Is Your Customer Communication “Vanilla”?

Would you want to read your company emails, packing slips and bills?

As consumers in an online market we are often asked to “register” before being shuttled through to the buying stage of the online experience. It’s a nuisance at times—I occasionally opt to move through this process as a “guest” rather than taking the time to enter my information. But what if we knew that at the end of the registration process, we would be rewarded and welcomed in with open arms by an email that is spunky and fresh AND contains important information like benefits and links to customize your personal account? I might always take the time to register—providing essential consumer information to the company (bonus for the company)—and look forward to a continued relationship starting with a welcome email that pops!

Zappos wants to be known as a service company that happens to sell shoes, handbags, and more. The lens through which the company makes decisions is service. This is obvious in the tone of the welcome email that graced my inbox upon registration at Zappos—SERVICE with a smile (and shoes to quickly follow). Check out how I’m welcomed after registering on their site:

“Hello, Jeanne: Woohoo! We’re so excited you registered with We look forward to providing you with many amazing shopping experiences!”

What if every email registration confirmation greeted you in a personalized manner that is consistent with their brand personality? Surprisingly, few businesses have clued in to the fact that communication exposes how much they consider the customer on the other end of the email, letter, notification or packing slip. Companies consider these touchpoints as tasks they have to execute – not opportunities to showcase their personality and connect with customers in a real and human manner. has opened their arms to me, and while I know in reality it’s not personal, the warmth behind the sentiment makes this welcome email seem like a great big hug. And I’m not kidding when I say—it makes me want to shop for shoes.

A Email Read ‘Round the World!

CD Baby is another company that has succeeded in the customer communication arena. This company was born to create an enjoyable and profitable channel to enable musicians to sell their music to the public. The company has made it their quest to keep these musicians in business, cutting out the record-producer middleman that prevents many independent musicians from making a living. CD Baby carries this commitment to artists through every action, including how they bond and communicate with customers.

CD Baby has a warm style we see far too rarely in customer communications. And that is to “write like you talk.” Just to give you an idea, this is a direct quote from their order confirmation email:

“Your CD has been gently taken from our CD Baby shelves with sterilized contamination-free gloves and placed onto a satin pillow. A team of 50 employees inspected your CD and polished it to make sure it was in the best possible condition before mailing it. Our packing specialist from Japan lit a candle and a hush fell over the crowd as he put your CD into the finest gold-lined box that money can buy. We all had a wonderful celebration afterwards and the whole party marched down the street to the post office where the entire town of Portland waved ‘Bon Voyage!’ to your package…”

It goes on in this same silly, but heart-warming manner to elaborate on a fanciful journey each CD is taking as it leaves the shelf and lands with the buyer. While whimsical, this note CD Baby sends out to confirm orders gets to the heart of the company’s commitment to the more than 277,000 artists they represent. Thriving since 1998 as one of the largest sellers of independent music on the Web, over $4.5 million in CDs have been sold online to customers.

Zappos and CD Baby have both taken risks, straying outside the boundaries of regular communication patterns between customers and company. By letting down their guard and “writing like they talk,” these companies have succeeded in their individual industries and relish in the customer loyalty that sparks repeat business and earns constant raves by their fans.

Go Try This

EVALUATE The Personality of Your Communication.

– Print a sample of your letters to customers?  What’s the tone?

– Post every single thing you send to customers on a wall.  What does it look like? What does it sound like?  Are you having a conversation with customers or sending them “documents?”

Take a Chance – show your true colors

– Define your “voice.”  Many moons ago, I was a copywriter for a while for Lands’ End.  Best advice I ever got on how to connect in a human way was, “Jeanne, write like you talk?”  Are you writing like you talk?  Have you defined the tone, the tenor and the kind of conversation you want to have between yourselves and customers?

– Identify the highest volume communication you have and rewrite the content. Make a point of connecting in a personal manner at those times when your customers will read what you send them – and make it matter.

– Share it with your company.  People need to know what to emulate in tone.  Then watch what happens.

Want to learn about other tools to help you earn customers who drive the success and growth of your business? Pick up a copy of: “I Love You More Than My Dog: Five Decisions That Drive Extreme Customer Loyalty in Good Times and Bad.”

6 comments to " Is Your Customer Communication “Vanilla”? "

  • Tim Proctor

    Jeanne, I got a kick out of seeing your mention of CD Baby. I used them for the first time to find a cd from an Irish musician (we had just returned from Ireland) a month ago. When I got the shipping papers I laughed and then called the company to find out who came up with the idea.

    They also added a message on the packing slip. I don’t have it with me but basically they say that if you have any questions or complaints or if you are just having a bad day and need to rant, feel free to call them.

    It does work. I’m now on their mailing list and have ordered two more cds from a company that I didn’t know existed.

    Great post! As always

    • Tim,
      Thanks so much for sharing your experience! It is interesting isn’t it, how a bit of humor or “everyday language” separates a company? Of course, they’ve got to deliver the goods and be great at service — but once all that is accomplished, the magnet pull of going back for more whimsy or personality really does drive business!

      Thanks so much for reading!


  • Hey Jeanne !
    Great topic and extremely relevant in todays business world of content overload. Too many me too web sites, videos, brochures & boring power point nap inducing sessions. Love the idea of posting communication on a wall ! Now, I do love Vanilla ice cream but……………….. topped with chocolate, nuts, whipped cream, cherries, & bananas. Be well. Best bg

  • Ab-so-lute-ley. Thanks for a cracker of a post, Jeanne.

    Companies over here in the UK are just starting to wake up to this stuff and how important it is. It’s the way they prove their brand is real rather than just a lick of gloss on the top.

    And, it’s the everyday comms customers actually have to interact with – filling in forms, changing details, confirming information, understanding requests. Get it right (and make customers’ lives easier) and they love you for it.

    • jeanne

      Hi Mark,
      One great activity is to take everything you send out to customers and post it on a wall. I like to do it along the stages of the experience. Then have groups of people come in and start to read all this stuff and look at the different ways your company looks and sounds. The ‘wall of reality’ is a great way to get people to realize that our customer is the only one seeing the totality of this discombobulated conversation we are having with them — and often will get the action started. Just begin with rewriting all the form letters for example — great first step!


  • As always, great post, Jeanne.

    Reminds be of the importance of getting back to basics…by which I mean, let’s think like they think, talk like they talk, say what we do, do what we say, and so on.

    Anybody remember the classic website design book: “Don’t Make Me Think” ? !!

    A corollary of this thinking in the B2B space, where I hang out, is B4B….let’s not do business “to” our clients, but rather, “for” our clients.

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