our email signatures have to say “unhappy with my service? email my boss!”

A reader writes:

I work in a (fairly large) group of about 50 people, liaising with clients on a daily basis. Clients have always been able to ask to escalate problems and talk up the chain of command by requesting this. Typically, this is a very infrequent occurrence; as far as I know, all my customers are satisfied with my service.

However, as of the beginning of next month, the plan is that every team member will add an email signature that says: “Unhappy with my service? Email my boss!”

We all have until the start of next month to add this signature.

Am I alone in thinking this is a horrible idea? I have nothing against sharing my manager’s details and soliciting feedback, but this feels like it’s just soliciting negative feedback, and I think it’ll make clients view us as a bunch of jokers (as though not liking the service they’d received is a common occurrence).

Any ideas on how to raise this with management, as they seem kind of set on this?

I don’t think it’s necessarily going to encourage negative feedback, but I do think that it will make y’all seem more like cogs than experts. It’s not the kind of thing that you normally see in skilled professionals’ email signatures.

It’ll also probably make some customers uncomfortable; I know I’d feel awkward about dealing with a company that made its employees do that.

And yes, as you pointed out, it’s going to signal “we don’t hire people who we trust to do a good job.” As well as “and we’re asking you to police them for us.”

It would be interesting to know what spurred this — is there a particular pattern of problems that this is in response to? Or just someone’s random idea for what good customer service looks like?

But regardless, I agree with you — it’s a bad idea.

As for how to raise it with your management, it depends in part on your dynamic with them, but I’d say this: “I’m concerned this is at odds with the image that we work hard to present to clients — that we’re skilled professionals who they can trust. I do think we should make it easy for clients to escalate any problems, but if the current system isn’t working in that way, maybe we could brainstorm other ideas for improving that?”

{ 73 comments… read them below }

  1. marianne

    This seems to be some new trend. I just re-financed my mortgage with Merrill Lynch, and my loan processor had the same thing as part of his signature

    1. The Zone Of Avoidance

      Pragmatically speaking, I think AAM really got straight to the heart of the matter: Why is this suddenly a thing? If I were the OP, I would start with that question in an effort to push back.

  2. Jerzy

    If the big bosses are set on having something in the email signatures, a simple changing of the wording would go a long way to make this less negative:

    “We’d love to hear from you about your experience of the service you received! Email us here!”

    Ta-da!

    1. Carmen Sandiego

      I really like this wording. In addition to taking the focus off the negative, it speaks to a unified team working together to deliver good service – not, as Alison said, cogs at the mercy of their wheel.

      1. NotherName

        Not only that, but shouldn’t management want to know what’s working, too? One disgruntled person might not like something that 100 people think is great. (I’ve seen a lot of weird complaints in my life.)

        1. College Career Counselor

          +1 The danger is when one person’s complaint is taken as indicative of EVERYONE’S unhappiness with something. Add to that the fact that people who are disgruntled are much more apt to complain than people who are pleased/satisfied with something, and you can wind up with management making wholesale changes because “everyone hates this–this is all wrong, and we must do something!” based on one person’s reaction.*

          *The complainer in question had never even used said institution’s career services but got the ear of the trustees who uncritically accepted everything this person stated as both true AND universal.

          1. Becky B

            ^This. We often get passed down changes we “need” because 10 people out of 20,000 didn’t like something. Rarely is it a valid change, and never does it not cause mountains of months-long meetings and complications.

    2. Tim-Tim's Teapots Inc.

      Yes, that seems more positive – and more professional. (I don’t know, something irks me about what the OP’s company’s phrasing…)

      1. Shannon

        The verbiage calls to mind bumper stickers on the back of trucks/ taxis/ etc. Does the company really want invoke associations with bumper stickers? I like some of the above suggested ways to rephrase it. Besides, that particular phrasing suggests that they’re not open to hearing praise or even constructive criticism; you can email the OP’s boss to vent and the venting will be handled accordingly (round filed).

          1. Bagworm

            I actually did call a “How’s my Driving” number once because I had gotten myself stuck in some traffic in an area I was unfamiliar with and I never would have gotten out of it if a truck driver hadn’t let me get in front of her, so I wanted to let your employer know that not only was she driving safely but being thoughtful like that made me think positively of their company. (Of course, I’m one of those odd people who goes out of my way to compliment excellent service.)

