I am leaving this original post below, just the way I wrote it, but now I need to preface it with BIG RETRACTIONS regarding two of the three companies that I accused of non-response, Abt and Frito Lay.
I should have known better and I should have had a little more patience. I jumped the gun and truly regret having done so. I have drawn a line through everything I said below that turned out to be false, and, again, I apologize to both Abt and Frito Lay for wrongly taking them to task. Despite the fact that two of the three examples I thought I could point to, to confirm my contention that we live in the era of non-response turned out to be counterexamples, I hold fast to my contention. I consider both Abt and Frito Lay to be exceptions. Okay, now, if you’re curious, what follows is the original post with the parts that aren’t true crossed off, and some additional thoughts added in, bolded. Why I am doing this rather than simply deleting the post? I’m not exactly sure, but maybe I think it will be instructive.
With all this talk about making connections with your audience, having conversations, building relationships, I found it very interesting that in one week, I sent out emails to three different companies, each of them representing an opportunity for that company to start or sustain a conversation with me, one of their customers. And, so far, I haven’t heard squat back from any of them.
1. The first brand I emailed was Abt, a megastore in the Chicago suburbs. This store has one location. It is a palace, a shrine to all that is good about my religion, consumerism. Customers come from hundreds of miles away to buy at Abt. They sell appliances, electronics and a ton of other stuff. It is a legendary, dare I say iconic brand around where I live. I am a discerning consumer, and Abt is my default store for almost anything they sell. Their prices are competitively low, but it is their process and their customer service that set them apart and above any competitor.
It has been driving me nuts for years that they employ a lame tagline—Pleasing People . . . since 1936. After my most recent purchase there last week, (a washing machine), I resolved to fix their tagline. While I hadn’t spent much time intentionally mulling their tagline problem, I’m sure somewhere in the recesses of my brain, I’ve been chipping away at it for a long time.
The day after they delivered the washing machine, it came to me. A very simple thought that accurately reflects how I feel every time I walk in the doors of Abt.
Abt. What Retail Looks Like In Heaven.
There it was. I was pumped. Right away I dashed off an email to Bob Abt, the most senior member of the Abt family who is still active in running the store. I explained my thinking and offered to GIVE him the tagline, with no strings, just because I want Abt to have good tagline so badly.
I expected a polite rejection from Bob Abt within a couple of days. It’s been almost a week.
I should have waited a full week. Today, a week since I sent the email, I got a phone call from John Abt with just the polite rejection I anticipated. We had a very pleasant and respectful conversation regarding the tagline, and his company’s decision that they would be keeping their current tagline. John expressed his appreciation that I had taken the trouble to provide them with feedback. He indicated that, contrary to my assumption, people do in fact notice and compliment their current line, and that the Abt family feels that referring to how long they’ve been in business does provide a reassurance to their customers, particularly their online customers who may not be from this area and may not know the Abt brand.
So I learned something from John Abt, and for that, I am very appreciative. I should never have doubted that Abt would get back to me.
2. I ordered an item from a Catalog Classics by phone. It was a horrible experience. The two minute transaction took 20 painful minutes. I emailed them, telling them I wouldn’t be patronizing their catalog again, explained why and asked them to take me off their mailing list. Not only have I gotten no response, but they started sending me emails promoting items from their catalogue. I hadn’t previously been on their emailing list. Now I was, which meant I had to separately email them to unsubscribe.
3. I am a heavy user of Lay’s Light and Ruffles Light potato chips. These are the chips made with Olean, a kind of oil the body can’t digest. This means fat-free potato chips, in effect. This brand was hurt when it first came out because of some alleged study that plagued it. The study said some percentage of people who consumed the chips experienced “anal leakage.” This study was widely covered by the media. Unfortunately, the media didn’t make much mention of the fact that the percentage of people experiencing anal leakage was something like .1%. It didn’t matter. Once “anal leakage” stigmatized these products, it guaranteed limited success for the product, despite the health benefit. Everyone I know who had tried the chips told me they experienced digestive issues. Ah, the power of suggestion. Or else, through some remarkable statistical anomaly, all these people I talked to happened to belong to that .1%. Gosh.
Anyway, recently, all of the local stores that had carried these products don’t seem to be stocking them anymore. I emailed Frito Lay to ask why. Had the product been discontinued?
To quote George Harrision, “No reply.” Until yesterday, when I got an email from a Frito Lay representative who, with regret, confirmed that, in fact, these two products had been discontinued. This was not a form email but an actual response by a human to my specific question. Of course, she sent along coupons for some of their other reduced-calorie products, hoping that I might consider consuming them instead of the chips I like. That was thoughtful, if also self-serving.
Three brands. Three squandered opportunities to connect. To quote Napoleon Dynamite, “Idiots.”
In the case of Abt, I will forgive them and continue making trips to heaven every chance I get. Nothing to forgive.
I don’t patronize Frito Lay, aside from those two products, so they’ve lost me anyway, if they have in fact discontinued the item.
And I can’t imagine what the catalogue company could say to me that would win me back, but I sure wish they would have made some attempt.
I blame the Era of Non Response on two things: a general tendency toward incivility in our culture, and the advent of email. It’s so easy, for some reason, to disregard an email, which wasn’t true way back in the day when companies received complaint letters. Ah, those were the good old bad old days. Despite falsely accusing Frito Lay and Abt of these crimes of omission, I stand by my contention that, far too often, individuals and companies choose not to make the tiny effort to at least acknowledge the receipt of an email.
NOTE TO JOHN ABT AND BELINDA AT FRITO LAY: I hope that, in recanting my harsh and baseless judgements regarding your companies, I have successfully minimized or perhaps even erased the damage done by the original post.