Author   |    Speaker   |    Chief Content Officer

Roy-Lichtenstein-Ohh---Alright----133904It’s alarming to talk with someone on the phone and realize they suspect you are a liar. This past week I received, via FTD, a belated birthday package—a gourmet basket with some of my favorite things. Like tea, biscotti, and dried apricots. There was a warm message on the card accompanying it, wishing me lots of post-celebration, feet-on-the-ottoman relaxation this autumn… but there was no signature. No name. In effect, I got a thoughtful gift from someone I couldn’t thank for their thoughtfulness. Weird.

I called the customer service number in the packaging, and someone named Danielle answered. (On a Saturday afternoon… Kudos, FTD!) I explained the predicament, and Danielle said she understood but couldn’t tell me who sent the package.

“You mean you can’t tell me, as in you don’t know?” I asked.

“Oh, I know who sent it,” Danielle said. “But it’s just that I can’t reveal it to you.” When I asked why, she said, “Well, it’s our policy. A precaution, you know, in case they don’t want you to know who sent it.”

But why would someone who sent me a birthday gift want to remain anonymous? This was a gift basket, not a wing at the Met. Danielle paused for a minute before replying, matter-of-factly, “Because maybe you aren’t supposed to know.”

Danielle emphasized the “you” in a manner that implied that I might not be, in fact, who I said I was. Maybe I wasn’t, her tone suggested, the recipient of the gift, the one who would be sipping hot tea by a roaring fire, dipping almond biscotti. Instead I was some person who was inquiring about a gift given to someone else.

Perhaps I was just nosy, or perhaps I was someone more emotionally freighted… a jealous someone who happened upon an unexplained gift. Perhaps this gift basket wasn’t a gift basket at all, but the last straw in a series of other things I’d noted amiss: some late hours at work, unfamiliar numbers on a cell phone bill. I recalled an article I had read recently about how the owners of some hotels and restaurants work hard to accommodate their guests’ dalliances, including requiring staff to sign a letter of confidentiality, ensuring that they won’t divulge anything they see or hear. Does this apply to mail order? Did Danielle sign something, too?

“Wait,” I said to Danielle, on the phone, attempting to clear up any misunderstanding. “This is my gift. It’s really to me.”

“And anyway, if this was a romantic gift,” I reasoned, hoping to sound casually un-jilted (what might jilted sound like, anyway, over the phone?) “wouldn’t the contents of a gift basket be a little more—I don’t know—risqué, maybe, than, say, tea?” Tea was something you give a friend, or a relative, or someone English. It wasn’t usually a gift you usually gave to a romantic partner. When she didn’t say anything, I added, “I mean, seriously? Tea? Really?”

Danielle stayed silent, but I could hear her unrelenting breathing on the other end of the phone, and knew she wasn’t going to budge. I was less irked that she wasn’t going to tell me who sent the gift than I was by the notion that she thought I was a figure to be pitied.

She eventually said that she’d sent an email to the giver of the gift and would call and leave a message, too. She ended our encounter by thanking me for calling, adding, “Have a nice day.” But I could tell that she thought I wouldn’t.

Later that day, my friend and colleague Beth Harte sent an email. It was she who had sent the gift, she said, and she didn’t include a signature because she assumed her name and address would be on the box, somewhere. “Sorry for the confusion!” Beth said.

It was nice to know that Beth was thinking of me, and wonderful to be remembered. But more than that, it filled me with a kind of relief: that the gift basket was, in fact, just a gift. It was nothing more—and certainly not anything close to resembling a burden.

Total Annarchy

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22 Responses to Annecdote: Tea Time

  1. That's funny – I got an “anonymous” basket of dried poison ivy, hemlock tea, and gravel the other day…Beth, are you sending subtle messages around??

  2. Tina Brooks says:

    Fwiw, if someone were to contact me and ask who had sent a package of my products, I would simply tell them the name; I wouldn't give them the contact information, though, THAT would be contrary to the privacy laws. Who sends PRESENTS to people if they don't want them to know who sent it.

    Sorry, FTD was wrong here, common sense should have prevailed and they should have a clearer understanding of the POINT of privacy laws. I hope they read this, it will only help improve their usually excellent customer service. #Fail

  3. annhandley says:

    I don't disagree, Tina. But then again, if FTD had told me straight-away, I wouldn't have such a great story to tell. ; )

  4. Shelley Ryan says:

    From Beth? No way — that was from ME!

