Diplomacy. The art of telling someone to go to hell in such a way that they look forward to the trip.
I thought of this when an email from Waitrose arrived today. I am no great advocate of being rude to customers. Neither am I fan of sugar-coating the truth. Customers aren’t as daft as businesses believe.
Which is fortunate, as Waitrose must think its customers are a bit slow on the uptake. They’ve just sent an email to Waitrose loyalty card holders that seems to reveal a little corporate unease about the free tea and coffee they currently enjoy.
This email, headed ‘Enjoying your free tea or coffee’, should carry one of those little red government-sponsored tags that warn about too much sugar in things. It’s so sugar-coated and faux-sweet that hysterically-laughing dentists are jamming the switchboards of every Porsche dealership in the country.
“As you may know, offering a complimentary tea or coffee while you are shopping with us is one of the ways we like to say thank you for your custom.”
OK, a little over-sweet perhaps, but my fillings only hurt a little bit. And that’s just from the “…like to say thank you…” line. I’d not noticed any other ways you like to say ‘thank you’, Mr Lewis. But we’ll let that pass. There is better to come.
Get a bucket handy before you read the next line. Seriously.
“Just in the same way as a friend might offer a hot drink when you visit their home, we think it’s what a caring business should do when a loyal customer shops with us.”
Told you. I’ll wait while you recover.
The case for the prosecution cites adjective overload, the inappropriateness of a domestic analogy to a national retailer and the sheer yuk of ‘loyal’. But this is not the poor whipped Waitrose writer’s fault, I suspect. A paragraph like this is so internally-focused it can only have been written by someone whose seniority outweighed their writing ability by a serious factor. It must have been someone on the board.
“That’s why we’ve come up with this short guide to help all our myWaitrose customers make the most of the scheme and to remind you about scanning your myWaitrose card. We hope that through observing this free tea and coffee etiquette, we can continue to offer a complimentary hot drink each time you shop with us.”
I’ll hold off contacting Amnesty about the blatant torture of grammar, but “observing this free tea and coffee etiquette”? Really? I’m calling you on this one, Mr Lewis. I know a threat with menaces when I see one. I either give you my customer data or you deny me my free coffee? Right? And you thought that the old ‘hot coffee’ close would keep people in the shop for longer. Fair enough.
And Mr Lewis is clearly serious. He makes that clear in the next paragraph:
“…we will be asking myWaitrose members who wish to enjoy their free tea or coffee in one of our Cafés to also purchase a treat – such as a sandwich, cake, biscuit or piece of fruit. This change will enable us to continue to offer our customers the enjoyable service they expect.”
Interesting attempt to take the sting out of it by the use of the future tense – “…we will be asking…” But it still can’t obscure what’s really going on. No more nipping into the cafe, helping yourself to a Daily Fail and a freebie coffee and taking space that could be used by a proper, paying customer. And since when was ‘a piece of fruit’ a treat, Mr Lewis? Or a sandwich? Come off it, old chap.
Once you’ve weeded out the weasel words, taken a geological hammer to the sugar coating and got to the real message, it looks like this:
We’re sorry. It was all a terrible mistake. We didn’t realise that offering freebie tea and coffee would see us haemorrhaging profits like the French aristocracy in 1789. The car parks are cluttered up with trashy old ’62 plate Evoques. There are people in training shoes and tracksuit bottoms calling the Partners “mate”.
It can’t go on.
For pity’s sake, we’re even giving away bean-to-cup to people who can’t pronounce ‘quinoa’ properly. We’ve had to have our Financial Director resuscitated several times this week – and it’s only Wednesday.
This has to stop before we sink under a tsunami of free Columbian.
It’s simple. Swipe your sodding Waitrose card – or get the butler to do it – before you help yourself to your free cuppa. Or we’ll set the bloody dogs on you. OK?
Yours, desperate for a way out of a very, VERY expensive customer perk but hoping no-one notices if we do it bit by bit,
Mr John Lewis”