How to Talk to Customers: A Tale of Two Companies

How to Talk to CustomersCompanies update their privacy policies all the time. Sometimes the changes are innocuous, and sometimes they’re downright alarming.

So it’s a good idea to pay attention to them, even if they’re written in a way that seems to deliberately obstruct understanding by a typical consumer.

This weekend I received email notices from two companies announcing updated privacy policies, and the contrast in how they talk to customers couldn’t be more striking.

How Not to Talk to Customers

Here’s the first one I got:


How to Talk to Customers


I’ve never seen a message quite like this one. Not only do they not tell you what the policy changes are, they don’t even link to or attach the policy document. They actually ask you to email them for information.

And, of course, you can’t just reply, per the giant PLEASE DO NOT REPLY TO THIS E-MAIL warning. You have to click on that other address.

Naturally I figured that if they’re making it difficult for me to get the information that they must be hiding something. Like they’re going to start posting customers’ credit card numbers online or something.

So I wrote back as instructed and got a prompt reply in which they emailed me a typical 42-page PDF. They also summarized it in a few bullet points that seem innocuous.

But why was the onus put on me in the first place? Aren’t I the customer?

The Right Way to Communicate

In contrast, here’s an email I got from PayPal:


How to Talk to Customers

Let’s look at what they do right:

  • They give you a topline of the changes so you can decide whether to read the full policy.
  • In that third paragraph they’re realistic about the fact that most people don’t read these things: “[I]f you have other pressing things to do, we understand.”
  • They talk like humans: “We know this might not be your favorite stuff to read” and “We’re … upping the transaction amounts that require your signature” and “[G]ive us a call.”

And, of course, they provide an actual link to the policy, which is common sense. (You’d think.)

Corporations Are People

I’ve said it again and again: if your business is run by humans, staffed by humans and sells to humans, there’s no reason you can’t communicate like a human.

If that seems like a confusing guideline, ask yourself, “If I were a human, how would I like to be talked to?”

Photo Credit: AnyaLogic via Compfight cc