        1. reaching for the sky

          Yeah it reminded me of those too. I feel like the “unhappy with my service?” phrasing will encourage, well, unhappy customers to write to OP’s boss. Whereas if it’s for general feedback, customers might send in positive feedback. We have that with our IT support tickets.

    3. BTW

      That sound much better. The way they have it phrased comes off (to me) as, “I’m not interested in dealing with your concerns so here’s an email address for someone who cares.”

      We had that happen in a retail company I used to work for. There were pictures of my boss posted everywhere along with his email address. We had a large chain of command leading up to him (supervisor, manager, store manager) and it just seemed silly that people would have a direct line to him regarding things that could easily be escalated and resolved with floor employees. It wasn’t his choice however, corporate forced all the dealers to do it. It caused a lot of problems and petty complaints.

    4. Abradee

      I came here to say exactly this! Well, not the exact wording that you suggested. Just to share the sentiment that if the company insists on doing this, couldn’t they word the signature so that it’s less…negative? Your revision is definitely the way to go.

  3. ali

    Mine says, per corporate policy, “Your satisfaction is my #1 priority. Should you have any comments, please fill out this short survey.”

    I’ve only ever gotten positive comments.

    1. jmkenrick

      Wording like this sounds a lot better. It sounds less like the company doesn’t trust the employee and more just like the employee is always open to feedback.

  4. Apollo Warbucks

    The focus of this is all wrong, it starts on a negative note by saying if you’re unhappy talk to us, when I think you should say tell us about the service you got which is more neutral, the default should be to expect happy customers not be looking for them to be unhappy.

    If feed back from customers is important then set up a satisfaction survey and send them out that will look much better than the email signature.

    1. Nina

      IA. Starting off with such a negative tone is a mistake. And reading that would lead me to believe that this company gets enough complaints from their to warrant a disclaimer on their email.

  5. EJ

    I don’t think it’s a horrible idea. But it could be worded differently!

    If anything, it encourages you (as the employee) to always give excellent service, so know one has to e-mail your boss with negative comments. And it puts the client at ease, knowing the company takes positive customer service seriously.

    1. Wakeen's Teapots, Ltd.

      The idea of having a boss’s info or escalation info in the sig is not a bad idea. The wording is atrocious. Neither sales nor marketing was involved in that word choice.

      Feedback on my service is always welcome! You can email my boss at (email address)

      Keep the words positive people, sheesh. :p

      1. Carmen Sandiego

        ITA with keeping it positive, but I would take the “my” out of the equation and position it as “our.” That invites client feedback while subtly changing the dynamic – if I were an employee, the “our” wording would make me feel like a collaborative member of a team, while the “my” would make me feel like a kid waiting to be scolded by the teacher.

        1. Wakeen's Teapots, Ltd.

          Without knowing the set up, I don’t mind the “my” . While I would exactly never do this with our people, if I did do it, I’d use “my”. We’ve a huge emphasis on Our Reps As People and Our Face. “My” is personalizing, that would be what I’d use.

          If I ever did this. Which would be exactly never.

          (What we do instead, btw, is have a management level contact follow up on all quote and sample requests. One of the express purposes is so that the customer on the other end has another name and contact info they can reach out to if unhappy or unable to reach their regular rep quickly enough. I get what The Boss is trying to do there, I’d just never use that execution.)

    2. Ad Astra

      I think you’ve identified the thinking behind this policy, but it makes a lot more sense to solicit feedback in a neutral or even positive way. People who are unhappy with service will find a way to complain, but it generally takes more prodding to elicit praise from a happy customer. Starting out with “Unhappy with my service?” sort of assumes that someone might be disgruntled, and that’s a bad look.

    3. Collarbone High

      That’s a patronizing idea, though — that LW and colleagues aren’t professionals who give excellent service because they take pride in their work, but instead have to be monitored and threatened to do so. And the suggested wording gives off the same vibe.

  6. A Bug!

    I don’t think “how’s my driving bumper stickers” encourage people to complain about bad driving except where it’s pretty egregious, so I think you could expect similar here. That said, it does seem kind of weird.

