Communicating with Customers

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Imagine this scenario: You visit a museum for the first time. After walking around for a while, you go up to someone who works there.

You: Hi, I really enjoy this exhibit! Where is the bathroom?

Employee: Thank you.

That exchange is followed by awkward silence as you realize you are not going to get an answer to your question. Of course, the setting doesn’t matter — this could just as easily be in a store, a salon, etc. No matter where it happened, it would be just as bizarre.

Unless, of course, it happened in email.

My five year college reunion is coming up soon. The alumni office mailed me a biography form to fill out and send back so that it can be distributed at the reunion. They have the exact same form on their web site, but no where does it specifically say that submitting through the online form will have the same effect as mailing in the paper form.

That is why, after filling out the online form, I emailed the alumni office to ask if that was the case. Hey, this ain’t my first rodeo.

This is how the exchange went:

Me: I filled out the online bio form, and just wanted to make sure you received it and that it would make it in the bios packet for the reunion luncheon.

Alumni Office: Your information is being updated in our system. Thank you for keeping us informed and please let me know if I can be of further assistance.

Hey, that’s swell. Unfortunately, it doesn’t answer my specific question. I assumed that by submitting the form my information would be updated in the system. Does that also mean they will print out a copy and include it with the other bios at the reunion? I still don’t know.

A little tip for anyone dealing with emails from users of your web site: Read the email. Read it twice if you have to. When you respond, be sure you have addressed every point in their email. A good way to do this is selective quoting. If an email has three questions/comments, quote the first question, and follow it with the response. Then quote the second question, then respond to that, and on and on. This will make your response more clear and will cut down on followup questions — questions that might start to take a rude tone, as the user gets more frustrated with not getting answers.