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The Smarmy “Valued Customer” Line

This week I taught two groups of sophisticated writers who communicate with clients. One of the business writing topics we agreed to disagree about was the language we use to show customers we care.

I like statements like “You have been a valued customer for many years” and “Thank you for being a valued customer.” But some of the class participants found those smarmy–that is, excessively flattering–and insincere.

The words “valued customer” do come across as empty when we use them in place of the customer’s name. And they sound phony when we use them in what is clearly a mass mailing that goes to every customer, valued or not.

I myself dislike the words “valued customer” when they appear in an email from a company I have done business with for a short time, such as one hour or one day.

Then how do we show clients and customers we care in our writing?

I like to use lots of positive language: appreciate, thank you, happy to, I can, delighted, pleased, look forward to, terrific, and other words that communicate a smile. Are those terms smarmy in business messages? I don’t think so.

But we are not all the same. Some of us thrive on personalized greetings and closings, positive language, and even smiley faces. Others want business writers to get to the point and cut the cute stuff.

In the writing class, however we felt about “valued customer” language, we agreed on the value of focusing on positives rather than negatives, responding promptly, saying yes to customer requests, doing our best when we have to say no, and keeping the customer informed.

Valued reader, do you have phrases you like to use to show clients and customers you care?


Posted by Lynn Gaertner Johnson
By Lynn Gaertner-Johnston

Lynn Gaertner-Johnston has helped thousands of employees and managers improve their business writing skills and confidence through her company, Syntax Training. In her corporate training career of more than 20 years, she has worked with executives, engineers, scientists, sales staff, and many other professionals, helping them get their messages across with clarity and tact.

A gifted teacher, Lynn has led writing classes at more than 100 companies and organizations such as MasterCard, Microsoft, Boeing, Nintendo, REI, AARP, Ledcor, and Kaiser Permanente. Near her home in Seattle, Washington, she has taught managerial communications in the MBA programs of the University of Washington and UW Bothell. She has created a communications course, Business Writing That Builds Relationships, and provides the curriculum at no cost to college instructors.

A recognized expert in business writing etiquette, Lynn has been quoted in "The Wall Street Journal," "The Atlantic," "Vanity Fair," and other media.

Lynn sharpened her business writing skills at the University of Notre Dame, where she earned a master's degree in communication, and at Bradley University, with a bachelor's degree in English. She grew up in suburban Chicago, Illinois.

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