Customer Service E-mail from Clinique: The Bad and the Ugly

by | Oct 20, 2013 | Writing Matters Blog | 8 comments


A few weeks ago, I got fed up with my eyeliner, so I sent a complaint e-mail to Clinique, the company that makes it. When I finally received Clinique’s reply, I just wanted to crawl back in bed. You see, I spend a lot of time helping customer service organizations write great e-mail to customers. And the e-mail from Clinique is not great. It’s not even good. In fact, it’s a collection of some of the worst customer service writing habits I’ve encountered.      

Here’s my October 5 e-mail to Clinique:

Dear Clinique,

I’m really disappointed with the Quickliner For Eyes in Smoky Brown. Every time I use it, it crumbles and pieces fall off. I have been buying this product since 1999, and I have never had this problem before. What’s going on?



Here’s the first e-mail I got from Clinique.


Knowing I’d have to wait for an answer, I tried to connect with Clinique online, but that didn’t work. Here’s what Clinique promises for online customer service. But here’s what I got.

Finally, on October 15, I received this reply from Clinique:

Dear Ms. O’Flahavan,

Thank you for taking the time to contact Clinique.
 I am sorry to learn of your disappointing experience with our Quickliner For Eyes in Smoky Brown. Please be assured that all of our product formulas are extensively researched and evaluated prior to approval for manufacture. Part of this testing is devoted to determining the packaging that will best protect the specific formulation during shipment and while in use. The Quickliner For Eyes is an air-sensitive product, and will dry out quickly if exposed to the air for long periods of time. It is therefore important for the product to be tightly closed after each usage so that its air-tight seal is fully engaged. Nevertheless, we regret to hear of your experience. 

Since your satisfaction is important to us, I am happy to send you a complimentary replacement Quickliner For Eyes in Smoky Brown. Please allow 4-6 weeks for delivery.
Once again, thank you for taking the time to contact Clinique. I appreciate the opportunity to respond to your concerns. You are valued as our consumer, and I hope you will continue to use and enjoy our products with confidence and satisfaction.


Melinda R, Consumer Response Representative

Case ID: 1234567

Why this is bad customer service writing:

  1. It buries the information the customer cares about most. I am glad Clinique is going to replace my eyeliner. That’s decent and generous. That information should be at or near the top of the email. Customers want the bottom line up front.
  2. It gives a huffy answer to questions the customer didn’t ask. I didn’t ask, “Do you research your products extensively?” And I also didn’t ask, “Is it OK to leave the eyeliner cap off?” If Clinique wants to tell me to put the cap on firmly each time I use the eyeliner, that’s OK. Just don’t load up the email with information I don’t care about or need.
  3. It blames the customer. When I read the sentence, “Nevertheless, we regret to hear of your experience,” I got mad. What is Clinique saying? “Even though you don’t know how to care for your eyeliner, and you probably left it out in the sun, in the desert, with the cap off, we will grudgingly send you a new one.” Look, the eyeliner isn’t a big-ticket item. It costs $16. But I have been buying about four of these per year since 1999. (I will NOT do the math. I don’t want to know how much I’ve spent on eyeliner.) Do not blame the customer when a product is of poor quality. Just be gracious. Just give; don’t blame.
  4. It uses an officious, blowhard-y tone. This e-mail should be shorter, simpler, and more personal. Cut the words “Please be assured that…” Nobody but a lawyer in a PBS miniseries talks that way.  And the final sentence has a case of doublespeak.  Why write “I hope you will continue to use and enjoy our products with confidence and satisfaction”? Choose “use” or “enjoy.” Choose “confidence” or “satisfaction.” You don’t need both. Let me say that again. You don’t need both.
  5. It’s one huge, blocky paragraph. This email needs more white space, so I can see when the topic changes. It’s too much text at once. I am the opposite of motivated to read it.
  6. It over-thanks the customer for writing. In this e-mail, I got thanked twice. Once is plenty. Remember, most customers aren’t happy they had to write at all.


To cleanse my palate, I rewrote Clinique’s e-mail:

Dear Ms. O’Flahavan,

Thank you for letting us know that you’re having trouble with your Quickliner For Eyes in Smoky Brown. I’m really sorry to hear that it’s crumbling when you use it. We’d be glad to replace it for you. We’ll send you a new Quickliner; it should arrive in 4 – 6 weeks.

You may already know this, but the Quickliner is air-sensitive, so be sure you put the cap on tightly after you use it.

I hope you’ll continue to enjoy the Smoky Brown Quickliner. And thanks for being a Clinique customer since 1999!


Melinda R.


Now, that rewrite made me feel a bit better. In 4 to 6 weeks, my new, not-dried-out eyeliner should arrive, and I’ll look a bit better too!

Want more advice about writing e-mail to customers? Read on:


***Eye pencil image credit: Evi Michailidou

Clinique’s follow-up on this blog post

Here’s an update on my interactions with Clinique. A couple of good things have happened:

  • I received the replacement eye pencil on October 26. Now that is responsive service.
  • I was contacted by the Executive Director of Clinique’s Americas Consumer Care Center. We had a great phone call today. She agreed that Clinique’s e-mails to customers could be simplified, and she explained that Clinique is already moving forward to update its writing style. That’s great news!
Tags: Customer service, Customer service e-mail


  1. Great suggestions as always. Thanks Leslie!

  2. Excellent post. I had exactly the same experience when I wrote to complain about an excessively shiny facial moisturizer from Bobbi Brown. When I tried to return it at the counter, the clerk suggested that I had stolen it! So I mailed it back to the HQ, and got a stuffy reply very similar to the one you received, blabbing about how their products are so well tested and popular—so I guess I must be stupid not to like them. Your rewrite is spot on. Thanks for the post. I’m a follower now.

  3. It is wonderful to read your version on Clinique’s e-mail.

  4. I just discovered your blog and shared some of your analysis with my readers. I look forward to reading more of your work, Leslie.

  5. Leslie, I hope they are considering your services to assist them in the updating of their responses.

  6. Hi, Kathy – I hope so too! That would be a great opportunity … for Clinique and for E-WRITE! Hope to see you soon.

  7. I am writing to complain that I went to BonTon in Destiny Mall Syracuse, NY and wanted to get my free Smart Serum . I received a card from them, but when I went they were all out even though there was a week or more left in the promotion. I was very disappointed as I have used Clinique for many years. Please respond as this should not happen, especially when I received a card to come in. Should not run out so fast. Please respond to my e’mail. Thanks. Jane Ottoman


  1. #16 You Will Lose Your Coveted PowerSeller Status | Blue Business Blog - [...] In the case of Clinique’s email to Leslie O’flahavan, although it wasn’t as bad as I expected, it was certainly…
  2. #16: Email to Customer | Jeremy's Talk - [...] [...]

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe to our Newsletter

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Upcoming Events

Recent Posts

Writing Workbook