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When “Customer Service” Letters Undercut Bankers

To whoever writes the customer letters for "Deposit Operations" at our large bank:

Please stop writing letters that contain:

  • Requests for documentation without saying what the necessary documentation is (especially when the customer has already provided documentation).
  • 24/7 phone numbers to call, at which the service representatives do not know how to handle the issue.
  • Expressions such as "if you are a business" for personal (non-business) accounts and "if you are an individual" for business accounts. I would like to think that my bank can tell my personal accounts from my business account. 
  • Menacing statements such as "If we do not receive this requested documentation, the Deposit Account referenced above and any other Deposit Accounts, Service Agreements and IRA Plans you have opened with _______ [bank name] on or since October 1, 2003, will be closed." Do you really want to suggest that approach for your long-term customers with multiple accounts?

Bureaucratic, impersonal business letters undercut the people on the front lines–in this case the personal bankers who are trying to satisfy customers and sell services. One call from our personal banker would have taken care of the "documentation" issue much more effectively than the generic, computer-generated letters we received.

If you work in the corporate office of a huge bank or another large organization, please consider this question: Why would you want to write and send junk letters to your customers, when personal bankers, account executives, and others who know the customers can handle situations smoothly and diplomatically?

Lynn
Syntax Training

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.

6 comments on “When “Customer Service” Letters Undercut Bankers”

  • We work with banks and credit unions, both large and small, all over the United States to develop software ranging from online banking systems to email marketing platforms. Given the amount of personal data that most banks collect about each customer, as well as the ease of mining that data to personalize communications, there really is no excuse for generic form letters today.

    I received a letter last week from a large national bank with whom I’ve done business for 15 years. The letter had a “Dear Customer:” greeting, when just three lines above was my full name and address.

    As someone who develops software to enable greater personalization and more finely targeted permission-based marketing interactions, I was dismayed to see this bank, with all of its resources, still using such a poor communication practice that did nothing more than make me feel unimportant to the bank.

  • Lynn, you are absolutely correct. Every time I see generic greetings, name misspellings or name transpositions, they remind me of this Dale Carnegie quote:

    “Remember that a man’s name is to him the sweetest and most important sound in any language.”

    Nothing makes me feel less important to someone with whom I do business than seeing my name misspelled or replaced with a generic noun.

    Jason

  • We work with banks and credit unions, both large and small, all over the United States to develop software ranging from online banking systems to email marketing platforms. Given the amount of personal data that most banks collect about each customer, as well as the ease of mining that data to personalize communications, there really is no excuse for generic form letters today.

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