Friday, March 02, 2007

But sometimes e-mails are like this. Alas.

Sometimes I wish e-mail programs had a "courtesy word" check in addition to spell check. That is, it would scan for courtesy words such as "please," "thank you," "appreciate," "sorry," "have a good day," and prompt the user to use at least one if there were no courtesy words found in the e-mail.

On Wednesday I had an unpleasant e-mail exchange with a website owner. I've played Scrabble at a certain site with a friend for several years. In recent weeks our games would sometimes disappear before they were finished. I sent a polite inquiry to the owner of the site. He told me that made up words "debases my intelligence" and "abuses my game."

Well. Yes, sometimes we use made up words because it's a fun and creative thing to do. I did not appreciate his tone so I wrote back and gave him a mini lesson about how to communicate with customers. He completely ignored my lesson and used the phrase "heaps of rubbish" in regards to made up words and once again informed me that I had been "abusing" his site. There wasn't a single courtesy word in his three e-mails.

How hard would it have been for him to instead write: "I can appreciate how made up words add to your fun but I kindly ask that you refrain from doing so as it taxes the site's resources. As always, I appreciate your patronage. Thank you and have a good day."

It's easy to forget that our customers are, well, customers, as this man did. Sometimes we view them as irritants instead of as people who help pay the bills. When I receive an e-mail from a potential customer asking me a question about a book that requires that I actually get up from the computer and walk to the shelves to retrieve the book I sigh. Work! Ugh! Or when a customer orders a book and sends it back because he changes his mind and I have to spend several minutes crediting his account, reshelving it, relisting it, etc. I grumble inside. But I do take care to make sure my e-mails never ever reflect this irritation.

It's a two way street. Buyers need to use courtesy words too. The worse customer e-mail I received was from someone who purchased a Miles Davis jazz CD from me on This CD was an earlier pressing, from the 1980's, and not the recent digitally remixed version. I made this very clear in my description. His e-mail was laden with typos and abbreviations and went something like this: "why U send me this piece of crap CD from 1987. U suck." Talk about "heap of rubbish" and "debases my intelligence." This e-mail certainly scored on both of those counts.

In a situation like this I intentionally use more courtesy words than I normally would, to stifle my frustration. I immediately refunded his money and told him he need not bother returning the CD. "Obviously you are a jazz aficionado," I said. He wrote back and this time there was some semblance of grammar. I think he even used the courtesy word "thanks." Eventually he even gave me positive feedback.

Customer e-mails have the power to literally make or break a person's day. Put some thought into them. Read Strunk & White's The Elements of Style if writing and grammar isn't your forte. (When I find that book at sales I always pick it up so that we have several copies readily on hand at home.) Above all, please use courtesy words, as they are so powerful they can even cover over a multitude of typos and grammar mistakes. Thank you and I hope you have a good day.
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Blogger Mimi said...

That is frustrating.

10:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Some folks just don't get it, no matter how hard you try to get them to see your carefully worded point of view.

I was recently verbally chastised by a potential buyer for a mistake I made listing an item on e-Bay. I was basically told I was a really stupid and that was it! Yes, it really started my day off in a very positive way! I found myself wondering how this person speaks in real life or if their online persona was entirely different? Can you picture the Scrabble Man saying what he wrote to you in person? Somehow, I think not.

10:59 PM  

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