The corporate business world is a rich source of communication gobbledegook – or just poor English. So too are governments the world over. But let me confine my remarks here to business – and to one outstanding global brand in particular: Virgin Atlantic.
Now that’s a brand I have always highly respected. I never fly any other airline if I can help it. But a recent experience left me and my wife disappointed so we sent off a note to the local folk at Virgin noting our disappointment that we had not been given our seats as indicated when we booked. And also noting that we were otherwise very happy.
About three weeks after sending the email, we sent a reminder, wondering what had happened to our email. Had it become lost in cyberspace? Clearly not, for eight days afterwards (and almost four weeks to the day after the initial communication) we received this reply:
“Mr and Mrs Coggin
Thank you for contacting Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd.
We apologise for the inconvenience , the travel agent should have advised that ,the pre-booking of seats is not guaranteed, because sometimes we might have an aircraft change.
Which might necessitate the change of seating ,therefore even if you are pre-seated ,you still have to confirm 24 hours before your departure date when you check-in online.”
If you wonder about the lengthy verbatim quotation, it is to illustrate the sloppiness of the reply.
Communication is about image, and communication is language. Good language. Respectful language. And in this case, placatory language. In none of these does the Virgin Atlantic writer meet even the basic measure.
It would probably be best to say nothing about the punctuation, such is its aggressive mis-use. The use of the comma is appalling. Respect for the full stop…well, was it ever there in his mind? The knowledge of sentence construction seems not to exist.
The salutation – how difficult is it to preface “Mr and Mrs Coggin” with a “Dear” or even, in our modern age of informality, the seemingly ubiquitous “Hi”. No such luck. One is addressed as if a raw recruit in a ragamuffin army.
As for placatory language… Apart from the perfunctory apology, the narrative is couched to apportion blame: first to the travel agent (I wonder how inclined she may be to use Virgin again?) and then to the customer.
Corporate communicators have a duty to portray a good image of their company, under all circumstances. Don’t seek to shift the blame.
And for heaven’s sake, learn to write decently.
It is simple. Honestly, it is. Just take the trouble. Attend a course (such as those offered by ourselves at Quo Vadis Communications!) or get someone proficient to check your writing, and employ a professional to deal with matters of image, especially when it comes to the written word.
Not to do so is to dilute that image. In the case of Virgin, we are pretty sure Sir Richard Branson would not approve. After all, the use of such poor language (and I have deliberately not even gone into the corporate bloody-mindedness inherent in the length it took to reply) suggests that one is merely a cog in the bigger machine. Such a pity, because Virgin always appeared to be the exception in this regard.
Building a brand like Virgin takes just too much hard work to undo it all by employing sloppy communication.
A final thought. Before a spokesperson (who should ideally be an able communicator and language practitioner) bashes out a thoughtless reply on a keyboard and hurriedly presses the “Send” button, he or she should at least have one thought uppermost: who is this person I am addressing?
In these days of social media, one’s reply might just become part of a learning tutorial in someone’s Blog…