Customer Relationship Mismanagement

As many of you know, the wall between customer service and marketing is very, very thin. Especially when you’re doing business online.

And when you’re talking about those two disciplines within email, that wall almost disappears.

With this in mind, I’m going to take a suggestion offered by several of you in recent weeks and take a look at email marketing from a different perspective. Instead of examining what’s working, we’re going to focus on what’s NOT.

And since we’ve been on the topic of customer relationship management for the last couple of weeks (and because it is so relevant and important to what we do), I thought I’d share a recent experience with a company that, for whatever reason, simply does not yet GET IT.

Said company is a very well-known computer manufacturer, and what follows is a real-life example of an email that I, as a customer, received after making an online inquiry. (For purposes of this article, we’ll just refer to the company as “Famous Computer Manufacturer.”)

First, let me lay out the scenario: Famous Computer Manufacturer built my laptop and, in an effort to prepare for an overseas event, I went to its site a few weeks ago to find some travel accessories for my machine. The site navigation was slowgoing and difficult. And after searching just about everywhere for a simple phone number or email address, I eventually decided to go to the “Contact Us” page, where I was asked to fill out a lengthy inquiry form.

It gets worse, of course. What follows is the response I (finally) got by email… about four days later. (For those of you who may find the following a bit tedious to read, my sincerest apologies just think how I as the customer felt at the time…)

[Famous Computer Manufacturer] provides Electronic Support via the [Famous Computer Manufacturer] Forum and Built-in Technician if your machine is so equipped. You can visit the [Famous Computer Manufacturer] Support Forum at

To use the Built-in Technician software: Double click on the “[Famous Computer Manufacturer] Support” icon (some icons may be labeled as “[Famous Computer Manufacturer]” or “Built-In Technician” on the menu bar). A menu that looks like a house will appear on the screen.

In the “[Famous Computer Manufacturer]” section, there is an icon that looks like a yellow baseball hat with a red “Q” on it that is labeled Built-In Technician. Double clicking on that icon will start the Built-In Technician software.

Please be as detailed and specific as possible when describing your issue in the Built-in Technician software, including such details as exact error messages as well as the specific application in which an error condition is seen. This will allow the agent receiving your email to assist you with the issue as quickly as possible.

We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause you.

[Famous Computer Manufacturer] Online Support

OK… uh…


I have several problems with this response, but I’ll spare you the complete list. First, it’s not personalized. Not THAT big a deal, I know I can live with that. But this is an example of an autoresponded message of the worst kind. I don’t care that the email didn’t use my name, but it didn’t even acknowledge the fact that I had already gone to the site and filled out a very lengthy online form.

And what comes next… sheesh. Since my original inquiry obviously had no value to this company, I am asked in the email to go back to the site and deal with this “Built In Technician.” The thing is, in order to do this, I have to follow these strange directions… and I have no idea, at first glance, what they’re telling me to do. Look for “the menu that looks like a house”? And an icon that “looks like a yellow baseball hat”? Where am I Disneyland?

Doesn’t matter, anyway. I don’t need the house OR the hat… my original inquiry had nothing to do with a technical issue or an error of any kind! I didn’t need a help desk. I simply wanted more information.

Besides, due to the lack of a simple and easy-to-find phone number, fax, email address or even snail mail address on the site, I had to resort to filling out that form. And it got me nowhere. Absolutely nowhere.

This one communication turned me off so much that I’ve already decided that my next laptop will NOT be from Famous Computer Manufacturer. That may sound petty, but don’t you see? THIS is a good example of how marketing is so closely tied to customer service online. In other words, this completely inept and irrelevant communication was made worse because of the method of delivery.

We as consumers are so used to communicating in this medium with friends, family, colleagues. Sure, we get the occasional promotion now and then (some of us more than others). But, for the most part, email was built for RELEVANT dialogue. The complete and total opposite of that is shown in the example above. That plus the mere fact that I couldn’t even send back an emailed response of my own (I was given no such option) demonstrates a poorly planned customer service model and all the marketing in the world won’t make a bit of difference.

That’s right just one negative, confusing experience that left me so dissatisfied was enough to turn me off for a lifetime. And a lifetime is a LONG time on the Internet.

The lesson? If you’re going to venture into service issues with your customers via email, be sure you have all your ducks in a row. Make it easy for your customers to contact you. Be personal. Address customers’ specific requests. Be quick with your response. (And make that response relevant!)

Otherwise, don’t even bother. You may end up doing more harm than good.

Just ask Famous Computer Manufacturer. I happen to know it recently lost a very good customer.

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