Pretty Cool, Eh?

This article is about never forgetting the simple, human touches that make all the difference.

Yesterday I picked up a new car. The leasing guy had me sign lots of pieces of paper that I’ll never read. The “let me give you a tour of your new vehicle” guy told me I should read the 130 page user’s manual at least once. The manager guy told me the manufacturer would be sending me a questionnaire through the mail. “We would be most grateful if you would say some kind words about the service we provide,” he said.

They were thinking, “Okay guys, better be sure we cover all the bases. Make sure this guy knows he’s in good hands.”

Meanwhile, I was thinking, “Yeah, yeah. Sure. Whatever. Just give me the keys to the freaking car.”

In fact, there was only one person in the entire dealership who had any understanding of how I was feeling at that moment: He was about 19 and he fixed the plate on the back of the car for me. I was looking at the car as he did this. When he was done he came over, stood next to me, looked at my shiny new vehicle and said, “Pretty cool, eh?”

Yessiree it was pretty darned cool. And he was the only one who got it. Only one person connected with me as an individual. The highly-paid guys treated me very professionally — but as customer number 375.

And hey you guys, I have another question. How come you only gave me a half tank of gas? That was cheap. (Have you noticed how online customer service practices are raising our expectations — and leading to more frequent disappointments offline?)

Anyway, the point of this story is to illustrate the difference between a customer and a human being. Here are a couple of emails that have fallen into my hands recently:

Number One


Thank you very much for your message. This note explains what will happen to it next. If your message is intended for Letters, Feedback or the Last Word, it will be passed on to the relevant section editor who will consider it for publication.

blah, blah and nobody’s name at the end.

There’s nothing terribly wrong with this message. It’s just that the language is dull, flat, impersonal and inhuman.

Number Two

Dear Peter,

We apologize for the delay with your order. It is currently set to be framed in our frame shop. There is one small problem with the order. We cannot put a liner on with a metal frame. You can both visit our site and choose a wood frame and we can use a liner or we can keep the same frame and just not include the liner.

Please let me know how you would like to proceed with this.


Jeanne Landolt
Customer Service
Telephone 888.287.3701 ext.122 Fax 847.604.9502

I think that the second version is a whole lot better. Putting aside the fact that it’s an individually written, personalized customer service email, the language used is a whole lot more natural.

But I’d still make a couple of changes. First, I’d change the first word from We to I. I apologize carries a great deal more weight and reinforces the fact that this is one individual speaking with another.

As so much trouble had already been taken to write this email, I’d have done one more thing. I’d have added a few words to indicate that the writer understood how the recipient was feeling.

Something like this:

Dear Peter,

I apologize for the delay with your order. I know how frustrating it can be when you order something you really want — and then it doesn’t turn up on time! Etc .

The difference here is that for one moment, a small emotional connection is being made between one human being and another. Empathy, sympathy. All that good stuff. Same as with the young guy at the car dealership. Why bother with this soft, human stuff? Because it sells.

So once you’ve got all your systems in place. Once your relationship marketing solutions are bug-free. Once your predictive modeling algorithms are in place. Once you’re got all the latest personalization software chatting one on one…

Just remember to throw that 19-year-old into the mix. Create a clear, friendly voice that connects on a simple, emotional level. And make that voice and that connection part of every transaction and every communication.

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