Denny Rehberg needs a marketing consultant. Hint: 866-997-7634.

No, Im not kidding.

Note that I really dont have any strong feelings about Mr Rehberg one way or the other. These guys could use a serious lesson in communications, or marketing or customer relationship management, however. Its no wonder we’re all so grumpy with DC out here in tv land. They act as if we’re a bother, but even worse, they SHOW that they feel that way. Get a clue. We know you’re going to think whatever you want, but for goodness sake, NEVER explicitly tell us that we’re like those annoying black flies.

What’s this all about? Well, today I received an email from Denny Rehberg. Yeah, I know the reply came from one of his minimum wage staffers, but hey it says its from Denny:)

I vaguely recall emailing Denny from his House web site’s contact form. I dont remember when it was, so that ought to tell you that its been a) more than 10 days, b) more than 10 months, c) somewhere in between. I really dont recall. Google desktop has a copy of Rehberg’s contact form in its cache from Feb 22, 2006. Hey, I feel really special. I got an anonymous reply supposedly from my highly-paid House representative and it took just a hair less than SEVEN months.

Im sure Denny gets several (dozen? hundreds? thousands?) emails, faxes and letters a day. Sorry, but I dont feel at all sorry for you guys. Remember, you ASKED to go to DC, ASKED to represent me and 900,000+ of my closest friends. No crying towel cuz of the huge volume of constituent contact you have to put up with. Maybe next time I’ll include a check with my letter so it’ll get read faster.

Yep, Im cynical, but realistic too.
Ok, back to the real reason that I brought this up. Marketing. Customer relationship management.

Let’s talk about what the email said, and then, we’ll look at how I think it should have said the same thing, but with a much higher satisfaction level for the reader.

Here’s what it looks like:

Subject: Reply from Congressman Denny RehbergIn the electronic age there is a wealth of information available, but itâ??s seems impossible to find everything relevant pertaining to Montana. The best information I receive comes directly from constituents at home. I appreciate you taking the time to bring it to my attention.Please donâ??t hesitate to contact my office with your concerns and suggestions. I value the input I get from home. Keep in touch.

1) No greeting. Are you NUTS? It may as well have said “Dear Taxpayer,” At least say something like “Greetings, fellow Unabomber”, but to say nothing when your form has already asked me for my first and last name (among other things) is just dumb. Impersonal. You cant afford to be impersonal, Denny

2) The least they could have done was bother to sign his name to the email, as bad as it was. Again, I know it came from a staffer, but they are replying on his behalf, so sign the danged thing with his name, or heaven forbid, with YOURS. Something like “Denny’s research assistant for issues on *whatever, whatever and whatever*, Joe Smith”. #1) Its not like I’m going to go looking for Joe, and #2) a name builds relationships, even a little. A cold email with no greeting and no signature doesnt build anything but blog posts and the feeling that Im just a guy who can still vote.

3) No mention of what I emailed about. Look, if you are going to wait 6 months and 3 weeks to email me back about an issue, the least you could do is actually mention the issue, or include my email text so it looks like a reply. This is not difficult. No need to call NASA.

4) Partly because of items #1, 2 and 3, the reply “feels” like a “Thanks, vote for me, now go away”, whether thats what they felt or not. The issue is not how they felt, the issue is how does the email make me feel? Remember, I could be ANYONE. I could be a multi-millionaire recluse who takes a liking to Denny and wants to make things happen for him, or I could “just be a voter”. Either way, you dont know. Now sure, the multi-millionaire likely wouldnt email you through a form, and instead would find a way to meet you at a dinner of some kind and pull you aside there – but you never know. Not everyone likes those shindigs.

Keeping in mind that you have no idea who I am…Back to the email and how it makes me feel. Do I want to call up and volunteer for his reelection, his party? Do I feel incited to write a check? Donate the use of my jet? Not exactly. Perception. Message to market match, remember? Generic terms, vague sentences. This reply could be used for 400 emails a day of any number of subjects. It reminds me of those times when tech support asks “Did you change anything?” or “Reboot, try it again and call me back if it doesnt work.” IE: tell your story walkin’, buddy.

