Is it chilly in here? How to Lose Customers With Email

Just for fun, let’s pretend I like shopping for insurance (it’s called suspension of disbelief, they use it in books all the time).

I do actually need some business insurance (oh, wow, I just opened up the big marketing barn door on this one). So I went to a few sources, one being my car insurance company, USAA. They don’t offer it, but they have a partner who does, The Hartford.

So I went to The Hartford’s web site and spent about 10 minutes filling out a big ol’ form, telling them stuff like type of business, how many employees, location, when I lost my virginity, and how much I think about pickles on a daily basis. I also told them how and when they could contact me. Whew. It was a little mini-project just to get a quote on insurance, but okay. Hit me up, The Hartford. You got my digits.

Several days later, I got this email from Hartford:



First impressions? I just wasted my time filling out an online form. I have to call them anyway. And I’m not going to, because I am an Olympic champion calling people avoider. So admittedly, that’s me being lazy. I wonder how many other potential customers get lazy like that?

But that was kind of trivial compared to what I considered a sin of the worst kind: Sales Anonymity.

They broke my own personal cardinal rule of communicating with customers (or even potential customers). Always, always, always use your name. Not sometimes, or only when you’re a tiny little business, frikkin’ always. Actually, I think it’s particularly important the bigger your business becomes. Sign your name. Sales emails should come from a person, not a company. Email is already impersonal enough and people want to know there’s a connection with a human. We want to know there’s someone on the other end who’s accountable for something.

This email is signed The Specialized Sales Team. How very unspecial. Is it chilly in here?

What this says to me is that even if I do buy insurance from them, I’m probably going to get very unspecial, impersonal service if I ever have a question or a claim. That doesn’t do it for me. It doesn’t even matter now if they have a good or inexpensive insurance product.

The Hartford lost the sale before they even got to talk to me. Which is pretty sad, because I was going to swap some pickle recipes with them. Another huge loss for them. I’m sure they’re all depressed over there.

Contrast The Hartford with Zappos. From the very first time I bought shoes from Zappos, I was talking to a person, every time. I can get my shoes cheaper elsewhere, but I trust the people at Zappos. One of our screen print supply vendors, Ryonet, does this very well, too. Every interaction at Ryonet from order to delivery (and support) is with a real person with a real name.

They also address me by name. Nice!

For a customer like me, this is a deal clincher. Hmm, I wonder what clinches it for your customers? Pop quiz! Is it:

  1. your fancy web form
  2. your anonymous email autoresponder
  3. golf visors with an elk on them
  4. none of the above

I really hope that was too easy and merely amusing.

What you can learn from The Hartford

Frankly, I hate buzzwords like authenticity. Anything meaningful starts to lose impact the more it’s thrown around. But the core idea of authenticity (sorry) is simply that you’re a real person. With feelings and stuff. And a hankering for pickles, maybe.

If you have a small business like ours, that’s not too hard. You can probably shout across the room and tell your customer service and sales people to destroy the canned email templates and use their names.

If you’re a bigger business, it probably means a meeting. More meetings, yay. Why not make it a very different meeting and gather your sales people, customer service people, and web dev team and have them walk through the whole customer experience from interest to product delivery? I’ll bet dollars to pickles that you’ll all come away with some super juicy (dill flavor) nuggets.

Even before that meeting gets scheduled, it takes no time at all to get the word out in your company. No more “Thank You, The Specialized Sales Team” emails. Sign your name.


The Sparky Firepants Blogging Team

Kidding. It’s just me. David.

7 Responses to Is it chilly in here? How to Lose Customers With Email

  1. Dick Carlson says:

    You’ve just hit the pickle on the head of one of my HUGE pet peeves on the Interwebs. Sites that make me enter a huge amount of stuff in a form, and then respond telling me to call them.

    (Well, there is one step closer to hell. They make me enter all that stuff, and some sales droid CALLS me — interrupting whatever I’m doing — and doesn’t have access to all the data I took time to enter.)

    If I wanted to talk to you on the phone, I WOULD HAVE CALLED YOU! There’s a reason I used the web — several, actually.

    And if you don’t grok that, your team and my team are just not going to be friends.

    • It’s all about being present and engaged, which isn’t that hard to do, really. Zappos gives their customer service people authority to handle issues on their own, without asking a supervisor or sticking to a script. It shows, too.

      Last week our cable internet went out. The CSR told me it would take two days to get someone out to fix it. In the meantime, she asked, would I like to upgrade to faster service?

      In a lighthearted, joking way I said we should probably get *some* service before we upgrade to something faster, because my current speeds were at zero.

      Without skipping a beat, she continued to read from a script about their new service.

      I think about this stuff every time I work with our customers. Yes, we’re small now but I think it’s crucial that we establish this real human customer engagement philosophy so that when we grow to be big and strong, we’ll be passing that along to new employees.

  2. Greg says:

    I completely agree with this. I want my customers, and potential customers to talk WITH me and not feel like a number. Heck, I want that also. I want them to know I am actually excited that they contacted me and have an interest in doing business together.
    More businesses need to understand that we’re all people and not just a clients. Hell, if you wanna grab a beer afterwards that’s great. Let’s do it. Just because we’re business owners does not mean we can’t converse on a personal level. At the same time, we can’t please everyone either. Sometimes you must know when to pull the plug and send them packing.

    • Exactamundo, Greg. It does work both ways. It’s so much more rewarding to work with people on an informal, personal basis. A healthy sense of humor is also awesome.

      In those cases, the results are always better, too. Bonus all around.

      Thanks for commenting!

  3. Debra Helwig says:

    If you ever get sick of art, please write for a living. I absolutely adore your posts. You hit so many important topics and do it SO WELL. Thank you!!
    Debra (see, I signed it!)

    • David says:

      Thanks, Debra. Great to see a comment from you here! Somehow I think I’ll be in this art thing for a very long time. 🙂

  4. […] Marianne actually found this one and it was pretty good.  In a recent blog post on one of the sites we follow called “Sparky Firepants,” David Billings wrote about a recent experience he had trying to obtain insurance for his business over the Internet (You can see the full blog post here). […]

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