    (Just kidding. My gift basket would include tequila, not tea.)

  5. Kevin Fenton says:

    I wonder if because of the nature of their business, which does include so many romantic gestures, perhaps often from the very shy or the weirdly conflicted, they simply have to treat every transaction this way as a matter of policy. That said, I feel your consternation.

  6. Loved this! If only Danielle felt a bit more light hearted and could have laughed along with you (maybe later she'd be laughing at you, but it's always nice when they pretend to find us clever!) Happy belated birthday!

  7. Only a person of impeccable moral integrity would struggle with the secretive customer support of an organisation that does, no doubt, receive investigative phone calls from jealous people from time to time. The fact you feel this way speaks volumes about your personal values and your trust, Anne.

    However, as others have pointed out, the customer service person had no way to identify you, nor to know whether any information should have been given out, and her company's relationship is only with the sender, from whose point of view she has handled the matter in a serviceable but only perfunctory manner.

    How could she have handled it better? By not calling your identity nor motivation into question. Had she simply explained their policy, and assured you she would contact the sender, in whose hands the resolution of the matter would have to lie, no doubt you would have felt considerably less aggrieved.

    Just as well it was tea and biscotti. If it had been a black La Perla outfit I'm sure the intrigue would have driven you nearly out of your mind!

  8. Now if everyone can just make a note on your calendar to send an anonymous basket to Ann about a year from now, we can generate another great blog post :D.


  9. Anne says:

    Hmmm…wondering how I would feel if I got a gift from a mystery person…secret lover?…if only!

  10. annhandley says:

    I don't know about moral integrity.. but thanks, Chris.

    In truth, Danielle was perfectly polite; I can't fault her for anything she said or did. The drama was all on my side. And largely internal!

  11. Livepath says:

    Years ago when I was building the interactive services division of 800-flowers we had this problem all the time. In these instances, where there is no gift card, the first response from the rep should always be to check the record and offer to contact the sender so s/he can identify themself to the recipient. Typically, if a sender wishes to be anonymous, that will be entered into the record but for exclusively online records, it's not typically captured.

    Sadly, there have been lawsuits over CS reps divulging private order information. It is common for people to want to be anonymous… Hence the resolve not to share.

    We'd also frequently get calls from people citing an order ID number from email or a receipt they found wanting to know what was sent and to whom. This was often a wife, calling to figure out what their husband sent to a friend, employee or lover. D'oh!

    Glad the rep did the right thing, in the end. But what a pain! Hope you enjoyed your tea!

  12. I think it's great that you got someone on the phone on a Saturday! But I can empathize with FTD–that poor girl was just caught in the middle, it seems.

  13. bethharte says:

    LOL! Hey man, that wasn't from me… I only send good gifts! 😉

  14. bethharte says:

    LOL! It wasn't me, man… I only send nice gifts! 😉

  15. bethharte says:

    So my side went down like this:

    Saturday (1:38pm): A phone call from “Unknown.”

    Saturday (1:39pm): A voice mail from FTD asking me to call them, but not saying why. (They were “Unknown!” Pretty funny, eh?)

    Saturday(1:40pm) an email from FTD asking to tell Ann who sent the gift. (I, of course, said yes because I couldn't figure out why my name wasn't on it.)

    Saturday (3:56pm): An email from FTD saying “Thank you for the feedback.”


    That's why I emailed Ann directly…sometimes you just can't count on automation. 😉

  16. As I was reading this I was cringing… thinking it might turn out to be a cheesy tactic by a PR firm or someone who wants to write for MP or something. Phew.

  17. Dara Bell says:

    This post has struck a massive cord with me. I am having all sorts on trouble with consumer goods lately, a bike and and coat. Why cannot they assume that as customers we have more rights and offer us customer service we deserve.

    We are allowed to ask for things we might not be right are allowed and entitled to this information. If it was a private box in the Met then fine in your case, maybe privacy is an issue. In the UK we have the official secrets act which to me is the most abused piece of legistlation I have come accross. Such laws aquates to We Will Do Less For You Not More.

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