S. Worthen (owlfish) wrote,
S. Worthen

Engage with your customer

All credit to Rail Europe's customer service, I received a prompt reply to my complaint today. They tell me that I put C down as the lead passenger, which is why the emails were addressed to him. I know I did not intentionally put his name in the lead passenger field (I never do when I'm the one purchasing something), but at least, regardless, it's a gender-irrelevant error, if customer service is right.

I cannot say the same for the University of York, to whom I wrote my other irritated email of the week regarding addressing. C and I are both graduates of this university, but I'm the only one of us two who has actively engaged with them over the years, updating my address and occasionally providing feedback when they'd clearly failed to think through the infrastructure of a communication campaign. I also, at some point in the past few years, generously told them that C lived with me, and we could share a copy of their nascent alumni magazine.

I would say that was my mistake, but really, it was theirs. They put his name first on the mailing label, and his is the name on the forms which come, theoretically addressed to both of us. I only use my doctorate as a title in academic circumstances, but in the context of an academic mailing label, it only adds to my irritation, I must say, to be relegated to second place. The reason for this sequencing may be patriarchal, but I realized last night, ruminating over the Rail Europe emails, that the main reason I was irritated, in both cases, was gender irrelevant.

Neither institution was engaging with their actual customer. Me. That's why the correspondance addresses annoyed me so much. In both cases, I was the customer, the one keeping in touch, paying, interacting, purchasing, caring. And in both cases, the correspondance I received belittled that relationship, however inadvertantly, by putting me in second or invisible place, to someone who was just along for the trip, at most.

I am more than happy for my name to come after C's when he's the one in the active relationship with an organization. It's not being listed first for being-listed-first's sake. But I'm the one who wants to come first, who wants attention and respect, when I'm the one actively involved in the transactional relationship.

So many institutions fail to engage with their actual - or attempted - customers. I think of all the times I put my would-be purchases back on the shelf and left the shop because, after 15 minutes of waiting, none of the staff would help me buy anything.

C observed how poorly gift subscriptions are often handled. Companies offering gift subscriptions have *one* chance to engage with their actual, paying customer, the person giving the subcription. They don't get to renew that interaction with every issue, since those issues are going to the recipient. And so many places do not make giving a gift subscription a clear or pleasant process.

So there's my customer service advice to you from this week's frustrations: engage with your actual customer. The one who's interacting with you and paying you money. Not someone else who's name happens to also appear on a form they filled out.

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