Too much talking and not enough listening

The page below looks nice enough, doesn’t it? But read the text closely and you’ll see it’s a great example of how not to talk to your customers.


Here are the comments I feel like writing in the box.

Dear Tesco

Phew! I couldn’t find you on Twitter so I’m using this website to talk to you. It took me a while to find, actually, because I started off going to the website where I do all of my shopping. Luckily, my daughter, who works in something called “communications” told me to try something called your “corporate” website. I’ve no idea what that means but I followed her advice. When I got to this site, I just happened to click on the “Talking Tesco” button and, well, here I am!

I’m glad that you believe passionately that customers have benefited in so many ways from the intense competitive rivalry in this industry.

I’m also glad that you know from the feedback you get on a daily basis that many customers like the products, prices and service in your stores. It’s great, too, to know that customers also tell you when you don’t get it right – but you do listen and respond to concerns.

So thank you for asking me for my views!

It’s great that this is my chance to have my voice heard because I wanted to have a word with someone about your new range of ready meals. Sorry, I was talking about ready meals – why are you banging on at me about some Commission?

Oh, I see, it’s something called the Competition Commission. Who are they, then? Apparently my email will go direct to them too – do they make ready meals? And do they capitalize their name or not?

Oh, don’t worry, I’ve just spotted the “Contact Customer Services” button at the bottom of the page. I’ll email them and hopefully they’ll get back to me in a week or two.

In the meantime, I’ve also just spotted the link marked “Listening” at the top of the page, so I’m going to take a closer look at that page, which is all about how your success is based on listening to your customers. I’m looking forward to reading all 1,017 words about how your strategy of listening and responding has been successful.

Toodle pip!

A loyal Tesco customer

p.s. Elsewhere, your website kept offering to help me find the content I need. What does this mean? Content of what?

Or I might just spell it out to them by saying the following:

  • You want customers to get in touch with you, do you? Then for gawd’s sake make it easy for them. Your average shopper doesn’t even know that you’ve got a corporate website. This stuff should be on your main retail page.
  • If you really care about people’s views, ask for them straight up. Don’t make them plough through two paragraphs of self-referential waffle telling them what to think. There are six examples of the first person plural pronoun in those first two paragraphs. You should be ashamed of yourselves.
  • If you’re trying to gather feedback specifically for the Competition Commission, then label the page as such first – and explain what it’s all about. Don’t hit your reader with this bemusing bombshell out of the blue and only after you’ve made them plough through those two paragraphs of self-referential waffle.
  • Telling people how much you listen to them is not the same as listening to them. Save the chest-beating about your successful listening for your internal comms, OK?
  • The word “content” means nothing to people outside the communications industry. Please use “information” when talking to customers.
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    12 comments so far . . . come and pitch in!

    1. “Telling people how much you listen to them is not the same as listening to them.”

      And that’s the crux of the issue. If I had a penny for every brochure, website, leaflet I’ve seen which crows about how much the company in question “listens”, I’d be a very rich man.

      If I had a pound for every company who makes it easy for customers to put their views forward, and then ACTS on those views, I’d have about a fiver.

    2. Clare Lynch says:

      Andrew – I agree. What amazes me about the Tesco site is just how spectacularly they’ve got it wrong. They’ve clearly spent quite a bit of money on the site, but not spent any time thinking about how a customer might respond to it.

    3. Natalia says:

      You have a lot of anti-spam stuff.

      Anyway, Tesco is one of the myriad companies that *pretends* they want to hear from customers and care about their opinions, but don’t really. If they did, they’d certainly make it easier for people to communicate with them. And/or maybe they are just incompetent.

    4. Brad Shorr says:

      “Telling people how much you listen to them is not the same as listening to them.” Andrew and I are drawn to the same crux.

      A client of mine wrote a book (I’m reviewing it on my blog this week) says, “Given the choice, customers would buy your products without knowing anything about you or your company.” I don’t care how highly they value listening; I just want them to listen to me now.

      Some of the food companies actually do a fine job on this score. They put telephone numbers on the product label, so you can call in with questions. That came in handy last year when we were having some technical issues with turkey stuffing. Thank goodness we didn’t have to hunt for the corporate website – we’d still be waiting for dinner.

    5. Dave says:

      Yes, it does look as if they’re doing the very minimum to keep the competition commission happy. But it’s the self-congratulatory blurb that gets up my nose – I only occasionally go there for a tin of sardines! Do they really want to hear from me?

    6. Lucy says:

      This made me smile.

      Thanks for the reminder that not everyone knows about the corporate website – it’s all too easy to forget that. Many retailers merge the two, giving the product/service the primary focus on the main domain ( and having an ‘about the company’ section on that site, rather than splitting them into two ( and This does make it easier for the customer, though perhaps less friendly for the other corporate stakeholders (investors, job-seekers, media, analysts, etc).

      And your point about using language that your reader understands is a good one. I suspect it is all too easy to go native, and to end up using the words that are used around you, which probably begin to seem like the obvious ones to use – perhaps an argument for having writers located well away from developers?

    7. Stephen Carville says:

      Sorry – what did you say? I wasn’t listening…

    8. Clare Lynch says:

      Natalia, Brad, Dave, Lucy and Steve

      Thanks all for your comments. What really surprises me is that if we can all see what’s wrong here, why can’t Tesco. You’d have thought that a corporation of that size would be able to afford to appoint a half-decent consultant to tell them where they’re going wrong. Maybe we should all join together and pitch for the job?

    9. Brad Shorr says:

      Clare, Good idea – we should pitch the job. If they were any good, they would have found this post via brand monitoring and contacted you already.

    10. Chris says:

      Very enjoyable. Have you had the call yet Clare?
      I’m surprised that with links like ‘our customers’, ‘our staff’, ‘our suppliers’ that Tesco has chosen to distance itself from ‘the community’. Still, could be worse. Imagine ‘our stakeholders’.

    11. Clare Lynch says:

      Aargh! Stakeholders is on my next list of words that should be banned.

      Stakeholders = the people we have to pretend to care about.
      Shareholders = the people we really care about.

    12. […] Who they think they’re talking to: Talking to? Don’t you mean talking at? For more, see my previous post, Too much talking, and not enough listening). […]

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