How to Avoid the ‘Non-answer’ Response

7 April 2011


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Have you ever received an email or letter response that did not answer your original questions? How did it make you feel?


How can you make sure that you don’t do the same thing to your readers?


Let’s look at a case and see what we can learn.


The PayPal ‘non-answer’

About a year ago, I got tired of receiving emails in Chinese from PayPal. So I wrote them to ask that they send all correspondence to me in English (email #1).


They responded by telling me to set my default language to English under my account profile. I had done that before writing email #1, so I wrote back to tell them (email #2).


But PayPal kept sending Chinese emails. I didn’t know if they were advertisements or if they had something to do with my account. So I wrote them again to tell them my concerns (email #3).


The emotions involved

How was I feeling in this circumstance? First, I was irritated. If you set your default language to English – shouldn’t everything be in English?


Second, I was worried. What if this email is telling me important stuff about my account? What am I missing? Will they cancel my account if I don’t take care of something?


The ‘non-answer’ response

Did PayPal address my emotions? Did they answer my questions?


Here’s their response:

Dear DeGolyer Deborah,


Thank you for contacting PayPal. My name is [name deleted]. I am honored to assist you with your question regarding PayPal.


Do you still keep receiving notification letters from PayPal in Chinese?


Actually, some of the advertisements from PayPal only in Chinese

version. We are trying to make the English advertisements for the

English-speaking users.


If you need any other further assistance, please do not hesitate to

contact us.


It is my pleasure to assist you. Thank you for choosing PayPal.


Inferring the meaning

I wanted to assume that all of PayPal's Chinese emails were advertisements. But when the writer mentioned ‘notification letters’, I was confused and still worried. What are these notifications about?


It’s just not nice to make a reader worry or try to guess what you mean.


Whose viewpoint?

PayPal’s response came completely from their own viewpoint. It demonstrated that they were not thinking about how I felt and what I needed to know.


I specifically expressed my worry in that third email, so it should have been easy for them to understand how I felt. (It should have also been easy for them to apologise and reassure me – but they didn’t.)


How to avoid this problem

Customers who write you for various reasons don’t always make their feelings known. And they don't always ask all the questions they should. That’s why it’s important to think before you write.


In the THINK stage of the ‘TASTE’ process, we think first about our readers and their point of view. It takes very little time and effort to put yourself in the reader’s shoes.


Thinking about your readers is time well spent – and it’s the first step to providing platinum level service as a writer.


Always ask yourself these questions before you respond to someone (whether they’re complaining or not):

How would you feel in that same situation?

What empathetic response would make you feel better about it?

 What specific information do they want or need?

By thinking from the reader’s point of view, you will avoid making them feel frustrated over a ‘non-answer’ response.

Copyright 2014 DeGolyer Associates Ltd |  Contact Deborah at: