What We Can Learn About Customer Service Writing from the Hair in the Starbucks Oatmeal
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What We Can Learn About Customer Service Writing from the Hair in the Starbucks Oatmeal

This post originally appeared on the E-WRITE blog.

On October 19, while on a work trip to Las Vegas, I found a long, straight hair in my Starbucks oatmeal. I wasn't happy. With stomach rolling, I put down my spoon and and reached for my phone to tweet Starbucks.

 

Starbucks Customer Service 

I was impressed with the speed of the response from @StarbucksHelp. They replied to me in less than 30 minutes. And their tweet was polite and sincere. As requested, I was willing to email twittercustomerservice@starbucks.com, though I found it a bit odd to be emailing to an address with the word twitter in it. (Best practice for customer service? No. Better to handle the complaint in the channel it was received.)

After our brief Twitter exchange, Starbucks and I shared an extended email exchange. My emails were brief and kind of cranky. Starbucks' emails were odd and clumsily written. After you've had a chance to read through, I'll offer my comments on some of Starbucks' customer service writing choices.

Notes: (1) I've changed the Starbucks agents' names. I've presented their emails verbatim. (2) Starbucks, if you are reading this, I give you several straightforward compliments at the end of this post.

My first email to Starbucks


From: Leslie O'Flahavan

Received: 2015-10-19 10:43:36

To: twittercustomerservice@starbucks.com

Subject: Follow-up on my tweet about hair in the oatmeal

Hi Twitter Customer Service -

Here are the details about my hairy oatmeal situation this morning. Thanks for your quick response.

Leslie


[I included a JPG of my Starbucks receipt in the body of my email.]


Starbucks' first email to me


From: "Susan W."

Date: Monday, October 19, 2015 at 2:30 PM

To: Leslie O'Flahavan

Subject: RE: Follow-up on my tweet about hair in the oatmeal <<#1234567-12345678#>>

Hello Leslie,

Thank you for contacting Starbucks. I just finished reading your email and appreciate you taking the time to share your concerns with us.

Unfortunately, the nature of your email message is unclear to us because the attachment was received blank. If you would please respond to this email with details on your experience, we would be happy to address this for you. Or if you prefer, you can give us a call. Our contact center can be reached at 877-309-3180 Monday-Friday 5am-8pm, as well as Saturday-Sunday 6am-4pm (PST). Thank you for being a valued part of Starbucks. I hope you have a great day!

If you ever have any questions or concerns in the future, please visit us at customerservice.starbucks.com.

Sincerely,

Susan W., customer service

My second email to Starbucks

From: Leslie O'Flahavan

Received: 2015-10-19 14:03:35

To: Susan W.

Subject: RE: Follow-up on my tweet about hair in the oatmeal

Hi, The problem I experienced is that there was a hair in my oatmeal. Disgusting.

Starbucks' second email to me

From: "Karen W."

Date: Monday, October 19, 2015 at 4:57 PM

To: Leslie O'Flahavan

Subject: RE: Follow-up on my tweet about hair in the oatmeal

Dear Leslie,

Thank you for contacting Starbucks. I just finished reading your email and appreciate you taking the time to share your concerns with us.

I apologize that you had this experience with your oatmeal.

Additionally, I would like to invite you back for a better experience by sending you a  Starbucks Card. I know this is not why you wrote us, but I recognize how frustrating this is.  Please respond to this email with your mailing address and I will send it right out. Also, please include the store location. Thanks for giving us the opportunity to fix something that went wrong.

Sincerely,

Karen W., customer service


My third email to Starbucks

From: Leslie O'Flahavan

Received: 2015-10-20 08:03:38

To: Karen W.

Subject: RE: Follow-up on my tweet about hair in the oatmeal

Hello, Karen -

Thanks for your reply. My mailing address is 123 Main Street, Anytown, MD 22222.

The address of the Starbucks that served the hairy oatmeal is Rio Hotel & Casino, Las Vegas, NV 89103. This is the address information on the receipt. The terminal number is 272 and the check number is 2724222.

