Remember to recall your collateral

Here is an example of a Fail from Safeway for Creative and Timing.  A chronology:
  • 4/16/10: Safeway reopens its store in Waterfront Station, Washington DC. Many senior executives show up for the store opening.
  • 4/18/10: I visit the Safeway and apply for their Safeway Club Card.  The brochure mentions benefits such as reduced prices on items and the ability to earn United Airlines frequent flyer miles.
  • 6/18/10: I receive the letter below dated June 11 and postmarked June 14.

It took Safeway two months to get around to informing me that I would not earn United Airlines miles for my purchases because the program was discontinued in February.  This means that despite the high level of publicity for the new store opening, Safeway did not bother to update their club enrollment brochures - even though the program had ended six weeks before I applied for their club card. 

The letter does not express any remorse or regret that a program was offered to me that had already expired.  (Are they suggesting that it's my fault I included my United Airlines frequent flyer number?)  Furthermore, the letter closes by stating that Safeway will process my application.  This means that after two months, the company had yet to take action.

The letter copy itself could be improved:
  • Cut the passive verbs, i.e. open with "We received ." rather than "We have received ."
  • Don't mention "information included" if there was no information included. The only thing in the envelope was the letter.
  • Personalize the experience.  Have a real person in customer service sign the letter, even if only a first name.
It's not just brochures that can become out of date -- direct mail and e-mail offers can also expire.   I recently received a packing slip that included a coupon for my next purchase that expired four months before the package shipped. 
Learnings: Do not use out of date brochures or other collateral.  If you make a mistake, apologize for it.  The tone of a customer service letter should be active and personal.  If you mention something is included with a letter, include it.

UPDATE 9/21/10
My Subway Club Card still has not been processed.  For the past two months, whenever I shopped at the store I would use their generic card rather than input my phone number.  I called their customer service department and was told that they their processing is backlogged.  Did my application not get processed because they sent me this letter?

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