4 signs you're about to insult my intelligence

Illustration by Skooba Design

COMMENTARY When a company tells you it's your lucky day, odds are nothing good is coming your way. (I didn't mean for that to rhyme, but I'll claim it.) Feigned congratulatory language is a tired and insulting sales tactic that is the marketing equivalent of damning with faint praise.

A few weeks ago I talked about the most positive words in customer service. The words I'm talking about this time are, shall we say, "false positives."

Whether delivered on the phone, via snail mail or in the daily gauntlet of hair-pulling pop-up windows, sentences that start with these telltale words are almost always setting you up for a "benefit boomerang" -- something that sounds like a good thing being thrown your way, but is actually headed right back to the company -- something you are led to expect but never going to receive:

-- "You've been selected"

-- "I'm happy to tell you"

-- "Because we appreciate your business"

-- "You qualify"

These teaser lead-ins are usually followed by a special purchase offer to which you are lucky enough to be entitled...along with everyone else. Or maybe the great good fortune of eligibility for a free insurance evaluation or credit card pre-approval. Or, the most pervasive of modern customer rewards, the "opportunity" to participate in a survey (America is, after all, the land of opportunity).

In the B2B world, your lucky strike might be in the form of a free (!) review of your website search results (I get congratulated with at least five of those a week), or a lucky invitation to an "exclusive," free (!) luncheon and employee benefits seminar.

Whenever I am the target of this language, I can't help but wonder if anyone really falls for it. I have to assume yes, because it just keeps coming. But my column is called "Business With Class," and to me, even if it works, it's tacky at best.

Obviously, we're all in business to sell things, and selling things means asking people to buy them. Many companies also have a need or desire to collect customer data (though few do anything good with all they collect), and once again, you don't get unless you ask. So to be clear, I am not naively arguing against the purpose of these pitches -- my issue is with the patronizing, and at times even deceptive, delivery. As with all things people-focused, doing it really well dictates that the quality of our communication is at least as important as the content.

If you would like a customer to do something -- make a purchase, consider an offer, participate in a survey -- then tell it like it is. Make the offer, extend the invitation, ask for her business. By all means be creative, be a classy and honest marketer. But don't pretend you're doing her a selfless favor; don't use phony language that insults her intelligence.

Maybe my skin is too raw from being rubbed the wrong way by so many lame pitches and ploys. And sure, there are always exceptions: sometimes these phrases lead into something innocent and genuine and wonderful ("I'm happy to tell you that you're our one-millionth caller and you've won a car.") But usually not. I can't think of the last time I was pleasantly surprised or rewarded by a company telling me I've been selected for something.

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  • Michael Hess On Facebook»

    Michael is an entrepreneur who has launched businesses including Skooba Design and Hotdog Yoga Gear travel bag brands, as well as Journeyware Travel Outfitters. Michael sold his company in 2014 and is now focused on writing, speaking and consulting. Learn more about his ventures at www.businesswithclass.com.

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