How Writing a Letter Saved Me From A $1,178 Dumb Mistake!
The Power of the Letter — in Copywriting
and Life in General
Man, I really goofed!
I mean, I recently made a DUMB mistake — and it cost me over a thousand bucks!
But thanks to knowing an amazing secret, I was able to recoup my loss and even save face.
What’s the secret?
Knowing the POWER of the written letter!
Here’s what happened…
I made plans to fly to Washington, D.C to pick up my 2 nieces and nephew so they can spend some of their summer vacation with my family.
I would fly up early Tuesday morning, meet their folks at the airport, scoop up the kiddies and fly back to Atlanta the same afternoon. Simple, right?
Well… not really. Turns out I made a big mistake — and I didn’t find out about it until the very last minute.
The theme of this article is the power of a letter. So, let me allow the letter tell you what happened…
9955 AirTran Blvd
Orlando, FL 32827
Dear Mr. Fornaro,
I am a frequent flyer of AirTran and I would like to share with you a very upsetting experience I had with your airline on August 5th.
I made arrangements to fly from Atlanta, GA to Washington, DC to pick up my 2 nieces and nephew (ages 3, 7 & 8) and return the same day back home with the kids. Confirmation #s were DCBGNK and V9RB6T.
The departing flight was perfect. We left on time and even arrived early. I picked up the kids from the airport, showed my boarding passes to security and looked for my gate number for the return flight. It was then that I realized a serious mistake.
My flight # and time of departure did not match the time at the kiosk. I erroneously booked my return flight with the children from Atlanta to Reagan National instead of Reagan National to Atlanta. There was no one manning the AirTran booth, so I had to wait 20 minutes until I could find an employee for assistance.
Finally, I spoke to a ticketing agent named Sherrell (I don’t know if I spelled her name correctly and I don’t know her last name.) I told Sherrell I would be writing AirTran about this experience and asked her to write her information down for me since my hands were busy holding a 3-year old, but she refused to do so.
When I asked Sherrell if I could speak to a manager to help me with my predicament, she instructed me to call your 800# for customer service. I was on hold for 15 minutes and was never able to get through to your 800#. It was nearly boarding time and I explained to Sherrell that I had to get the kids to Atlanta today and if there was some way she could help me. The only thing she told me is that I had to purchase new tickets and they were going to be “very expensive”.
I asked if I could get a reduced fare since I already purchased 4 tickets that I will not be able to use. She said “no”. At this point, I had no other choice but to put the outrageous charge of $1,178 on my credit card so I can board the plane and get the kids to their destination.
Mr. Fornaro, I am not blaming AirTran for my booking mistake. I’ve booked tickets hundreds of times and I’ve never made such a mistake. I take responsibility for my error.
However, I was able to pass through security with a boarding pass from the wrong city and wrong airport! In this day and age when security is priority, that was very disturbing. I am enclosing copies of the 4 boarding passes.
Plus, I couldn’t contact your customer service department for needed help in a timely manner. And the agent on-site was clearly apathetic to my situation. As a frequent flyer of AirTran and a customer, that bothers me very much.
I am asking that you help reduce my astronomical bill for a one hour and fifteen minute flight. At the minimum, I would hope you can credit the $358 payment for the 4 tickets I originally made to offset this unexpected cost. However, I would greatly appreciate it if you would reverse the $1,178 charge completely. It was made on my American Express #xxxx xxxxxx xxxxx. Any help you can provide me with this matter would be greatly appreciated.
Again, I have respect for your airline and I show it by using you frequently for my travel needs. I hope your company will show the spirit of true customer service in this case.
Thank you very much for your time.
Can You Believe How Stupid I Was to Book the Return Flight
From the Wrong Airport In the Wrong City?
Hey, I’ve told you before: “I aint no genius”. But was I going to let my stupidity cost me over a thousand bucks? Heck no!
Not only did I send the President of AirTran the letter — I also copied and emailed it to the AirTran Customer Service department.
I felt if the Customer Service folks knew this letter was going to the President of the company — it would increase my chances of getting a response. Did it work?
Did it ever!
In less than 6 days, I got a personal phone call from AirTran!
So What Can You Learn From My Dumb Mistake That
Will Make You A Smarter Copywriter?
Plenty! I followed some of the basic rules of copywriting in this letter:
#1: Identify your target market. I addressed the letter to the President of the company. Using a real name — and even a title gets attention.
So when you write a sales letter, who are YOU talking to? If you can’t personalize the letter, go beyond “Dear Friend”. Try “Dear Health-Conscious Friend” or “Dear Frustrated Friend”. Let your market know you know who he is in your salutation!
#2: Grab your prospect’s attention immediately. I usually do this with a kick-butt headline. But this was a business letter — and I didn’t want to go overboard. This meant my intro paragraph needed to get my prospect’s attention immediately.
