Zerillian Engineering

Irradiated with cheeky programmer fervor!

Cry Me a River, Emails

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Or: Why You Should NEVER Make Robots Fake Sincerity

While helping a friend construct a website, I signed up for Weebly. I didn’t even have a website, I was just a collaborator. I didn’t want anything to do with Weebly. For some reason, she began getting uncomfortably clingy. Look at this as an example of how to creep out your customers.

I’ll be clear now that I do not like drag-and-drop site builders. Only one such service have I ever described in terms that may be optimistically construed as “fond” – that service being Squarespace. And that’s only because they opened up their internals to developers.

So have a look at this.

If you can’t see the image, click here for the text version.

The time since I signed up is probably the second worst thing about this. It’s just odd. It reminds me that there is some task somewhere (clearly not a human) that is looking over less-than-frequently-active accounts and telling them to get going. It’s unbelievably insincere, and it’s frankly a little condescending. How so?

Maybe you got busy and forgot about your website. We understand. When you signed up you probably had a vision for your site. We want to help you make that a reality. We promise that Weebly truly is the easiest way to create a website.

Of course I had a vision. Perhaps I own a business, I sell goods, I’m an artist, I’m a traveller, I’m a game show contestant with a penchant for blogging. What’s gonna matter is my content. If I’m passionate enough, I’ll find the best way to present it. I am disinclined to believe that anyone who has any real desire to run a website would forget about it for 29 days, 16 hours, 7 minutes and 47 seconds.

This helpful message is a little too chummy. It is certainly not sincerely endorsed by the Weebly Team, it was sent by a robot that’s been told how to sound friendly. A person wrote generic text without much thought and I was on the receiving end of a template engine fed with those words. Nothing really makes me feel less cared for than robots acting like people. Giving them a little personality can be okay, but this is kind of insulting. Is your team actually nervous that I might not realize the full potential of my business? That’s something investors worry about. And something robots think nothing of.

Then this happens:

If you can’t see the image, click here for the text version.

The subject of this message was literally “That’s sad.” No, this email is the sad thing. You trained machines to sound sympathetic, and it’s just unsettling to make them cry. For the love of God, knock it off. There’s nothing wrong with the concept of automated messages. But please do not make them f–king cry. That does not make me feel cared for. Your team doesn’t seem to be there for me, it seems like you need to clutch your flaky customers in a death grip.

Don’t fret though, you fantastically sincere liars, I think this email could be fixed pretty easily.

There. That’s basically free advice, Weebly. If your team is feeling sincere and nervous and sympathetic, my typical consulting fee is $17,000.

For the record, one of their founders eventually sent me a personal email asking for feedback. Way to go, fellas. That’s where you lay on the charm, in the actual exchanges between actual people. That redeemed their support team a bit. That was someone who was really wondering what went wrong and wanted to find a solution. I’m not being sarcastic there, if you’re looking to connect with a customer, a real live human being is the way to do it. I absolutely love that.

Sending automated emails that cry is tantamount to deception. That’s what I have to say to them.

I can’t be the only person that feels this way. I very highly value genuine interactions, and pretty much any attempt to imbue emotion without real effort is simply insulting to me.

Seriously, without the mendacious nervousness and sniffles, these would be just helpful emails. I might have read them without rolling my eyes.

If you’re someone who also dislikes this sort of indiscretion, I’d appreciate a comment so I know I’m not alone.

Also, if you happen to be an English professor and would like to tell me whether I should have used whom in that last sentence, I would appreciate it.

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