    I agree with the other comments that suggest framing it in terms of general feedback rather than complaints, if you’re able. “Feedback? My manager Joe Blow would love to hear from you at joe.blow@teapots.com.”

    1. Dana

      “How’s my driving?” is very neutral though. I think I’d be weirded out if a truck I was driving behind said “Do you think I’m drunk? Call my boss!” It would make me look closer at how much they were staying in their lane (when presumably before I read the words I didn’t notice bad driving) and I would then figure that so many of their drivers operate their work vehicles while intoxicated that they had to start writing it on there.

      And I would change lanes.

    2. Amy Farrah Fowler

      Yeah, I automatically thought of the “how’s my driving” bumper stickers too. I can’t imagine they get very many positive comments that way either. Wouldn’t upper management want to know if someone was doing a stellar job as well as if they were doing things that upset customers.

      1. Another HRPro

        I think the department manager must have been following a truck with this sign and a light bulb when off. A dim light bulb, but a light bulb… :)

      2. Allison

        I did as well, although even when I’ve seen a company truck or van being driven terribly I’m always afraid to report them, because if it’s a small, family-owned company the dispatcher might defend the driver and tell you to shove it, or the call might be forwarded to the driver himself which is terrifying.

  7. Kyrielle

    Yeah, as a client I would think that was kind of weird – I’m used to “how was the service, contact us” and “how was the service, fill out this survey” type messages – but “was the service bad? let us know”! is a different tone and I would think it was strange. The wording suggested by others here is better, and maybe management could be steered toward one of those options or something else more neutral, soliciting feedback but without the “hey, did I screw up?” feel.

    1. Dynamic Beige

      I had a client who was verbally abusive to me around my service which made me feel awful. He demanded that my invoice be no higher than X amount because “everything was wrong.” How everything had gone from “Great” the previous afternoon to “everything was wrong” 24 hours later, was a mystery. I didn’t understand what had gone down and he didn’t provide any details but having been up until 4am two nights in a row working on his project, I was just discombobulated to agree in order to placate him. I should have demanded proof but in my industry, I’m usually not client facing. I wasn’t at the meetings where the work was discussed, so I had no idea what happened, it could have been a complete about-face by the client or something.

      Anyway, it turned out that this guy was notorious in the industry for burning *everyone* in this exact way to get a price concession. No matter how well something was done, he would land on some detail that wasn’t 100% perfect in his opinion then call the manager/account rep/freelancer/whoever and scream bloody murder until he got a discount. I wish I had known that before I agreed to work for him.

      So, I can see certain clients seeing a “Unhappy with my service? Email my boss!” and deciding that would be a good way to get some percentage off the service/order. Definitely reword it to something more positive/neutral.

  8. JMegan

    To me it feels like you’re leading the customer to expect bad service. Words are powerful, and companies spend millions of dollars on marketing for just this purpose. Seeing the word “unhappy” probably wouldn’t tip the balance from someone thinking they had received great service to thinking the service was terrible, but it certainly could tip the balance from “the service was okay, but not worth mentioning” to “the service sucked, and I am definitely going to complain about it!”

    Not to mention wildly skewing your statistics, if you’re only encouraging people to provide negative feedback. So you perform X number of transactions in a month, and people normally complain about say 1-2% of them. Then you suggest that they might be “unhappy,” and all of a sudden you’re getting complaints about 5% of your calls. Even if the quality hasn’t changed, it’s going to *look* like something has changed, which opens a whole new wormhole of problems to be solved.

    I can get behind the intent of soliciting customer feedback, although I don’t think this is the way to go about it. Partly because as a customer, I assume I have the option to complain in any case – I certainly don’t need anyone’s permission to do that! But if the email signature plan is a done deal, I would definitely push for something more positive, or at least a neutral “please feel free to contact us with any feedback.”

    1. Ad Astra

      You’re absolutely right about the power of words here. And, as a client or customer, I’d feel really weird about this. It sort of reads like “Want to get me fired? Email my boss!”

      It’s always weird when you pair a required statement with super informal language. It’s like how the servers at Texas Roadhouse wear shirts that say “I love my job!” It’s obvious that they were required to wear that message on their shirt, and it’s obvious here that the OP is required to put that message in her signature. They both seem to disempower the employee in a way that makes me feel all kinds of awkward.

