An E-Mail Question So Fraught, the Company Couldn’t Bear To Answer It

A couple of days ago, I sent this simple e-mail question to Mikasa (the china, crystal, flatware, etc. company).

From:        Leslie O’Flahavan
To:              Mikasa.com
Subject: Question about small plates to match Sedona Dinnerware

Hello,

I have purchased 4 settings each of Sedona Brown and Sedona Blue dinnerware for my niece who is getting married. I want to buy her a set of small appetizer plates to go with this dinnerware, plates smaller than the 8.75″ salad plate, which I’ve already bought. Can you suggest a small plate (5″ or 6″) in a complementary Mikasa pattern?

Thanks,

Leslie

Apparently, this question is so weighty and the risks of answering it are so great that Mikasa deemed it better not to answer at all. Here’s Mikasa’s reply to me.

From:        Mikasa.com
To:              Leslie O’Flahavan
Subject: Re: Question about small plates to match Sedona Dinnerware
(Le500191)

Good Morning,

Thank you for contacting us.  We are hesitant to recommend patterns that compliment.  Tastes vary so much that we do not like to make these type of recommendations.  We do apologize.

If you need further assistance, please feel free to call Customer Service at 1-866-645-2721 between 8 am and 9 pm Eastern Time, Monday through Friday and from 9 am to 5 pm on Saturday.

Sincerely,

Mikasa Customer Service

Besides being mystifying, Mikasa’s response violates the rules of good customer service e-mail:

  1. Answer the customer’s question. Surely Mikasa could answer my question “Do you have a little plate that matches?” with a simple yes or no. While I’d prefer a yes answer, and a link to the product I’m looking for, I’ll accept a no. I just don’t understand the huge risk in making a recommendation … about appetizer plates! If I don’t think the plates match, I won’t buy them. Mikasa’s fussy non-answer is infuriating.
  2. When presented with an opportunity, make the sale. I wonder how the execs at Lifetime Brands, Inc. (Mikasa is a division) feel about this lost sale. Customer service is costly enough without missing opportunities to make a sale and build customer loyalty.
  3. Don’t take yourself too seriously. It’s not as if I’ve written to the National Cancer Institute to ask “Radiation or chemotherapy?” Mikasa should be able to answer this question.
  4. Check your spelling.  I wrote “…complementary Mikasa pattern” and Mikasa replied “…patterns that compliment.” Usually, I don’t get too bent out of shape about spelling mistakes; they happen. I occasionally make spelling mistakes myself. But I lobbed the correct spelling Mikasa’s way; the least they could do was lob it back to me.

I’m interested in your thoughts about this e-mail. Is your company hesitant to recommend products when asked? Can you see Mikasa’s point? Or is my point much, much clearer?

— Leslie O’Flahavan

Comments

I agree it is odd to shy away from an opening to a sale. They could have sent you links to similar color sets and left the rest to you. In this litigation-happy world maybe they have been burned in the past for suggestions that went wrong - or maybe they've had complementary plates lobbed at their heads!

Posted by: Val Span | March 23, 2010 at 06:00:58pm

My complements on a well-written blog post! (snort). Anyhow, as a knowledge management geek, the thing that stands out to me is the distinction they're drawing between the written and spoken word. Replay their response: 1. Taste is subjective, so we won't respond in writing. 2. But call us. We'll give you advice as long as it's off the record. We see this all the time in knowledge management. They'll let someone give wrong answers to customers all day on the phone, but ask that same person to document the response in a KB article, where others can see and correct it? Absolutely not--it might be *wrong!*. On the other hand...brown and blue? I might go undercover with that, too. Unless you're serving a bruise for dinner. Best, dbk

Posted by: David Kay | March 24, 2010 at 12:55:33am

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