Appearing Authentic vs. Being Authentic

June 28th, 2010

There’s an amazing amount of communication going on these days. We can call from anywhere using our mobile phones, get and send emails from those phones, text people, IM people, post to Twitter and Facebook, and blog from anywhere and everywhere we are at.

There are also a tremendous number of tools out there that help us to manage, review, schedule and automate these communications. What’s important to remember is that while these tools are great for helping you manage your inputs and outputs, there’s still no substitute for true, authentic communication.

The introduction of all these convenience tools is what makes it increasingly apparent when you’re seeing an honest, real message versus an automated, robotic one. This was most recently illustrated to me by two responses I got to a tweet I made regarding my receipt of the book, “Delivering Happiness” by Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh.

I said:

@Wetchman: My free copy of @zappos book just arrived. Saturday FedEx, even. Thanks, Tony! #happy

I received two responses from that tweet. One from @Zappos_Service and one from @FedExDolores. Here’s what they said:

@Zappos_Service: Yay! We hope you like it. =)

@FedExDolores: Hi this is FedexDolores, glad to hear we delivered your book this Saturday! We appreciate your business. Have a great day!

Guess which one was (most likely) automated? Sorry, Dolores, you lose.

If you look at the full Twitter stream for both the Zappos account and the FedEx account, it is immediately apparent which one is either manned by a human or at least manned by a human who doesn’t have a standardized response template. Zappos, you win. You can also see that the Zappos account is typically signed off by a person at the end of a day and then re-signed into at the beginning of a new day by announcing who is at the helm. FedEx has tried to embody a specific “person” into each named account instead of having a singular customer

I’ve experienced this with FedEx’s Twitter robots before. I posted a photo in which I used the term, “FedEx” and got a robo-response:

@wetchman Hello !This is Fedex Lina. I am glad you recieved your shipment.We appreciate your business . Have a wonderful week!

Given the excellent usage of spacing in that message, I felt it was safe to assume a human didn’t do it. Sure enough, when looking at the full tweet stream of FedExLina’s account, it looked very robotic to me.

Now, I know that FedEx is likely getting a lot more mentions on Twitter than Zappos is, so they have a lot more responding to do. Even so, as a customer, I really don’t feel any better about getting some message from you if it’s just some automated (or template) response. This type of communication is the same thing as a robo-call, a form letter, or anything that takes the true, honest, person-to-person factor out of a human-to-human exchange.

If you’re going to automate something, don’t try to make it appear human.

That’s where we get to authenticity. A robo-response that tries to appear as a human response is NOT authentic. A robo-response that is clearly an automated reply IS authentic. I don’t have a problem with automated responses. They can be very helpful. But when you receive an out-of-office reply from someone, it says so. It doesn’t say, “Brian – thanks for emailing me. I look forward to replying to your message as soon as I can. I appreciate you taking the time to send this to me. Have a great day!”

What I’m left with after these two simple responses is a better feeling form Zappos and a worse one form FedEx. Sure, this is little stuff in the grand scheme of things, but I believe this is the little stuff that matters. My gut reaction to Zappos moving forward is going to be a little bit better, and to FedEx, a little bit worse.

Decide what approach you’re going to take with your personal and business communication. Make sure it’s real and authentic. Just don’t try to be something you’re not.

UPDATE: I responded to @FedExDolores with:

@wetchman Fedex Dolores is out of the office today. This is Fedex Lina. We offer customer service on Twitter.Let me know if you my help.

I received these two responses approximately an hour later from my old friend FedExLina:

@wetchman Fedex Dolores is out of the office today. This is Fedex Lina. We offer customer service on Twitter.Let me know if you my help.

@wetchman Have a safe and enjoyable 4th of July holiday!

Seems Lina is still having punctuation and spacing problems. I’m going to ask @FedExLina how @FedExDolores sent me the first message today if she’s out of the office and see what she says. I think this helps drive my point in that it’s pretty easy to see through false authenticity. Stay tuned.

UPDATE #2: Lina is a quick responder! I also like her take on the English language. Here’s my question:

@FedexLina Hi Lina - But I got a message from @FedExDolores earlier today. Does she only work part time or something?

And her response:

@wetchman Dolores is out today. I would be happy to glad if you need help today. Have a wonderful week.

I would be “happy to glad” if this whole thing didn’t make me feel bad for such a lost customer service opportunity.