    1. Carolum

      Yeah, but it sounds like the OP’s employer wants to know *whenever* someone encounters a problem – not just when someone receives a random survey. Make sense?

  9. AMG

    Thus proving yet again that you do not need a tremendous amount of commons sense (like, none whatsoever) to be a manager.

    1. Charityb

      Exactly. Managing is a skill, not just a role. Someone can mean well but if they’re not able to take that cross disciplinary mindset (assessing something on multiple levels — marketing and optics, finance and cost, logistics and practicality) it’s going to be hard on them and hard on the people they manage. Hopefully the OP and others raise some good points with whoever is behind this and they come up with a better way to solve this problem.

  10. Not So NewReader

    It’s like they anticipate the service will be bad and they are ready with a solution. ugh.

    I had a call here about my cable service. Coincidentally. I was getting calls from another number that seemed unrelated but that number was also my cable service. When the other number called, I would answer and no one was there. It would call four times a day. I complained to this person from the same company. Sadly, she just kept repeating the same few sentences over and over. It was clear she had been told “this is all you can say”. She did mention that her supervisor was on the line with her. I should have just said that I would speak to the supervisor to get her off the hook. Companies have to start to realize that we know they are making their employees say/type these ridiculous things. It reflects on the company not the employee.

    If I saw that at the bottom of an employee’s email, the first thing I would say is “here is a company that treats their employees badly.” Yes, I would be less inclined to do business with them, because they seem tone deaf.

    1. periwinkle

      That’s how I read it, too. It reminded me of the 7-11 customer service policy from Futurama:

      “If for any reason you’re not completely satisfied, I hate you.”

    2. Mike C.

      I saw it as, “I’m completely powerless to help you if there are any issues”, but now I see your reading as well.

  11. Chriama

    I think the negativity of the statement is likely to make customers uncomfortable, although some of them will be happy that the company is apparently committed to holding front-line customer service reps accountable. I doubt customers are going to read deeply into that statement the way Alison does here (although I guess it depends on how close the customer relationship is here — is this tier 1 helpdesk support or account executives who cultivate multimillion dollar relationships over several years?) and I think that the *idea* of letting customers know that the company encourages them to escalate things if they’re unhappy with the service and gives them a clear way to do that without having to demand “can I speak to your supervisor” to the very person who is giving them a bad experience in the first place is a good idea (as long as the company follows it up by educating and empowering managers to fix their issue and the signature isn’t just lip service).

    Anyway, I like the idea but I don’t like the wording. Could you suggest something a little more positive? For example, “whether you have a complaint or a compliment, my boss would love to hear from you”.

  12. NickelandDime

    We had this crap, it was worded differently, but I didn’t like it either. They eliminated the practice. No one used the email.

  13. T

    To me, this kind of thing just makes the sender sound low end. It reminds me of “How’s my driving?” bumper stickers. You immediately picture the driver in a uniform with their name stitched on the breast (not that there’s anything wrong with that). It’s the difference between a professional support analyst solving their problem and an entry-level person reading off a script. However, I don’t have an issue when this kind of thing is included in an auto-response when their ticket is closed. I think customers understand that is built into most ticketing systems and then it’s usually more about letting us know if the issue won’t resolved to your satisfaction.

  14. coffee morning

    I think this is a misplaced spin-of of “Hows my Driving?

    Except e-mail and office work is not a personal or public safety concern…. like the big rigs carrying petroleum.

    I’d be embarrassed to work for these people

  15. AndersonDarling

    I’m guessing that management is overreacting because of some bad reviews. It sounds like,”Don’t leave a bad review, talk to my boss instead!”

  16. Key to the West

    I would suggest putting forward an alternative (example below) to your boss, explaining your concerns but being understanding of why they’d like something in the signature!

    “If you would like to provide feedback to my manager about the service I have provided you, please do so by contacting Oliver at olivertwist@pleasesir.com or on XXX-XXX-XXXX. Thank you.”

  17. Almond Milk Latte

    I’ve actually seen “How is my driving?” hyperlinked in an email sig of someone pretty high up the food chain. I thought it was a pretty fab idea, actually

    1. Random citizen

      That sounds like it was the individual’s idea, which is actually kind of awesome – like they are embracing the accountability because of the responsibility they carry.

