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Notice: Membership Lapsed

This morning I received an email from a professional organization of which I have been a member since October 31, 1989. During those 20+ years, I have served on the board, given pro bono presentations on business writing, and attended dozens of the chapter's breakfast, lunch, and dinner meetings.

Here is the complete notice I received, with the name of the organization disguised:

Subject: Membership lapsed


Your membership has not been renewed in time and has now lapsed:

XXXX Seattle Chapter [with URL]

For: Lynn Gaertner-Johnston, Syntax Training
Renewal date: 30 Nov 2011

Please сontact us as soon as possible.

Thank you.

Given the brevity of the email, I suspected it was spam. I cringed in fear when I clicked the link, but it took me to the organization's real website.

Reading the email, you may wonder how many notices I had received inviting me to renew before I got this one. The answer: zero. I am certain of that number because my husband and business partner gets copies of all my business email, and he didn't receive renewal notices either.

Would you agree that the email lacks something? How would you improve it?

Syntax Training

Posted by Avatar photo
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.

5 comments on “Notice: Membership Lapsed”

  • That’s certainly a brief e-mail message. Very information-driven rather than recipient-directed. I’d have worried it was spam, too.

    Communication is so fast-paced today, of course, that it can be difficult to remember the reader. Here’s hoping you at least asked the organization, “Did I miss previous messages somehow?” That might alert them to their error without seeming to cast blame.

    (By the way, the hypothetical Web address in your post turns to an actual link in many browsers. If you can edit the html, adding an actual link tag with an href=”#” would be one way to disable it.)

  • This appears to be an automated system message. And if you question the content, this is the reason why programmers are not, in general, the best writers. Or marketers.

    The main problem with automated systems is that businesses treat system messages as afterthoughts. Most business owners or marketers are very focused on the messages that are displayed public-wide, but often don’t consider that each interaction shouldn’t occur between email systems and email addresses but between people.

    The impersonal email that you received would make me question whether to keep that membership active!

  • Memberships are precious to most organizations. Using an automated message does not serve either a “valuing the member” purpose or a marketing purpose.

    I’m curious about one thing – are you going to renew?

  • We should all be shocked to read something so cold. I’m disheartened by the fact that I’m not the least bit surprised. I’m also sitting here thinking that my company probably has at least one or two communications that are just as bad as that one; I just don’t know about them.

    I agree with Kevin that you can’t trust that a programmer will understand the importance of communications like this. This begs the question: why doesn’t this organization have a process in place requiring anyone writing customer-facing communications to have the content reviewed by a member of the CS or Marketing team. I receive emails from our internal development team asking for a review every time our systems go into maintenance mode or we have short holiday hours for Tech Support. I’m grateful that the team recognizes that it is not their job to craft such messaging.

    How to improve? As stated before, send notifications leading up to the date. Send the expiration noticed immediately after expiration (instead of 14 days later.) And for goodness sake, tell me that you value my membership and want to continue providing me services. Then tell me what to have ready when I do contact you to renew.

  • Hello, Lester, Kevin, D., and Nicole. I appreciate your very thoughtful comments!

    Lester, thank you for suggesting that I alert the organization. You have inspired me to contact the membership director. And thanks for alerting me to the live link. I have changed it.

    Kevin, what an excellent reminder to us that we may be unaware of communication going on in the background. In my own company, when our clients and customers place orders, they receive automatic messages that we don’t see. Although I have written or approved all those message, your comment reminded me to review them.

    D., memberships ARE precious to the organization. And I renewed because I value the organization as much as I think it values me. But I am going to follow up with them about the message and the lack of reminders.

    Nicole, your thoughtful comments, as well as those of the other commenters, have moved me to follow up with the organization.

    I am not sure how the cold email came to be. I do know that the chapter is working hard on its communication strategies, and I expect that the membership director will welcome my feedback.

    Nicole, thank you for noting that a revised message should mention that the organization values my membership and wants to provide me with services. As you indicated, that message should also give me an action to take.

    Thanks, everyone! Your comments added valuable depth to my original post.


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