Archive for November, 2009

The Opposite Extreme

Tuesday, November 24th, 2009

In my last blog post, which recounted the apparent inability of an alleged communications guru to walk the talk of courteous customer service, I promised an example of the other extreme. Here ‘tis.

Never mind VW gti w12 2007_thumbwhy, but several weeks ago I wanted a copy of my VW Roadside Assistance plan, and it seemed easiest to ask for an electronic copy.

I contacted VW using a form on their customer portal.

This, friends, is what I found in my Inbox:


From: VWoA Customer CARE []
Sent: Friday, July 10, 2009 1:36 PM
Subject: 80910XXXX Arnold 7/10/09 JB

Dear Ms. Arnold:

Thank you for your follow up e-mail regarding your Rabbit.  I am grateful to have you as a member of the Volkswagen family.  I understand you are inquiring if there is an e-mail address where Roadside Assistance can be contacted to obtain an electronic copy of your Roadside Assistance plan.  I apologize for any frustration this concern has caused, and I appreciate the opportunity to respond.

Volkswagen strives to assist our customers whenever possible.  I regret there is no e-mail address for Roadside Assistance; they can be reached over the phone at (800) 411-6688. Roadside Assistance helps people over the phone that call in with vehicle concerns, and it is possible they may not have something they can send to you.  Please be aware you were provided a Roadside Assistance booklet when you purchased your car.  I realize you are seeking an electronic copy however as a temporary solution I have located a Roadside Assistance booklet here in the Customer CARE Center that I will mail to you.  You can expect to receive it in 7 to 10 business days.

As a member of the Volkswagen family, your questions are important to us.  Again, thank you for your e-mail.  If I may be of future assistance, please don’t hesitate to contact me again by e-mail at or through our Customer CARE Center at (800) 822-8987.  If I am not available, one of my colleagues will be able to assist you.


Ms. [Mary Jones]


Customer CARE Advocate


Holy crow. Talk about polite. Talk about a serious corporate culture of customer service.

I can just picture the folks in the conference room mapping the strategy to imbue all of VW with this service culture; the ace corporate communications writer crafting customer letter samples and templates; mandatory Customer CARE Advocate training on personalizing those samples and templates; and, if VW is really clever, an internal social media portal for Customer CARE Advocates to share best practices in writing customer letters.

No way was Ms. [Mary Jones] acting alone. This was not an isolated incident. They never are. Outstanding customer service happens when leadership works hard at it. Same as anything good that happens in CorporateVille. Like making sure employees have the information they need to do their jobs, when and how they need it.

What do customer service and internal communications have in common? They’re often underestimated and undervalued, and leaders who don’t recognize their importance are dragging down company performance and leaving money on the table.

VW has never given me any reason to feel anything less than terrific about driving one of their cars. Can you say your employees feel the same about working for you?

Walk the Talk, Dude

Friday, November 20th, 2009

Of all the really true truisms, one of the truest is that it’s easier to give advice than to follow it. But watching someone prove it big time can really stick in your craw.

So I won a trivia contest on Twitter. The prize? Free access to a very attractive Webinar sponsored by a publisher of communications resources that shall go unnamed. I was psyched. Crossed Fingers-796261

The CEO, who’d run the contest, sent me a direct message via Twitter asking for my contact info. I did:


From: Deb Arnold []

Sent: Wednesday, November 11, 2009 2:06 PM


Subject: FW: Direct message from [NW]

Hi [NW],

Thanks for holding the contest. I’m excited about the [ABC] seminar.

Will you be giving away any more spots at the [XYZ] conference? Wish I could come but just can’t swing it (lean times, as you know, especially for us solo practitioners).

My contact info is below. FYI, I’m already on your mailing list as Deb Arnold Strategic Communications – Deb Arnold, Ink. is my new DBA.

Thank you again. I enjoy your resources, and you provide a very important service to communications professionals in all that you do.




His next e-mail was a shocker to this communications professional:


From: [NW]

Sent: Wednesday, November 11, 2009 12:13 PM



Subject: FW: Direct message from [NW]

Can you please comp Deb Arnold to the [ABC] webinar. She is one of the winners of the last Twitter contest.


P.S. Also, can you update her info in our database. Thx………………………………….

He did not reply to me.

