My friend recently received some strange customer service while dealing with a mid-sized company located in the USA. He had purchased some sport fishing products about a year ago and, to his surprise, when he reached for the pole a couple of weeks ago, it broke in two. He is very familiar with and loyal to this particular brand, and was shocked with the pole snap because it has a good name in the market. Therefore he was convinced this breakage was not normal and must be faulty, and so took pictures to send to the company via email. He also included a photo of the original receipt.
He emailed the company with the 3 pictures, and their response was so short and to the point it gave him the feeling of rudeness. It read basically “Please send us the pictures in a standard format, like JPEG.” Now I’m a big fan of making emails short and to the point, but that is ridiculous. Where’s the sugar? Where’s the concern, empathy or reassurance that they will look into this matter?
This is the point when my friend contacted me as apparently I’m a bit more tech-savvy than he, and so I helped covert the 3 original photos to .jpg and we emailed the company again, referencing the new file number they had also provided him.
He got an email the next day basically saying the same thing – that they could not see the pictures and to please send them in standard format. I double-checked our email and assured him that we did indeed send the photos as jpeg, but also suggested we send a new, fresh email with the jpegs attached, so that they do not get them confused with the old pictures that are sure to be on the thread. That is what I assume might have happened.
The response to that email was basically “Send us a picture showing the date of purchase.” What? We wondered who was on the other end of this computer.
Regardless we took a new picture of the receipt that showed the date of purchase and jpeg’d it and emailed it to them with the reference file number. Their response the next day was “Please pay a processing fee of $9.95.” I kid you not.
This morning my friend had reached his limit in patience and wrote an email complaining about the time wasted in these emails, noting his confusion over the mysterious processing fee, and swearing that he would never use nor recommend their products again. He luckily called me before he pressed SEND.
He read it to me over the phone and asked for feedback. I asked him “What is your goal?” He replied to tell them how he feels. I suggested that the chance of resolving the original issue is very low if you share your feelings and then sever ties. I advised him to use the 1-800 number and call the company and speak to someone about this issue instead of firing off the ‘burning-bridges’ letter. I told him we both understand that the person on the other end of the computer is customer-service handicapped, so more emails, including the letter, will get no response or at best a one-liner. I told him to keep calm and call them, and just ‘follow up’ on the previous emails, and ‘inquire’ about the processing fee. He agreed.
He called me back swiftly and told me that the company will be sending him a new fishing pole – but they just require a small processing fee. My friend should receive the new product in a week. 🙂
By keeping his cool and not resorting to threats and ultimatums, and by not allowing the truly terrible customer service emails to interfere with his right to seek answers and possibly get reparation for his broken pole, my friend was able to find the true meaning behind the cryptic and stunted emails. By ‘upgrading’ the communication from computer to phone, he found out the company’s true intentions to replace his product, and will now get it in short order.
The main lessons here I think are:
1 – don’t lose your cool not matter how frustrating the communication is
2 – if you don’t understand emails, pick up the phone
3 – never close the door on a brand you actually like and want to keep using
4 – don’t assume you know what the other party is thinking. Get a clear answer.
5 – Jpegs are a common format for sharing photos
6 – It’s okay to use friends who are tech-savvy and/or knowledgeable about professional communication strategies. ☺
Your Communication Coach,