Action Required!

Feb 21, 2020

The Internet age has done a great deal to improve life for those of us that can afford to take advantage of it. Instaneous communication, customized (and also instaneous) entertainment, and the world's knowledge at our fingertips, to name just a few things off the top of my head.

But one of the areas that the 'Net has advanced the cause of humankind the furthest is in customer service. No other development in human history has made it easier to tell your clients that if they need help they should go pleasure themselves with a cactus.

For example, let's look at one of my favorite customer service antipatterns, the email subject text "Action Required."

This subject line means that you really need to read the email it's attached to. There's something in it that you need to do! Companies with an online presence have to use this warning because they've trained us to ignore their normal emails by defecating advertisements into our inboxes on a frequent basis.

So, the solution is to sent an email with an implicit warning.

Another possible approach might be to set reasonable terms on the relationship up front. "We'll only email you when it's really important" might be one. But that's not going to happen -- they'd rather email you monthly, weekly, or yes, even daily in case you buy something else. That's how I got weekly offers for tires after I made an appointment online. (Who doesn't need 52 sets of tires a year?) It's how I started getting daily emails from a web site I ordered an wedding anniversary gift from last week.

The Internet is the car dealer that screams about his business into the mike on his tv ads. Please buy from me! Please! I have alimony payments! I need more coke!

Last week I got an Action Required warning me that I needed to renew maintenance on some ancient software. The gist of the email was "if you want to give us more money you need to give us more money now." What would have once been a sales call intended to continue a relationship, was an email that read like a shakedown from a mobster that wasn't sure where I lived.

Yesterday I received another from a hosting company. The previous version of this site was hosted by a certain vendor that many seem to like. I think they're terrible, and this email was a typical example of why. The Action Required involved work they created for me by deciding to move my site to another computer. They could orchestrate the move in such a way that I wouldn't notice. But it's 2020. You can just tell your clients what they need to do, and when.

That said, I was happy to get the email. I had forgotten to cancel the account. Action required, indeed.

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