Category Archives: Communication

Precise, Positive, and Professional

What we say matters. How we say it matters even more. Especially in an email, when people cannot read our tone of voice or see the emotions on our face, we need to be sure that we communicate a precise message with a positive tone. Otherwise we open the door for confusion and a negative reaction.

Here is an example for us to study. It is a mass email recently sent from the marketing department of an online retailer.

Dear Customer:

I want to thank you for being a loyal customer. I truly value your business and noticed that you are not receiving emails about promotions and specials that are available to you in addition to the special pricing you receive from us.

After looking into this, I believe this was an error. You can update your preferences by clicking below.

Please see below for an example of a promotion and offer you are missing out on. Regardless of your response, please accept this offer as a token of our appreciation for letting us serve you. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me at the number below.

Again, thank you for your business and I am available to help you anytime you need me.

Best regards,
Your Sales Rep

(The special offer below was a coupon for $20 off the next order.)

The obvious goal is to have customers opt in for email specials and notifications in order to increase savings (and spending). That is a great goal, but let’s examine this from a marketing perspective and see if the message intended was the message received. What were the customer’s perceptions? (Keep in mind that this is not just an academic exercise but is based on actual responses from customers who received this email).

1. There is something wrong with our account.

The customer was told that they were not getting promotions and specials and that “this was an error.” When a customer hears the word “error” the natural assumption is, “You are the experts when it comes to my account with you. If there was a mistake, you messed up my account and as a result I am paying too much for what I buy from you.”

Suddenly they feel cheated and overcharged. That is not what was said, but what they heard. This reaction happens is response to a negative statement. Even if something is wrong and needs to be corrected, there is a positive way to communicate that message. This email could just have easily have stated:

“As a valued customer, we want to assure you that we are working diligently on your behalf to save you time and money. One of the best ways we can help save you even more is by making sure that you are receiving email offers and promotions above and beyond the special pricing you already receive as our customer.”

This is a positive message about an added value. It builds on the relationship. It cements the fact that this business relationship is a collaboration and works for their benefit. This kind of positive message will generate a response, not a reaction. A reaction is most often negative and emotionally charged. And when someone complains about others making a mistake that is not good advertising.

2. We are not getting the best deal possible.

Customers were notified that they were not receiving promotional emails. This aroused suspicion which was compounded when they read, “see below for an example of a promotion and offer you are missing out on.” Again, this is a negative message that made them wonder what else they are missing.

When a seed of doubt is planted in a customer’s mind they are motivated to investigate other, better options, i.e. the competition. Maybe they can get better pricing from that salesman that called them and told them they were being over charged by their current vendor. This gives legs to lingering doubts.

3. We get a consolation prize for your mistake.

Finally, a “token” is offered even though it is something that they should already be receiving. A token is an apology or a consolation prize. It is like saying, “We are glad you are buying from us but sorry things are messed up and you aren’t getting the best deal. We will fix it, and to show you how serious we are, here’s $20.”

Again, focusing on a precise and positive way to communicate, this could just as easily have been stated, “Here is a current offer we wanted to pass along to help save you more on your next purchase.”


These points do not even take into consideration the poor grammar in the note. The messages we send others need to be precise, positive and professional. Grammatically incorrect messages not only serve to make us look unprofessional, they are unprofessional.

Working hard to build a strong relationship with customers can be wasted effort if the relationship is undermined by fear, confusion, or doubt raised by a badly communicated message. Some people say we need to work smarter not harder, but we need to work smarter and harder. Hopefully a little critical thinking and concentrated effort can help us continue to improve our communication skills and see greater success as a result.

We have to remember that we all communicate differently. That means we cannot assume that anyone else knows exactly what we are saying. Next time we have a failure to communicate, let’s keep two questions in mind, “Can you hear me now?”, and “Do you understand the words that are coming out of my mouth?” When we get the answers, we have bridged the failure to communicate and are actually participating in a two-way conversation.

Now go talk among yourselves.

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