Our Creepy Condolences
August 24, 2010 12:23 PM   Subscribe

Our customer's mom died. Is it appropriate to send a card?

I work at the corporate office of a company that makes funny looking toe shoes. We have a website through which we sell these shoes. A customer that bought a pair on our website recently made a return for a refund. It's unclear why. There was an issue with processing the credit and the customer (let's call him Tom) had to be called. During the course of this phone call, Tom mentioned that his mother passed away four months ago (it came up because the refund was issued to a joint account for both Tom and his mother that had since been closed). My co-worker (John!) of course gave his condolences. Now John wants to send Tom a sympathy card.

I maintain that this is inappropriate and sort of creepy: we're not his PCP or neighborhood pharmacist or pastor. We're a company that sold him shoes through a website. The shoes didn't end up working for him. If I received a sympathy card from like the Gap, I would be uncomfortable. John says it's excellent customer service: it's shows we're thinking about him and that we're a company full of humans who care.

So is it creepy or a nice gesture?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (29 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Nice. Send the card.
posted by markx2 at 12:26 PM on August 24, 2010

Given that your company had no relationship with his mother, I'd say it's a little strange. Had she been a loyal customer, a card might be appropriate, although I don't know how I feel about a for-profit company sending out condolence cards.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 12:26 PM on August 24, 2010 [7 favorites]

I would vote against it.

Personally, if it were a brick-and-mortar store that I frequented, and I was at least familiar with the staff, it wouldn't be a big deal. In fact, it would be touching.

But a CSR at an online retailer? No. Especially if the death was four-months past. At that point, to me, it would feel like a stranger with access to my personal information was accessing it inappropriately.
posted by mudpuppie at 12:27 PM on August 24, 2010 [18 favorites]

Not from 4 months ago. And who knows--he might have been fibbing so you'd process the refund faster or something.
posted by Ideefixe at 12:27 PM on August 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

Creepy. I think you've got the right level of service provider who should send a card (PCP etc.) If you did that to me, I'd put you on my personal blacklist.
posted by stevis23 at 12:28 PM on August 24, 2010

Honestly? He's getting a bevy of these things right now, assuming his mom had friends and coworkers who liked her. Tom will probably just look at it, nod, fling it in the "send thank-you note" pile, and go back to deal with all the Bullshit that comes with this situation. Make of that what you will.
posted by griphus at 12:30 PM on August 24, 2010

Creepy. His mother wasn't a customer, this happened months ago, and it's not really your (or your co-worker's) business. If I got a condolences card from Starbucks several months after a member of my family died, I'd be super creeped-out.
posted by shamash at 12:32 PM on August 24, 2010

I'll put in a vote for super creepy.

If it makes John feel any better tell him that the "company of humans that care" point was made clear when John vocalized his condolences on the phone.
posted by zephyr_words at 12:32 PM on August 24, 2010

Totally appropriate for the rep to extend his condolences over the phone when the customer said it, inappropriate for your company to use the information in its computer (his address) to send a condolence card.

Heart's in the right place, sure, but it does seem a bit off. I agree with mudpuppie for the reason. There's been no personal relationship with the customer other than the initial buy and refund transactions. If you were her doctor or local grocer who carried her bags out to her car, it's fine. Otherwise, stay away.
posted by inturnaround at 12:33 PM on August 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

It is nice to say you are sorry, but what your co worker did (giving condolences in response to the information) is appropriate. Doing more than that seems off to me -- it feels almost like a marketing effort in response to the news. It reminds me of those Xmas cards that businesses send . . . they just feel like another form of direct mail to me.
posted by bearwife at 12:33 PM on August 24, 2010 [6 favorites]

4 months ago means that you're not close enough to the customer to warrant a card. If it was a customer who you all knew, even just in the online world, I think it would be okay and I think you would have also found out about it much sooner (Oh, Tom! His orders are the best! What, his mother passed away last week? Send that man a card, and we'll sign it because we all love Tom's orders!).
posted by redsparkler at 12:33 PM on August 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

You're right. It's over the line and creepy. It would have to be a pretty intimate commercial relationship and a much more recent death for John's idea to be appropriate. His mum died four months ago. You sold him a pair of shoes once (which is presumably the only reason you have his address). It's not like you're his personal lawyers or something.

