11.11.2013

How Not To Do Professional Writing

How Not To Do Professional Writing

Last month, I terminated my cellular phone service. It was something I’d eagerly anticipated for over a year, and I’ll post about being cell-phone-less eventually.

In this post, though, I want to explore Sprint’s reaction to my cancellation. I expected—and encountered—the usual run-around when I called in to cancel service; Sprint has lagged behind AT&T and Verizon for years, and they’re desperate to retain customers. The representative explained all the ways that I could stay with Sprint, and she was very nice and professional in doing so.

But the baffling written responses that I received after canceling serve as the exigence for this post. I’d been a Sprint customer, believe it or not, since 1999. Over nearly 15 years, I’d given more than $20,000 to Sprint; this is astounding to me in so many ways, but again, that’s the stuff of another post…

A couple of days after canceling, I received the following email, from dan@sprint.com (Dan Hesse is the CEO of Sprint; this did not escape my attention):

Dear Customer,

We’re sorry you’ve stopped your service with Sprint. Your business is very important to us, and we’d like to understand why we were not able to keep you as a Sprint customer. We’d like to hear from you. Please reply to my office at dan@sprint.com and let us know the most convenient way for a member of my team to contact you. Thank you for being a Sprint customer.

Dan Hesse CEO Sprint

So far so good, I’d say. Sure, it’s a form email, but it’s succinct, clear, and tactful, it’s from the head of the company, and it personally invites a response. I bit.

Hi Dan, The decision was simple, and twofold:

  • First, I no longer use my phone as a “phone”—and haven’t for at least 2 or 3 years—and I am on wifi 98% of my day. (I live less than two miles from my office. The only time I’m not on wifi is during my 10 minute commute by bike or feet.) Messaging apps, email, etc. means I’m still connected, for free.
  • Second, we paid around $185/mo for several years. That’s an insane amount of money to me. My son (now a sophomore in college) is on his own, and my wife’s phone we simply moved to Virgin (which you own!) for a very reasonable $32/mo.

All told, we now save $120/mo on cellular service (by removing my phone entirely, by moving my son off our plan and onto his own; my daughter was already on Virgin).

As you well know, the world of cellular is in for sea change over the next 5–10 years. As wifi becomes more ubiquitous, as broadband speeds improve, and as creative inventions around internet telephony become more usable and stable, I imagine many more will drop cell phones as they recently have dropped land lines.

Best,

Brian McNely

I admit to getting a little preachy there at the end. And I’m not delusional; I realized that the chances of my email actually reaching the CEO were slim to none, but at the same time, I took the email from dan@sprint.com at face value. If customers have no hope of ever reaching Dan, then the communication strategy is disingenuous and misleading.

Then things got weird.

Here’s the response I received, not from Dan:

Dear Brian,

Thank you for your contact via Dan@Sprint.com. We appreciate you taking the time out of your day to provide feedback as to why you have chosen to terminate your cellular service with Sprint. We sincerely apologize for any inconveniences you may have experienced with pricing .

Your feedback is a great source of information which can be utilized to positively impact service improvements, customer interaction and satisfaction, so that you may consider welcoming Sprint back as your cellular service provider of choice in the near future. It is our goal to ensure complete satisfaction and resolution for each of our valued Sprint customers. Your overall experience with Sprint is very important and your feedback is greatly appreciated. If we can provide assistance of any nature, please do not hesitate to reply directly to this email and a member of my team will contact you.

Thank you again for contacting Sprint.

Sincerely,

So here’s where the professional writing strategy and execution both break down. I won’t go through all the problems here, but will instead focus on two:

  • First, there’s so much boilerplate corporate-speak here that my soul died a little after reading it.
  • Second, the space between the word “pricing” in the first paragraph and the period to end that sentence was in the original. So what? Well, it’s a clear, sad indication of rote cut and paste. That’s no way to do professional writing if you want to change hearts and minds.

The big problem, however, is the disingenuousness of the approach. As a customer, I’m invited to give my feedback, and to do so by appealing directly to the company’s lead decision-maker. I take the time to give my feedback, and the response is soulless gibberish.

Here’s the kicker, though. Three days after this exchange I received another boilerplate email, with the subject “Your lost or stolen Sprint Phone” (no idea why “lost” and “stolen” aren’t capitalized, but “phone” is…). I have two theories about this email: either (a) it’s automatically generated for folks who shutdown service in the midst of a billing cycle, or (b) it’s another sneaky attempt to get me to change my mind.

Either way, this is not how to do professional writing. And being a huge company is not a valid excuse.

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