Now, maybe I’m just extra-sensitive. Or a cheap clod for asking about another freebie (nb: XYZ conference is a whopping $1,395). But it made me do a double-take that a self-proclaimed communications guru would neglect the basics:

–          Respond to the e-mail

–          Answer the question

–          Acknowledge the compliment

This seems particularly egregious given that I’d said I was on his mailing list, signaling a long-term relationship. Also, had he looked me up (you know, so he’d know who he was talking to), he would have known I am a paying member of his organization. I guess my annual fee doesn’t include good manners.

It wouldn’t be so bad if it were the first time. But I’d also e-mailed [NW] after meeting him at a seminar he’d led. I complimented the program, told him I’d attend an upcoming conference (paying customer x2) and asked whether they’d consider a small business discount. I’m from New York: You don’t ask, you don’t get. No reply.

And in February, in response to repeated requests for links from readers, I e-mailed an article link to the managing editor about a Congressman who had tweeted an Iraqi security breach. No reply.

We’re all busy. But if Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, had time to thoughtfully respond to an e-mail from me, surely someone not busy selling a billion dollar company to Amazon can hit Reply, too. Especially if he’s, like, a communications expert.

The real irony? That seminar was on social media, and [NW] himself warned that these days, companies that give lame customer service can expect to read about it on the Internet. I decided to be kind and not “out” him. I’ll cancel my membership instead. That would be me walking my talk.

Look for an upcoming post on the opposite extreme: the most courteous customer service e-mail I have ever received – from Volkswagen.

How to Speak Branding

Monday, November 9th, 2009

I won’t lie. Cool stuff has been happening lately. Launching my Web site and blog et al was pretty exciting. Changing my e-mail signature. Getting a design for my Twitter page. Sending the launch e-mail. Nerve-wracking, thrilling stuff.

But I think maybe the coolest thing of all was getting my (mini) branding guidelines from my fantastic, awesome and amazingly talented graphic designer, Janee, founder of Swing Creative. I strongly recommend Janee for design work and good company for taco lunches. Seriously, she’s the real deal, a consummate professional with big agency experience and a great sense of humor who delivers the goods.

[Audience participation: Go ahead – click on the image to take a closer look, especially if you’ve never seen branding guidelines up close and personal. You know you wanna. I’ll wait.]

pic of guidelines

OK, so what’s so cool about getting your own branding guidelines? Um, everything! I’ve seen many of these over the years – for tech start-ups (fun), huge corporations (very not mini, more like multiple three-ring binders), even an agency team (I still have nightmares). Now having guidelines for my own business makes things feel – legit? Grounded? Protected?

Protected? Yes. I definitely felt a great sense of relief and security – possibly emotions that only folks who’ve worked with branding would recognize in this context. Because what is the purpose of branding guidelines if not to protect the brand?

Yeah, so what’s all that about, anyway? Why do some people get so bent out of shape over fonts and colors? Because among other things, “branding” is a communications system, a visual language, which helps explain my fascination with it. So when you use Arial instead of Trebuchet MS, you’re speaking Greek to a Roman. When you randomly change a logo color, you’re speaking blasphemy, making innocent babes blush.

And when you’re creating a proposal on your new letterhead, like I did a few weeks ago, and want to incorporate a logo color, the guidelines translate “Red/Orange” for you.

More audience participation – follow along now and be amazed. To make the header of a table “Deb Arnold, Ink. Red/Orange,” do these easy steps:

Select cells, then

Right click > Borders and Shading > Shading > Fill > More colors > Custom

Now, take a look on the branding guidelines in the box under RED ORANGE. See the numbers next to RGB (yep, Red Green Blue)? Back at the dialog box, make sure RGB is selected as the color model. Then enter the three numbers into the corresponding boxes.

Click OK.

Voila. Magic. Branding.

So what’s the point of this show-and-tell? Branding is a communications system, a visual language. It only works when everyone speaks it, follows the rules, understands that the guidelines are there to guide, to create order and predictability, comfort and stability.

And every communications system works the same way. How about your internal and B2B communications? Do you have a system? Does it have guidelines that make it orderly and predictable, comforting and stable? [Don’t think communications can be comforting? Try sending out the weekly update to 8,000+ retail associates three hours late and see what kind of discomfort you create.]

If your communications guidelines don’t tell you the equivalent of how to make a header row RED/ORANGE, contact me today.

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