      1. jmkenrick

        That’s also the sort of thing that can ring really well with a certain culture / personality…but would come off as stale if it was mandated.

  18. Cube Ninja

    I’m suddenly reminded of one of the staff at a local JoAnn Fabrics, who will, upon completion of the checkout process, ask in a completely monotonous tone, “Have I met all of your customer service expectations today?”

    1. Dynamic Beige

      The one I like is when they ask you if you’ve found everything you were looking for. Uh… I’m at the cash. If there was something I was still looking for, I would still be in the store, looking for it. I would have asked someone in the store if it had been moved or if they had more in the back or if they were sold out or whatever.

      I have, on occasion, replied with something like “I came in to get some lemons, but you were all out.” What is a cashier supposed to do with that kind of feedback? It’s not like they will pick up the phone and immediately ask if there are lemons in the back or page the floor with “Code Red! No lemons in the produce section! I repeat, no lemons in the produce section!” All they do is say sorry and there’s nothing to say to that except “it’s not your fault” or along those lines.

      1. TCO

        “Did you find everything today?” was actually a useful question at my retail job. Sometimes customers really did take the opportunity to ask about something they couldn’t find, and if we didn’t have it in stock we could place an order to have it shipped to them. So for us it worked, but it’s a little sillier for a grocery store.

      2. Collarbone High

        Agreed, I don’t love this because it’s encouraging customers to direct anger at people who have no control over what the store carries. No, actually I didn’t, because I was looking for a brand of tea this store doesn’t carry, so get on the phone with Kroger headquarters NOW and demand they revamp their tea selection. That’s something you can do, right?

        1. Dynamic Beige

          Exactly! It’s a big problem at the Costco I go to because they do run out of things. Or they’ve only stocked something as an end-of-product line/discontinued/failed item so it’s only there for a short period, never to return. I can’t remember all the times I’ve taken a chance on some product there, and just when I was used to it, it disappeared.

  19. Beezus

    The tone is wrong. As a client – if they had fantastic service already, I’d worry that the approach would drive off their good service people and I’d be stuck with crappy help in the future. If the service was bad, I’d be worried that they were using such an ineffective tool to address/improve it. Either way, I would not be impressed. Depending on my relationship with leadership at the vendor company, I might consider mentioning it.

  20. FelineFine

    When I did follow up service calls with my clients at my last place of work, I’d often mention (if leaving a voicemail) “if you have any questions, concerns, or compliments please let me know.” They got a kick out of that.

  21. UsedToDoSupport

    I am going to invite a pile-on and disagree. I’d just roll with it if I am the OP. You are assuming a great deal if you think clients actually read the entire email including the signature…when was the last time you did that? It might be a bad idea, it might be a good idea, but it’s just not your call. Focus instead on providing an outstanding customer experience, and roll with stuff like this that’s just a management-provided distraction to your true focus.

    1. Mike C.

      Just because the ultimate decision doesn’t lie with the letter writer doesn’t mean they cannot advise their bosses of the risks and harm such a policy could create. In fact, I would go so far as to say that not speaking up (outside of having good reason not too) with such concerns would make the employee look incompetent.

  22. VX34

    Welcoming client feedback is great. If it’s phrased in such a way that good communication can be considered, then yes, it can probably add value to an organization.

    But a line of “Hey, don’t like me? Tough @$&%, ya chump Take it up wit Da Boss”? (Insert 1920’s gangster voice here)

    Yeah, no. That’s just asking for trouble, on multiple levels.

  23. Switcher

    I think it is asking for bad feedback – for me it would turn something that I wouldn’t bother mentioning into something that I email their boss over and get them into crap over a minor issue. I would also expect that their service is going to be bad right off the hop, which again will just make mountain out of molehills when something negative occurs.

    I think it is much more appropriate for something more like, “We encourage you to provide feedback on your experience by emailing bob@company.org” because you aren’t only soliciting negative feedback and sending the wrong vibe about the service to be expected.

  24. V

    In addition to all of the above re: not trusting employees, expecting bad service etc., it also sounds a little dismissive to the customer! To me it reads sort of like “don’t like it? tell someone else!” and like the customer shouldn’t voice their concerns to the rep. Am I the only one who got this reading?

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