So, let’s try it again. Lets assume that this first attempt is a template reply to a common inquiry, like a request for a flag that has flown over the Congress

Subject: Reply from Congressman Denny RehbergDear @firstname@,

Thanks so much for contacting me about your interest in getting a flag for you.

My staff takes care of getting flags that have flown over the House so that I can spend more time focusing on Congressional business that’s important to Montana. Did you know that we get an average of 27 flag requests each DAY? I think thats really something.

Anyhow, because we get so many requests, we have to process them via the House’s flag ordering page at http://www.house.gov/orderflags.

Just in case you dont like to use your credit card on the Internet, my staff has taken the liberty of mailing an order form to the @streetaddress1@ address in @cityname@ that you provided when you emailed us.

@firstname@, please donâ??t hesitate to contact my office with your concerns and suggestions. I very much value the input I get from home and either myself or my senior assistant read everything Montanans send to me. Keep in touch.

Your ONLY Congressman,

Denny Rehberg

P.S. I’ll be on a little city-by-city “fireside chat” tour later this year, from @Month-Day@ to @Month-Day@.

See http://www.house.gov/rehberg/visitMontana/ to see when Ill be close by you. I included the whole schedule just in case you are traveling around the state and want to see me while youre on the road rather than at home.

P.P.S. I almost forgot, we have a little online survey that we’re asking folks to fill out. If you dont mind and have about 4 minutes, could you take a look at http://rehberg.house.gov/2006survey for me?

That was pretty hard, wasnt it? All that @fieldname@ data came straight from the constituent’s request or data known to the Rep’s office. No one had to retype it. They just had to look at the inquiry and click a button that says (in effect), “Merge and reply with stock flag request info” button. How many flag requests a day? How many can be answered in a personalized manner using simple techniques as noted above?
Ok, lets get back to my original inquiry. An inquiry about some oddball topic that isnt in the “list of templated replies”. So how do we handle that? Same way, more or less.

Subject: Reply from Congressman Denny RehbergDear @firstname@,

Thanks so much for contacting me about your interest in No Child Left Behind testing standards.I am Rep Rehberg’s Legislative Education Specialist (LES). What that means “in English” is that its my job to monitor the activities and news regarding the Dept of Education, the NEA, teachers unions, standardized testing and a bunch of other education-related topics.

I spoke with Denny about NCLB testing and shared your comments with him. He happened to have a meeting scheduled next week with the 2nd in command over at the Dept of Ed, and promised me he would mention the growing outcry about testing standards – including your specific comments.

@firstname@, Im sure you understand that its difficult for us to take your comments verbatim and walk down the street to the Dept of Education and implement them, but I think you’ll be pleased to know that we do store them in a topic and keyword indexed electronic filing system – the same system the Rep’s staffers (like myself) use to catalog our research findings. The Rep and all his staffers constantly use this database to keep tabs on Montanans’ comments, our research and keep it all at our fingertips when he’s preparing for a committee meeting, hearing, vote, etc.

Please donâ??t hesitate to contact the Rep’s office with your concerns and suggestions. When I was speaking with Denny about your comments, he specifically wanted me to tell you that he was glad to hear that someone cared enough to elaborate on the details of something as important as the education of our children. As you can see from website agenda referenced in the tour information Ive included below, education is one of the primary discussion items on his agenda. Do keep in touch.

Yours very truly,

Joe Smith
Rehberg Education Lead Staffer

for Rep Denny Rehberg

P.S. I’ll be on a little city-by-city “fireside chat” tour later this year, from @Month-Day@ to @Month-Day@.

See http://www.house.gov/rehberg/visitMontana/ to see when Ill be close by you. I included the whole schedule just in case you are traveling around the state and want to see me while youre on the road rather than at home.

P.P.S. I almost forgot, we have a little online survey that we’re asking folks to fill out. If you dont mind and have about 4 minutes, could you take a look at http://rehberg.house.gov/2006survey for me?

That was difficult too, wasnt it? Personal, honest and IN CONTEXT with what I emailed him about (the reality is, I dont even remember what I originally emailed him about, its been seven months).

You can do this Denny. I can show you how and make it easy.