Thanks,

Leslie

Starbucks' third email to me

From: "Laura P."

Date: Tuesday, October 20, 2015 at 9:24 AM

To: Leslie O'Flahavan

Subject: RE: Follow-up on my tweet about hair in the oatmeal <<#1234567-12345678#>>

Greetings Leslie!

Thank you for contacting Starbucks. I just finished reading your email and appreciate you taking the time to share your concerns with us.

Happy Tuesday Leslie! I'm sorr again about the recent experience you had with your Oatmeal having hair in it. I completely understand your disappointment Leslie. Please accept our apologies. I want to make this right for you, so I will share your experience with the West Flamingo Road store (and our quality assurance team) to make sure we are consistently offering you the best food every time you visit.

Additionally, I would like to invite you back for a better experience by sending you a $10 Starbucks Card and I have updated your account with the address you sent us. I know this is not why you wrote us, but I recognize how frustrating this is. You should receive this in 10-14 business days. Thanks again for giving us the opportunity to fix something that went wrong. Have a Great day Leslie!

Sincerely,

Laura P., customer service

What can we learn about customer service writing from Starbucks' emails?

1. Starbucks' first paragraph template is odd. "Thank you for contacting Starbucks. I just finished reading your email and appreciate you taking the time to share your concerns with us." The first sentence is pretty typical, but the I just finished reading your email wording is quite strange. I know it's meant to be in-the-moment and conversational, but when three different agents use the same template, it just sounds canned and odd. It makes it sound like there's a whole lot of reading being just finished over at Starbucks.

2. Failure to read my first email caused an additional contact. In Starbucks' first email to me, Susan wrote: Unfortunately, the nature of your email message is unclear to us because the attachment was received blank. It seems she was unable to see the photo of my receipt--which was in the body of the email, not attached--but she needn't have been confused about the reason I was writing. The only way to explain her sentence is that Susan didn't read my first email. And failing to read my email is even weirder given the I just finished reading your email template.

3. Starbucks' second email is courteous and practical. Certainly, Karen is using a template, and clearly she's customized it a bit. She handles the compensation issue well. This sentence works: Thanks for giving us the opportunity to fix something that went wrong.

4. Starbucks' third email is clearly freetexted, but not always in a good way. After reusing the I just finished reading your email template, Laura begins freetexting. How do I know? Her freetexting has typos, weird capitalization, and a somewhat insistent repetition of my first name. On one hand, I want to commend Starbucks for allowing, possibly requiring, customer service agents to freetext their replies. This is the only way to create rapport with customers. And I did get a sunny feel from Laura. But good freetexting must be clean writing, free of errors that call out "These are the parts I typed myself!"

5. Wait. What Starbucks account? I didn't know I had an account. I don't want an account. Now I'm worried Starbucks is going to use my postal address for other purposes, which won't make me happy.

6. Can't Starbucks agents read the email chain? Karen should read Susan's email to me, and Laura should read Karen's. If they read each other's writing, the balance of freetexted and templated content will be better. And I won't have to read this sentence in two emails: I know this is not why you wrote us, but I recognize how frustrating this is.

7. So many email addresses! This isn't a big problem, but it is a bit confusing. Starbucks' original tweet asked me to send an email to twittercustomerservice@starbucks.com. The "From" email address for Susan, Karen, and Laura is facebookcustomerservice@support.starbucks.com and the template sends me to customerservice.starbucks.com where I can submit comments in a webform (which is kind of an email address).

What's the take-away about customer service writing?

Starbucks did several things right:

  • They believed me, they apologized, and they compensated me.
  • They responded promptly.
  • They avoided any defensive comments. Thankfully, no one asked me whether it was possible that the hair was mine. (Emphatically, I am stating That Hair Was Not Mine.)
  • They trust their agents to freetext.

That's why I shared this example with you. It teaches us a lot about the harm that kinda-sorta-okay customer service writing does to really good customer service.



Topics: Email, Chat, Social Media

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