Originally Published on LinkedIn, January 16, 2017


They’re trying to tell you what they like – or dislike

They may be telling you that you’re doing a good job at something – or that there’s room for improvement.

Customer acquisition is one of the most costly aspects of business.

Failing to retain a customer due to miscommunication should be one of the easiest to avoid.

I am one of those consumers who in an age of infinite choices still can embrace the concept of brand loyalty.

Seriously, I took the Pepsi Challenge back in the 70s, and have never looked back. I still buy Pepsi and even though it’s likely to sit and expire in the back of the fridge than get consumed by the gallon these days – Pepsi has done nothing to lose my loyalty.

On the other hand, it seems every few years I switch suppliers for energy. I grow disenchanted over poor service, and move to the next provider.

Many folks act this way, they ‘vote with their pocketbook’ as the saying goes.

Or, they vote with their feet – another swell expression that speaks volumes.

But sometimes consumers may communicate with companies they care about, or believe in, in an effort to keep them on course. I tend to fall into this category.

Recently I contacted a manufacturer in connection with some out of date information on its website. I received an auto-reply, and the next day a personal message.

An edited transcript follows


Day 1:

I contact a catfood manufacturer concerning its support of the an aquarium foundation. A link on their website indicates a per-unit donation that will be made for sales through a given date. The date is a year past. I include the URL for the page in question.

Day 1 Company Auto-reply

“…We look forward to hearing what you have to say. Your message will be forwarded to the expert on our Consumer Relations Team who is best qualified to address your comments.”


Day 2

Company Human Reply, though anonymous, reflects an obvious cut and paste due to font/point size changes

“Dear Jonathan Thank you for taking the time to contact us. We appreciate hearing from you. At (petfood company name omitted), our vision is to make A BETTER WORLD FOR PETS (registered, in case you’re really curious) through our high quality nutritious pet food and our charitable efforts in the communities in which we live and operate. To find out what assistance is available and how your organization can qualify, visit us at …. (link).”

Our best wishes for your continued success in helping pets.

I hope you have a great day.

Sincerely, Community Affairs ….

Day 2

I think about this. While I have worked as a successful fundraiser for animal causes, this was not such an instance. I think they’re not hearing me.


Day 3.

I respond to the company’s email

Dear Community Affairs,

Not looking for a handout. The webpage I emailed you about concerned your own donation program. Here is the text. (I provide the text pasted from their website).


Day 24 (Yup, over three weeks)

Company response (Personalized with a name)

Dear Jonathan,

Thank you for contacting ***® Brand. After reaching out to our Marketing Team I can confirm that we did donate to the …. Aquarium for (the present year). We appreciate you bringing the outdated information on our website to our attention and we have forwarded this on to our E-commerce Team to update.

Day 24

I was shocked to hear back from these guys and had actually forgotten all about it. No need to respond.

Two weeks later

No change to the website (I checked).

I liked the promise of the auto-reply. It seemed thorough, well written and sincere.

Sadly, the first personalized message not only failed address my initial concern, it insulted me (perhaps I was having a bad day) in the way it implied the reason for my contacting the company was that I my hand out for a donation

Short of an all-out public relations crisis, via real or rumored product tampering, tragedy or perhaps criminal activity, keeping customers on your side is often as easy as listening to what they’re telling you.

If the salmon pate was for me, hell perhaps I’d find a new supplier. The month long exchange was tiresome.

In our household’s case, the cat food is for a finicky older cat who seems to like the seafood trapped in this brand of cans. And I like the lack of artificial colors common among many competitors.

We’re still serving it at my place, and Max is still eating it, but the manufacturer’s image is tarnished in my eyes.

I don’t honestly care if the brand is supporting the aquarium cause or not.

What I do care about is whether or not companies listen to their consumers.

In this instance I care only that if they are taking credit for it, that the foundation is still receiving support. Charitable giving is not a prerequisite for successful capitalism, but when a business takes credit for good works, they should live up to their claims.

I’ll explore these threads deeper in future articles, including charitable giving, listening to the customer and the perennial problem of outdated websites.

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