It takes a lot to push the “E” hotkey, which sends an email into the archives, where it will languish forever, unanswered. It really does.
I think companies feel the same way — if feel is the right word for an organization — despite the many stories about inappropriate corporate behavior you’ve read on this site. They would really prefer to respond to every inquiry.
So what would make me ignore a message?
Well, that’s not something I think about often, but I received a call from a reporter at a personal finance magazine yesterday who asked me that question. And the more I pondered it, the more I understood that companies ignore for the same reasons I ignore.
(By the way, I know you’re tempted to leave a comment at the end of this story, saying “Happy to oblige.” You do realize that means you actually read at least part of the story, right?)
For example, what would you do if you wrote this story about excessive fees and received the following response from reader Chuck Valik?
Wow, what an idea. We should go even further and regulate pay of journalists and consumer advocates. The cost of my newspaper could be reduced. How about reducing the pay of athletes and actors — we could then attend more events. Why should you and others make more money than me?”
An industry apologist couldn’t have said it better. But how do you even respond to sarcastic, ideology-laced diatribe like that?
Well, I don’t — and I didn’t.
Here are the three types of emails to which I’ll never respond:
Dropping the f-bomb (or any other gratuitous profanity).
Here’s one from a reader named Scott: “I just finished your article about how to avoid tipping servers and bartenders,” he wrote. “I am going to refrain from what I really want to say to you and try to address you in a calm, respectful and patient manner.”
Scott must be confusing me with someone else, since I’ve never written such an article. And his definition of “calm” and “respectful” must be different than mine.
But anyway, on with the story.
“You obviously have little to no respect for millions of people in this country and around the world who work very hard,” he added. “Based on your photo, I’m going to guess you’re a closeted homosexual. Just come out already…It’s 2016. Warmest Wishes and Go F**k Yourself.”
Now, how do you respond to that? You really don’t.
Here’s an email I got after posting the executive contact information for a company in our database:
“Our client requests that the posting of this content cease and desist,” it read. “This 2nd letter shall serve as our client’s formal request that you immediately cease and desist from posting content or information located at the aforementioned location.”
A part-time hobbyist blogger might be swayed by the use of big words like “cease and desist” but anyone with a high school civics class knows about the wonderful protections the First Amendment offers journalists.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I take threats seriously, particularly those against my friends and family. They get referred to law enforcement. This kind of junk gets sent to the trash, where it belongs.
Here’s one from one of the more obtuse credit card shills on the internet:
“Genuinely shocked at your behavior,” he wrote. “You seem to not even realize how rude you’re being, since you say you value civility so much.”
The statement isn’t just provably false, it’s also textbook trolling. In the context of this email, this particular loyalty program apologist was actually the one being rude. Incredibly rude, actually. Then, in what he apparently believed was a nice rhetorical flourish, he pivoted and accused me of being rude, as if that would somehow confuse me. It didn’t. There was only one thing to do with the missive — buh-bye.
Trolls sometimes come off as sincere and polite, but they only want to provoke and distract you into a pointless argument. This particular troll, who shall remain nameless, will continue to be ignored.
I’ve spoken with customer service execs at companies and they tell me they do the same thing. Profanities and threats are routinely ignored. Credible legal threats are referred to the legal department. Problem customers and trolls get blacklisted.
And the interesting thing is: People are genuinely surprised when the folks on the other side of the counter do this. They expect them to behave like emotionless automatons, to take it all on the chin and to always respond professionally, even when they really shouldn’t.
I believe you should reply to a vast majority of the customer inquiries, just as my advocacy team and I respond to a vast majority of emails and help requests. But a select few will be ignored. And rightfully so.