Who wrote that letter for you, then?

Standard letters. They undermine customer relationships, undo the best PR, lose customers, conflict with a company’s marketing efforts.

I have no objection to the use of standard letters, only to the letters themselves. Because they are seldom written by copywriters. In fact, they frequently read like the scribblings of backroom workers with no interpersonal skills.

Years ago I accepted a brief from Citicorp British National (now renamed) to re-write all their standard Prospecting Letters. It may have arisen because I criticised one or two of the letters I had received from them.

Subsequently, at Reader’s Digest, I was equally scathing about their credit control letters, pointing out the gulf between the tone used in recruiting new customers and that employed when addressing those same customers about their accounts.

I was told that no copywriter would accept the brief to write those letters, so I offered to do the job, and re-wrote the entire portfolio of credit control letters, filtering their messages through the respect we offered new customers.

The company was surprised that I would take on a brief that other copywriters considered deadly boring, but I put it to them that ALL our correspondence with customers formed part of our business relationship with them. It’s a connection we should view in the long term, I said, and always remember that customers will speak well or ill of you, according to the way you treat them.

Which brings me to my own recent experience. I ordered a pair of boots online. They sent the wrong size, because they incorrectly converted the EU size to the UK size. I sent them back, asking again for the correct EU size. They got it wrong again, for the same reason, and it dragged on for more than two weeks – not really good enough, for an online ordering service.

Then the company sent me a standard follow-up mailing inviting me to write a review. In my reply I detailed the unsatisfactory experience I had received, asking, “Do you really want me to write a review?”

I got a standard email in reply. It said, “I am sorry to hear you have not received our usual high standard of customer service.” There it is – “our usual high standard”. In an apology to me they have chosen to praise themselves. It’s wrong thinking.

Standard letters should be written by folks who know what they are doing. People who understand how to address customers. Relationship builders. In a word, Copywriters.

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