Here’s why English majors (not Marketing majors) should write emails that go to corporate customers, especially irritated customers.
I recently stayed at a hotel that’s part of a chain I never stay at. It isn’t that I don’t like this hotel chain, it’s just that I’m a Marriott Rewards member so I try to stay at Marriott hotels whenever I can. Marriott isn’t better than this other chain I stayed at. It’s just that Marriott and I have a relationship: I bring my business to them, and they’re nice to me. They award me points I can use for free nights, they give me free upgrades and other perks. I’m loyal to Marriott, not because they’re better, but because I’ve known them longer and I have no reason to change.
But I stayed at this other hotel chain because the company for whom I was teaching had set up the class there, and it was in a city I was unfamiliar with, so it was just easier. The stay was fine, the bed was comfortable, the food was good, and except for the grouchy bartender, I had a nice time. I’m not going to identify this other hotel chain because I’m about to complain about an exchange I had with one of their “communication specialists.” Not that I’m trying to let them off the hook, but this communication problem isn’t unique to them. It’s widespread.
It started when I checked in, and the front desk staff enrolled me in their “preferred” (frequent guest) program. They didn’t ask me if I wanted to enroll. They just enrolled me. I didn’t even know I’d been enrolled until I
got home and received an email letting me know how many points I’d earned on this little visit. I don’t want a second “frequent guest” program. First of all, I rarely stay somewhere I can’t use a Marriott, so there’s no advantage to me to have a second hotel frequent guest program. Secondly, it takes me a couple of hours a month to manage my Marriott Rewards program. A second program will also take time to manage, and who needs another time drain?
So I sent them this email:
I do not wish be a Preferred member. I stayed at <your hotel> two nights this week and was automatically enrolled. I wasn’t asked if I wanted to be a member. How do I cancel my “membership”?
I received this reply:
Dear Ms. de la Vergne,
Thank you for your email. I am pleased to assist you today.
I have received your email message requesting that your <hotel> membership be canceled. I am sorry that we may no longer serve your frequent traveler needs. As requested, your <hotel> membership has been closed.
We would welcome the opportunity to provide for your frequent traveler needs in the future. If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to contact us. Your account can be reopened at any time.
I hope you enjoyed your stay at <our hotel>. Have a good day.
She hadn’t addressed my chief complaint which is that I was enrolled in a program without being asked. So instead of leaving well enough alone, I replied:
You understand that <your hotel> never has served my frequent traveler needs, so saying you’re sorry “no longer” to be able to do so is peculiar. It isn’t that I don’t like <your hotel>. It’s that I participate in a different program, have for years, and it’s plenty to manage just one. I don’t want to manage two, and it seems presumptuous of <your hotel> to simply enroll me without asking.
And then she said:
When you stayed at <our hotel> you were enrolled by the hotel as a courtesy. This way they were sure you would receive the eligible points for your stay. If you would like to consider keeping the membership any time within the next 12 months, I would be happy to reactivate the account. Please click here to see all that <our program> has to offer its members.
I would be very happy to welcome you back to the <our hotel program> anytime. It has been my pleasure to assist you in this matter.
Have a terrific day.
From an English major’s viewpoint, there are some obvious good points about these emails, qualities that business writing often (believe me, I mean often) lacks. It’s punctuated and spelled correctly—even my name! Sentences are complete. Replies are timely.
But everything she wrote rings hollow. She’s a smiling marketing rep essentially ignoring me, her glazed expression staring mechanically and vacantly into the face of this irritated customer. Her message is just the empty pitter-patter of hotel-approved script (“I’m sorry we may no longer serve your needs” and “If you would like to consider…I would be happy to reactivate…” and don’t forget how “pleased” she is to assist me”).
What would a real writer have written to this annoyed customer?
Dear Ms. de la Vergne,
I understand you were surprised to learn you were enrolled in <our hotel’s> program, and I appreciate that you would rather not be a member. Please let me cancel your membership immediately. I’ll also let the team that manages our program know of your objection to being enrolled without requesting it, so they can take that into consideration as they plan future program updates.
I hope you enjoyed your stay with us.
That email acknowledges my core concern (being enrolled in a program I didn’t ask for), sounds like an actual human being wrote it, is professional, not impersonal, and it doesn’t have the ever-cheerful marketing whisper hovering over every phrase.
Someone should leave corporate writing responsibilities to writers. Get marketing and legal out of it so messages have life, purpose and energy. It’s a job for an English major.