Blind Man gaffe highlights the danger of mail merges

Mail merges are a great way to personalise marketing material - but they can also go horribly wrong...

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

A building firm in Hull apparently sent a letter to Paul Harris, a local man who’d recently registered blind, that was accidentally addressed: ‘Dear Mr Blindman’ – because his disability had been put into the wrong column in their database. Not surprisingly, Harris wasn’t impressed – in fact, he was ‘literally horrified’, according to the BBC. Lots of small firms use mail merges as a way to make their generic marketing and customer service material feel a bit friendlier. But if it goes wrong – and this is by no means the only such example – it will end up doing your brand a lot more harm than good…

The BBC reports that Kier Building Maintenance, the firm involved, had been hired by Hull City Council as contractors to carry out some improvement work on local homes. Harris only registered blind late last year, and to the company’s credit, they tried to add this detail to their records – presumably to make sure he received special attention. However, rather than going into the ‘Additional information’ column (or whatever it was called), it ended up in the ‘Name’ column – hence the unfortunately-addressed letter this week.

You can’t blame Harris for being upset about this. However, his complaint – ‘You wouldn't send a letter to a person who’s got Down’s Syndrome saying Dear Mr Down’s Syndrome, would you?’ – does seem to miss the point slightly. After all, it’s not like Keir did it on purpose. There was presumably no malice intended – it was just a simple IT-related human cock-up, of the sort that happens in lots of businesses every day without coming to the attention of the wider world.

So we can’t help feeling a bit sorry for Keir, which has been in full-on sackcloth-and-ashes mode this morning, apologising profusely and promising an investigation into how this happened (easy – someone pressed the wrong button). They’re also going to send a letter of apology to Harris. Let’s just hope they don’t use their mail merge for that one.


In today's bulletin:
Mortgage lenders under pressure as repossessions soar
Saab throws in towel as car production plummets
Blind Man gaffe highlights the danger of mail merges
Mills & Boon rails at 'frigid' Virgin
Tips on breaking through, from YouTube

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