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A dog asks, how social is big business?

Big firms respond to a dog's barking emails
Fri Feb 18 2011, 13:30

THE INQUIRER has been befriended by a dog named Poppy, who it seems is a bit of an expert in social media communications.

The dog, a two year old black Labrador, took five minutes out of her busy day of thinking about brands, foxes, sticks and meat products, to tell us the thinking behind, its vendor chasing blog.

"[The site] is an attempt to find out how social brands really are," said Poppy in between washing herself and barking at a passing pigeon. "I sends them an email with some of my queries and wait and see if and how they respond... Some even do."

Remarkably, given the nature of many of the emails and their content, some of the firms, which include the supermarket Sainsbury's and the car company BMW, actually have responded. Others, including Burt's Bees and Monoploy, have not at press time.

It's remarkable that firms have decided to respond, and this serves as an informal testimony to the wit and inventiveness of their customer service and social communications teams. Particularly when you consider the content of the emails.

This, for example, is an excerpt of a message to the Ritz Hotel in which the dog explains that she would like to stay on the premises, but will not be paying. In the light of her financial shortcomings she presents the hotelier, in her mind a Mr Ritz, with a possible solution.

"If any of your guests have forgotten their dogs Poppy could pretend to be them. I can wears hats, waistcoats, a bow tie and some types of neckerchief - but never shoes!" she writes. "I will consider a bib if babies are forgotten and can play some grandparents. I have a beard of sorts. Plus whiskers! You cannot dye Poppy. She is a black labrador."

Pausing from a thorough investigation of a pile of socks, Poppy explained that the Ritz responded quickly, but not really in the spirit of things. "Unfortunately we have strict no-dog policy here at the Ritz," came the response. "Please do not hesitate to contact me should you require any further assistance." No good in the dog's book.

Boilerplate responses like the above were a fairly common occurrence, according to Poppy, who woofed that in many ways they were more disappointing than no response at all. Although you might expect to get a response from a customer email to a business within days, if not hours, the truth is apparently far removed from this.

Mr Porky, a UK manufacturer of hard-fried pork meat off-cuts - that is, pork scratchings - has not responded to the always hungry dog, despite two emails. While McDonalds, which has a role to play in the dog's war against cats, has not responded either.

Ben and Jerries, the apparently wacky and fun emporium of Hippy ice cream, was not even able to tell Poppy what the name of the cow is on its tubs. Something that the dog found very hard to believe. However, it has promised to consider ham flavour ice cream.

Those firms that have got the spirit of Poppy's emails and responded in kind win the customer award for having patience, a sense of humour, and perhaps something of a soft spot for dogs.

Tunbridge Wells borough council, watch firm Seiko, BMW and Sainsbury's take the crown here, and all responded to the dog in kind, and with some nice touches.

The dog polled BMW on its future design plans, "Not being a driver myself, my Man drives me about in one of your cars. He drives me to the park, sometimes to the common. I like it there! I killed a rabbit there once...," she wrote. "When I gets in the Mans BMW I has my own rug, but I still gets mud everywheres! Haha! Do you have plans to make a car with a waterbowl in the back?" Meaningless perhaps, but definitely good natured.

The car giant responded quickly, and even managed to answer the dog's questions. "Currently, we do not provide the option of an integral dog bowl for any of our vehicles, however, as we are constantly striving to adapt our products to our customers' needs (both human and otherwise)," explained the German automobile business, "I have passed your valuable feedback on to our product marketing team, who will consider your comments when carrying out any future design changes... In the meantime, you (or your owner) may wish to browse our range of canine related vehicle accessories."

Like the exclusive Ritz Hotel, Sainsbury's was offered the chance to employ the dog - for free, as a sort of cleaner, but took the email in the spirit in which it was sent.

Having sensed that the supermarket was in danger of occasionally wasting food, the dog sent this offer. "How would it be if I, Poppy, worked in your shop?"

"There is one near my parks. I could wear the uniforms - with tail hole, but no shoes! and walk around saying my hellos and looking about. I would not get in the way much, except with butchers, and at important times, when there is food spares, you could say over the announcer - "where is Poppy? Foodings on aisle 9"... Poppy will be there quick as a flash and eatings it! No one slips, and there is no wastage."

Unsurprisingly, there is no place for a dog, no matter how small it is, nor how willing to wear a uniform, in the modern supermarket. So kudos to Sainsbury's for breaking it to the dog gently.

"For hygiene and health and safetys reasons we're not allowed dogs in them. The men from the councils would come and shut us down. Any food waste goes to people who's needing it, maybe a charity or a homeless shelter in your locals area. So nothing left for you Poppy, sorry", wrote the firm in language suited to a dog.

"We're always happy to hear from anyone looking for a job, but sadly we have no dog jobs. I hope you can understands."

This is, perhaps, on a Friday afternoon at least, a lesson in social media correspondence. Most of the firms targeted by the dog appear on social network sites like Facebook, Twitter and their kind, and attempt to elicit some sort of cuddly wuddly relationship with the people who they serve every day.

Whether they treat this like a one or a two way street is up to them, but it appears their customers are watching. And barking. µ



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