In speaking of the battle over the nature of language, Russ Rymer said, “Linguistics is arguably the most hotly contested property in the academic realm. It is soaked with the blood of poets, theologians, philosophers, philologists, psychologists, biologists, anthropologists, and neurologists, along with whatever blood can be got out of grammarians.”
To that list of literary pranksters, Rymer left out another group, fee increase letter writers, whose capacity for bloodshed with a smile is without peer.
Reading a letter announcing a ramp up in costs is a lesson in intentional obfuscation. If its authors had their way, you would dash out off a sonnet of praise for the company’s valiance in charging you more.
No stranger to deconstruction and parsing himself, reader Pat received such a letter. He brings out the carving knives, after the jump…
“I received a letter today from our company’s wireless provider that reminded me again of the fine art of ‘customer management’…[it reads:]“
- At Bell and Bell Wireless Alliance, we want to keep you informed of any upcoming changes that impact your wireless account(s). We appreciate your business and wish to provide the best customer service possible, and this includes making sure you are aware of any upcoming price changes. We’re committed to giving you the information you need.
The letter then goes on to disclose yet another $2 per month fee increase, and to further advise that the Bell Wireless Alliance is pleased to answer any of my questions. I haven’t asked them any yet, but I may pose the following:
1. Why do you refer to your fee increase in neutral, third-party terms? Why do you say “Pricing on certain features is increasing” instead of “We are increasing your fees”? Isn’t this like saying “The fist will be making contact with you shortly” by way of informing someone that are about to punch them in the face?
2. Why do you highlight your commitment to customer service no less than three times in a 57-word paragraph? Are you suggesting that increasing my fees while promptly informing me about it is in some way better service than reducing my fees, or at least holding them constant?
To sum up, why do you express no responsibility for the action of increasing my fees, but vigorously claim responsibility for the positive attributes (gratitude, commitment) you apply to your company?
The answers, of course, are all about perception. Address no reasons for the fee increase, and describe it as though it was inevitable, like the sun rising or the falling of the rain. The result implies it was not even in your control in the first place, regardless of whether it truly was or not.
The neutral statement about the fee increase then sets up an opportunity to highlight corporate responsibility, care and concern for customers via statements describing practices and attributes which help form the impression the company would like you to have of it. “We want to keep you informed…”, “We … wish to provide the best customer service…”, “We’re committed to giving you the information you need.” Note that these statements are rich with ownership – there is no ambiguity here.
How about, “We are now charging you more for exactly the same thing.” It’s another way to express it, but it does sound a bit colder than the paragraph above.
The letter I received before this one was from my bank, and used exactly the same techniques. Somehow the one from the bank was more admirable, though, I think for the utter brashness it took to a) increase fees after 5 consecutive years of record profits and b) send me a letter making them look good for simply telling me about it.
I would love to hear from others with samples of their best fee increase or similar letters. I don’t expect anything will change, but let’s at least celebrate this new art form in the area of customer management. Perhaps we can even learn something to apply in our own lives.”
Thanks for the letter, Pat! Be sure to send that into Bell Wireless.