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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.


( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
Nov. 14th, 2011 02:31 pm (UTC)
Alphabetical discrimination! I object!
Nov. 14th, 2011 02:31 pm (UTC)
It's true, in a list of two, someone has to be first. And alphabetically, I come after almost everyone.

Nov. 15th, 2011 07:27 pm (UTC)
We've gotten used to Maria. I suppose we could get used to Abigail if you want to go that route.
Nov. 14th, 2011 07:14 pm (UTC)
This is excellent advice; would that more vendors would follow through!
Nov. 14th, 2011 08:14 pm (UTC)
It's all so true - my hubby (who has the same initial as me and whose forename comes after mine alphabetically) was put as first person on our mortgage and linked savings accounts, despite me making the applications, filling the forms in and putting my name first on everything. This makes him a shareholder of the building society and entitled to vote whereas I am persona non grata as far as they are concerned and yet Jon couldn't care less about any of that sort of thing. Four years on they have yet to sort it out! *ggrrr*
Nov. 14th, 2011 08:43 pm (UTC)
Interesting thoughts (tangental to your post)
It can, sometimes, be difficult to identify the 'actual' customer

The paying customers are

- Andrew Lansley
- PCT soon to be GP commissioning groups

who in turn are paid by

- a portion of UK residents and citizens

However, the one who is interacting with me is mostly

- a patient of a GP belonging to a PCT or falling under the umbrella of a GP commissioning group, who may or may not be indirectly funding the NHS
- a friend of family member of a patient of a GP belonging to a PCT or falling under the umbrella of a GP commissioning group, who may or may not be indirectly funding the NHS
- a person who would like to be a patient or who is a friend or family member of someone who would like to be a patient who may or may not be indirectly funding the NHS

and so on. Is my actual customer the person directly or indirectly footing the bill? If the former, I should perhaps slavishly apply draconian rules on discharge and catchment area, if the latter, is it in their favour to help their representative, in the form of Andrew Lansley, save money? Or is it to have sympathy and understand and help pave the way to receiving timely and relevant treatment? If I do the latter, will they feed back to the former that he needs to take a little bit of care with the way in which he is representing the paying 'customers' if you will?


P.S. I do sympathize. I still receive post with Mark's name listed first on the address label that say, "Dear Mark," even though he's never lived at this address, because HSBC can't conceive of joint account holders that don't live together, apparently.
Nov. 14th, 2011 10:36 pm (UTC)
In a lot of cases, addressing the person with whom there is an actual relationship *is* a gender issue. Guys I know have the same problem with pre-school when teh school keeps addressing things to the mother, but they're the ones who handle that side of things for the family. There are more times when women are likely to be overlooked than men in most English-speaking countries, but it's a feminist issue because of the basic unfairness of not dealing with the right person when the right person is directly in front of you and has been in communication with you under their own name for however long.

Because I'm single, I get really shirty about anyone looking for a male to address, so I suggest they can talk to my father and refer them to the cemetery. This discussion only happens once every two years or so these days, because women over about 45 are allowed to established client/customer relationships of their very own if they aren't married. What this means is that I have a whole new phase in dialogues (to replace the earlier simply addressing things to someone else) when I establish my age and etc.
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )