Flattery Will Get You Everywhere

12 Dec 2009
December 12, 2009

For the last year I’ve been getting email newsletters from the dealership where I bought my car. Although my Volkswagen is over nine years old the dealer wants to keep in touch with me. Naturally, they want to keep me loyal to their service department and, when it’s time, entice me to buy a new car. I understand and appreciate this as part of good customer service.

I like hearing about the new VWs and car safety. But the newsletter also clearly includes fluff pieces about new recipes, pushing one to try new experiences like skydiving and trapeze school, and must-see movies for 2010. None of these have anything to do with my car or any automobile. This had been bothering me for a while and a few days ago I finally wrote to give them some feedback.

“Dear Newsletter people,” I wrote. “I enjoy reading about updates to the VW line of cars. Keep sending those. However, I would like to give you some constructive feedback on other non-VW related pieces in your newsletter: I’m really not interested in them and, quite honestly, they dilute the value of your newsletter. Articles about the kitchen seem to be “filler.” Are you getting these from some newsletter story repository? Anyway, keep the germane articles but ditch the unrelated ones. Thanks.”

I subscribe to the PNP Sandwich School of Constructive Criticism: positive-negative-positive. I enjoy; I’m not interested in; keep the good. Wrapping criticism around some positives helps the other person hear what you’re saying. And that’s how I constructed my email to them.

A few days later I received this response from Mike:

Thank you for your thoughts, Jeff. Your instinct is absolutely correct… an outside company who works with Volkswagen creates the basic newsletter. From that template, we add our own content and try to customize it for our customers. We do this by writing articles and adding… specific coupons / savings programs. But you’re very observant to conclude that this came from an outside source. In fact, I will forward your message to the newsletter company. We always appreciate customer comments and recommendations. Thanks again, Jeff.

Unfortunately, Mike forgot to delete the comment his boss made in response to me:


It was nice that he wrote to tell us his thoughts. I’d write him back and tell him that his instinct was correct—that an outside company who works with Volkswagen creates the basic newsletter, and that we try to add our own content to it to customize it for our customers. That way, he’ll realize that it’s not just us—and that he was extremely smart and intelligent [emphasis theirs] in knowing that the newsletter was from an outside source. To make him feel even better, you could tell him that you’ll forward his comments on to the newsletter company.


I am observant. Most of the time. And, yes, I like being told I’m extremely smart and intelligent on a weekly basis. But flattery, Mike and Bill, will only get you so far. You didn’t get my point. Passing my comments on to the newsletter company won’t make me feel any better. Don’t blame them. But telling me you’ll include only auto-related articles from now on will. And that’s what I wrote them, using my patented PNP sandwich of course.

Oh, and re-read your emails before you send them to me, Mike. Yes, that will make me feel a lot better [emphasis mine].

3 replies
  1. Nina says:

    OMG – so awful and funny that I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. Computers: can’t live with ’em, can’t live without them.

  2. Howard says:

    Extremely smart and intelligent post!

  3. Dona says:

    I agree with Howard and Nina — both of whom wrote smart and intelligent comments.

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