The Lost Art of Empathy: A Customer Email Makeover

You know what’s missing in today’s customer service landscape? The secret sauce to delighting your buyers–even unhappy ones–that so many businesses, regardless of size, get wrong over and over again?

Showing authentic empathy.

Sadly, many small businesses, are their own worst enemies when it comes to sabotaging their sales. They focus solely on running the business and not on relating to their customers as people: Rude staff. Inflexible policies. Canned responses.

Recently, I made my first purchase on Blue Mercury, an online boutique of makeup, skincare and spa accessories. A perfect gift site.

I purchased an adorable scented candle for a client. When asked, I dutifully filled out her shipping information. Then I filled out my own billing information with my credit card info, as instructed.

The order processed and the confirmation screen pops up….listing my client as both the recipient AND the buyer. And since I was never given the chance to write a gift card, upon getting the gift, it was going to look like she sent it to herself!

I shipped off a “Help Me!” email to customer service.  They needed to know if their system was not working properly, as I had very carefully entered all of my info as the buyer – and yet it did not correctly transfer through. I also pressed upon them that this was kind of embarrassing for my brand, as I was sending this to a client.

This reply came one day later:

Hello Maria,

I am so sorry for the inconvenience. The order is already shipping and we are unable to change the information. I understand your frustration and I apologize. What we can do is offer you a gift card. Let us know if you have any other questions and if you would like to receive the gift card. 



Bluemercury, Inc.

Customer Support

What’s wrong with this email – and 4 make-over ideas to turn an unhappy customer into a raving fan:

  1. Completely canned apology: “I am sorry for the inconvenience.” Sounds like a robot or a form letter. She did not address the larger issues, which was that the system was not working properly.

INSTEAD: Show some humanity! The company rep could have been more conversational to show she really understood and empathized with my specific situation, based on my initial email: “Oh my goodness! We are so sorry about this glitch in sending a gift to your client! We never want that to be a customer’s first experience on our site.”

  1. Lack of Solutions: There was no attempt to correct the situation AT ALL. Simply, “Sorry, it’s already shipping, Nothing we can do.”

INSTEAD: Get creative! What if the company rep offered to send an email or hand-written note to my client to explain who the gift was from? Wow, that would have gone a long way…that’s showing your customer empathy, versus just saying you “understand.”. They could have further boosted their brand by making a note to my recipient really fun and cheeky: “Wow, we goofed! But someone named Maria Ross loves you and has sent you a fabulous gift from us. We just forgot to put their name on it. Our bad!We would have been talking about that for days!

  1. Asking Permission to Make Things Right: Really? You’re asking me if I want a gift card from you? That made me feel so petty, like I was trying to get something for free from them.

INSTEAD: Just make it right!  Don’t ask for permission to do something nice for an unhappy customer. You never want to put a customer in a position of feeling like they are trying to scam free stuff. Just do it and delight them!

The kicker came in the next email thread. Here was the correspondence, in which I told her this was my first shopping experience on the site:

You have not addressed what went wrong in your system to make this happen. I very clearly remember typing in all my information in under the Billing Name + Address. Your system has a problem and should be checked.

That is nice of you. Yes, I would like one if I decide to shop on the site again.

Can you at least change the buyer account so it’s not reflected as my name being XXX or as my address being her address? My address is XXXX.

This is the first time I’ve used your site. Not a good experience at all. 


Maria Ross

The response, one day later:

Hello Maria,

I am sorry about our system. It could have just been an issue with technology. I understand how frustrating it must be. I put in your request for your gift card. Let us know if there is anything else we can do for you.

4, 5, 6: Unwillingness to Follow Up on Issue, No Thank You for Pointing It Out, Canned Apology and Lack of Warmth Again: This canned response hit the trifecta for me: “I understand how frustrating it must be” is not empathy…it’s what I say to my toddler when he’s overreacting to nothing.   And this still makes me feel like you are not taking my issue seriously. “It could’ve been an issue with the technology but we don’t really believe you. You probably did it wrong.” Further, “Your gift card is coming, now shut up.” was how I felt by the tone of this email.  Probably not what she meant at all, but remember, unhappy customers are seeing things through a certain lens, especially when they don’t feel like you are listening to them. You have to be very thoughtful in your response.

INSTEAD: Validate your customer’s unhappiness – and be grateful that they are pointing out an issue that could be costing you other sales. Offer to escalate the issue internally and reference the person’s specific issue: “I’m so sorry I didn’t address that issue in my email response. Yes, I will certainly contact Product Management and see if there is something wrong with our order processing. Thank you so much for pointing it out to us, and again, we’re so sorry this happened on your first shopping experience with us, especially for your client. Your gift card is on its way so we hope you will give us another chance to delight you!

When you show warmth, creativity and true empathy, you can turn unhappy customers into raving fans. (TWEET THIS!)

What brands have delighted you when things went wrong? When have you turned an unhappy client or customer into a raving fan? Please share below!

Image credit via Flickr

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