail, I got thanked twice. Once is plenty. Remember, most customers aren’t happy they had to write at all. Managing Style: Tone
  It’s one huge, blocky paragraph. This email needs more white space, so I can see when the topic changes. It’s too much text at once. I am the opposite of motivated to read it. Organizing Content: Format

3 thoughts on “A good example of bad customer service writing

  1. Dr. Kim, thank you very much for featuring my blog post on Pros Write. I am really honored! And I like the way you presented it in a table.
    I’ve been following your blog closely. It’s wonderful to connect with you.

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