Alex Steer

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Pret makes things out of people

847 words | ~4 min

Image lost in database transfer - sorry!

I couldn't resist that subject line, but there's a point to it.

The blurred, grainy photo in this post (taken with my slightly ropy phone camera) is of a customer comments card I found this weekend in the Cambridge branch of Pret, the sandwich shop. The card reads:

My name is Marcus. I'm the Manager at this Pret shop.
My team and I meet every morning.
We discuss the comments you've made, the good, the bad and the ugly. If we can deal with it ourselves, we will.
If we can't, I'll forward this card to Julian Metcalfe back at the office. I know he'll do what he can.
If you have a minute, please do ask to speak to me or one of my team right now.

The space for comments is on the back.

For all its simplicity, this is the best feedback form I've seen in ages. It wins for a number of reasons. The first is the design, for doing what any personalised marketing object should do now that printing is cheap, quick and easy, and refusing to make the names of the branch owner and (I presume) local area manager look like afterthoughts. Pret is an international brand, but just by printing different cards for each of its outlets it gives itself a local feel. Imagine how much worse it would look (my photography notwithstanding) if the names had been written in over a dotted line.

But the design is just part of the achievement. Most of the work is done by the tone. The use of the first person is something I haven't seen before on a card like this, at least not without an accompanying cheesy picture of some branch manager wearing an 'I care' smile. The is polite but informal (see the use of contracted forms - I'm, you've, I'll, he'll - as well as idiomatic expressions - the good, the bad and the ugly; deal with it; do what he can - and the obligatory dummy verb in please do ask). As readers we can tell that this feels more like informal talk than legally and formally precise 'business speak'. As I've discussed previously, analysing sociolinguistic tone - saying what makes a piece of language sound informal or businesslike - is harder than it seems, and relies on the aggregation of lots of small items of usage, or their absence. (Note the total lack of professional jargon here - the closest we get are the words 'manager' and 'team', not very close at all.)

The effect is to transform the card into the speaking voice of the branch manager, and to make the manager sound approachable. Given that comment cards are essentially a way of making sure that branch managers can avoid speaking to customers while still letting those customers feel they've had their say, this is a neat conjuring trick. These days, we know that comment cards, like automated phone lines, are barriers between companies and their customers. This card does not feel like that, partly because of the tone, and partly because it is less like a wall and more like a window into the daily operations of the Cambridge branch of Pret.

Finally, rather than being an instruction to take a number and join the queue, the card actually invites customers to disrupt the entire purpose of the comment-card system: 'please do ask to speak to me or one of my team right now'. The emphasis is even put on the customer's convenience: 'If you have a minute'. This card invites its reader to see that Pret is made out of people, not just business functions, but it also acknowledges that the reader is not part of that system, and so offers different ways of getting a message through and being heard.

Posted via email from Common Parlance

# Alex Steer (20/07/2009)