So I started off by letting him know:
(a) Exactly who I was — a frequent flyer of AirTran -i.e. a regular stream of REVENUE for his business.
(b) He needed to be aware of a serious problem.
(c) Details. Giving the date the problem occurred.
This intro set the stage so I could quickly explain my predicament.
Next time you write a sales letter, ask yourself: Am I getting to the point — or am I losing my prospect with wishy-washy words?
A focused intro sets up great momentum for your copy. So make sure to re-read your intro and get rid of needless or confusing words!
#3: Compliment and get on common grounds. Notice I didn’t attack his company. The last thing I want is for Mr. Fornaro to get defensive. After all, the mistake was 100% my fault!
Note how I even commended the company on my “perfect” departing flight and “arriving early”.
This lets him know I’m not a pain in the tookas who nags and complains about everything. The goal was to show him I’m a faithful customer who respects the company — and it was my DUTY to bring this problem to his attention!
For your sales letter — are you finding ways to compliment your prospect?
Saying things like, “If you know the value of a buck”… “If you’re like me, you want to squeeze a penny til it squeals” … or even “You probably know…” are easy ways to get your prospect’s head bobbing up and down and agreeing with you. Make sure to try adding them in your sales letter!
#4: Get your facts right to make a reasonable argument. In copywriting, you have to support your statements with facts. SPECIFICITY works.
It was not just an AirTran rep, it was “Sherrel, who didn’t give me her last name”. Notice I gave them my confirmation numbers… said I waited for 20 minutes until I found a rep… spent 15 minutes on hold with the customer service department, etc…
And remember, make sure your facts are correct. Most likely they would check my confirmation number. If it was wrong, it may delay handling the problem, irritate the rep and give him a valid reason to turn down my request.
If your facts are wrong in your sales letter — it would jeopardize your credibility… annoy your prospect… and even cause you to lose the sale! Get the point?
#5: Don’t exaggerate — but do paint a positive picture. The truth is, this was not the WORST thing that ever happened to me. So, I had to control my creative desire to become a “drama mama”.
But notice I told Mr. Fornaro how old the kids were. Anyone traveling with a 3-year old and his two sisters would definitely understand my situation. And can’t you just SEE how frazzled I must’ve been since I’m dealing with this problem as “my hands were busy holding a 3-year old”?
And, come on, who CAN’T relate to dealing with an apathetic teller, rep or sales person?
Plus, I let Mr. Fornaro know I made all efforts possible to seek assistance — spending a total of 20 minutes looking for a rep and another 15 minutes being put on hold with 3 kids in tow!
In your sales letter, are you painting a picture for your prospect? One great way to do this is with storytelling. Our minds are hardwired for stories. We love ’em! So find opportunities to create word pictures in the mind of your prospect!
#6: Tell the prospect what you want him to do. Make life simple for your prospect — don’t let him figure what you want — tell him! If needed, give him step-by-step instructions!
In this case I gave Mr. Fornaro 2 choices:
Best Offer: Give me a full refund.
Good Offer: Give me a partial refund.
Sometimes it’s better to give your prospect just one choice. But in this case (since I was TOTALLY WRONG), I felt I had a better chance of success by offering reasonable options.
The customer service rep who called me said that normally the company policy is to only issue a credit for a future flight. But because of my letter, she is making an “exception” and refunding my money. I just love it when I’m “excepted!”
In your sales letter, make sure to give your prospect clear cut instructions: “Pick up the phone and call now”… “Mail in your order card on page xx”!
So How Did My Letter Pull? In Other Words, How Successful Was It?
Here’s the swift email reply I received from Air Tran:
Dear Ms. Anglade-Cole,
Thank you for taking the time to speak with me regarding your concerns, as we discussed, I have issued two credits back to your American Express Card on file. The first credit was in the amount of $358.00 for itinerary number V9RB6T. The second credit was in the amount of $520.00 for itinerary number HY94ND.
Please let me know if I can be of any help in the future.
Susan M. Callaway
Customer Relations Department
Woo hoo! I recovered $878 from my $1,178 mistake — not bad, not bad at all!
Ok, so I didn’t get the “Best offer” of a full refund. But the “Good offer” was good enough for me!
AirTran charged me my original flight ticket plus a $75 per ticket change fee. So I ended up spending an additional $300 for the change fees. They refunded me $878!
By the way, I did ask the rep to waive the $300 change fee — but she wasn’t budging! Oh, well, I had to at least TRY!
Bottom line: If I hadn’t taken 20 minutes to write the letter — I would’ve gotten ZIPPO back for an error that was clearly my fault!
So do you see the power of a well crafted letter? It can work wonders to sell a product — and even get you out of tight jams in life too!
Yours for stellar results,
Million-Dollar Copywriter & Consultant