My guess is 1 in 10 people might react well to the card. 2 in 10 would ignore it, and everyone else would find it weird and discomfiting and possibly even upsetting. For example, I can imagine my dad getting genuinely angry about it. To be honest, this is such a bad idea with such a low chance of doing such a small amount of good that it kinda seems like John is excited about an opportunity to improve your company's customer service is perceived, and is not thinking about what, if anything, this will do for the recipient. Encourage him to think about whether he really has the customer's interests in mind.
posted by caek at 12:39 PM on August 24, 2010

Well, a strangely similar situation has occurred in the past with Zappos. The original blog post is 404, secondary sources seem to indicate that the recipient of the flowers in that case was appreciative.
posted by mhum at 12:43 PM on August 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

Reminded me about Zappos sending flowers to a customer.
posted by dripdripdrop at 12:47 PM on August 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

d'oh, somebody has quicker copy and paste skills
posted by dripdripdrop at 12:48 PM on August 24, 2010

The Zappos thing seemed to have happened pretty close to the actual death, and the Zappos staff also did something else for the customer that was actually related to the purchase.

4 months on, after a casual mention . . .creepy. Giving your condolences at the time was appropriate.
posted by Medieval Maven at 12:52 PM on August 24, 2010 [3 favorites]

I used to work for small local company that, because of the nature of the service provided, naturally had long-term relationships with some customers. Many of these customers were, if not elderly, then at least old, and we heard about a few people dying each year. There was only one time in the three years I worked there that we sent a sympathy card, and that was to the widow of a guy who had a great relationship with my boss. It still felt weird to me. I think sending a card in this case isn't the proper thing to do.
posted by sugarfish at 12:53 PM on August 24, 2010

creepy. not a direct customer and a third of a year later.
posted by rmd1023 at 12:53 PM on August 24, 2010

If this were closer to his mother's death then I think it would be appropriate. As it is, I think the best customer service would be providing thoughtful and responsive attention when he (or anyone) calls.
posted by Verdant at 12:56 PM on August 24, 2010

I agree that it's not creepy per se, but the length of time since the death makes it weird.
posted by something something at 1:04 PM on August 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

If I were the recipient of such a card, I would think that you were trying to win my future business by exploiting my mother's death.
posted by analog at 1:08 PM on August 24, 2010 [8 favorites]

John says it's excellent customer service

There's something very, very creepy about sending a condolence card in order to show good customer service. That is to say, I don't think it's always inappropriate for someone at a company to send a condolence card to a customer--it's possible to have a friendly enough relationship with a regular customer that it could well be appropriate and kind to send a card--but the card should never be sent in order to show the berieved person something about the company. That's manipulative, creepy, and weird. It's like saying, "We at Acme Shoe are sorry for your loss, customer; please remember our thoughtfulness next time you need a new pair of shoes." Creepy.
posted by Meg_Murry at 1:15 PM on August 24, 2010 [3 favorites]

If you were mailing a check or something, penning in a line at the bottom of the "explanation of what this check is" letter saying something like, "Sorry to hear about your recent loss." might be appropriate.

Anything in excess of that get's my skeevy vote.

If you're not mailing anything, then do nothing.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 1:26 PM on August 24, 2010

If you were the butcher down the street and had a long term relationship with the customer (either mom, son or both) then yes. Otherwise, no. Also four months is a bit long in any case, except for relatives or fairly close friends who have been out of touch for some reason.
posted by lordrunningclam at 1:51 PM on August 24, 2010

Giving condolences at the time was the right thing to do. A card is quite odd, lacking a longer-standing relationship.
posted by desuetude at 10:16 PM on August 24, 2010

I think John's spontaneous verbal condolences were sufficient, and anything else would more likely interpreted as an attempt to drum up business than a sincere expression of sadness. Which is accurate, because even John admits he wants to send it for good customer service. Don't send it.
posted by davejay at 12:05 AM on August 25, 2010

As a guideline, consider this: if you had further business to do with this person (let's say you were sending out a replacement for a pair damaged in shipment), then a quick note from the person he talked to, brief and handwritten and included in the order, might be appropriate. The message would be that yes, we're doing business here, but I remember you and the conversation we had. That's good. Without further business to be done, don't do it, lest it be interpreted as an attempt to use the passing of his mother as a means to open a line of communication to drum up more business.
posted by davejay at 12:07 AM on August 25, 2010

Creepy, don't send.
posted by Felicity Rilke at 7:55 AM on August 25, 2010

It would be a violation of customer data privacy at my job to use customer data outside of a customer-initiated interaction. If I got something like that I might be angry enough to complain. I'd certainly never shop there again.

Don't do it.
posted by winna at 6:55 AM on August 27, 2010

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