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I just ordered a few books from bookdepository and received a confirmation email for the order. The letter was signed by a person, "Kieron Smith":

Dear Firstname Lastname,

Thank you ever so much for placing an order with us here at The Book

Depository International Ltd. Order number: XXXXXXX
==Order details sniped==

If you have any questions regarding your order, please reply to this email so that we have your full order details.

In order to track the progress of your order you can visit http://www.bookdepository.com/track

We have found the Royal Mail to be the most effective carrier for books which is why we use them as opposed to any other company. However if for any reason your order is not with you after three working days from the delivery due date, can you please check with your local delivery office. If they do not have your parcel, please reply to this email so that we have a full record of the order.

For further information on our services or on how to use our website, please refer to the http://www.bookdepository.com/help on our website, or send an email to our Customer Service Team at help@bookdepository.com.

Thanks again for your order,

Kieron <------------------

Kieron Smith <------------

The Book Depository International Ltd

I also received a letter (snail mail) from an electricity provider for connecting the service through their company. The letter was signed by the General Manager, although we all know that the letter was automated, and the general manager did not spend time writing it just for me.

At the same time, some companies like Facebook and Abebooks simply sign all communications with something like The Facebook team or The Abebooks team.

I understand that for some automated system emails, for example You have 5 new notifications, Here are instructions to reset your password, personally signing probably isn't the best idea, because the user knows very clearly that the email is generated, and receiving 3 or 4 emails every week from Kieron would get on most peoples' nerves.

Having said that, is there any benefit in personally signing once-off or ocassional automated emails (initial registration welcome email, newsletters, order confirmations, etc)?

Does the same apply for both electronic (emails) and snail mail?

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Along the same lines, is there really a benefit to personally signing regular email correspondence? Most people generate signatures, and the "from" line tells you who wrote it before you even open the email.... –  Yamikuronue Aug 22 '12 at 12:17
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A former Chairman of one of the world's largest oil companies tells the story of how he was delighted to receive a letter from the company, thanking him for his 30 years of service. Delight which evaporated when he found that he himself was credited with writing and signing the letter. –  EnergyNumbers Aug 22 '12 at 14:17
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3 Answers 3

I see it as (an often essential) part of creating a virtual personality.

We tend to personify most complex systems that go beyond very simple mechanics: outlook hates me, the printer is on strike today, the roomba got lost, the HOA is greedy, the flowers enjoy your good care, etc.

Even if we easily see through that, it can still direct how we shape our mental image of the company we deal with - under absence of information, we tend to incorporate any random input rather than sticking to "I don't know".

"Kieron Smith" evokes the imasge of a human counterpart processing your order - someone who you can argue with, who sometimes is tired and messes up, rather than a kafkaesque juggernaut of a tentacle machine that will insist on chargin you for twelve identical sets of underwear it never sent.

The second suggests that the company decisions are made by an approachable person fore whom you exist as a person with a name, rather than yet another number in the "assets" column.


I don't see this practice as immoral, misleading or shady per se. It can be just decoration, or a genuine investment of resources where they truly matter. To put it into a different context: rarely anyone will assume their supermarket cashier is genuinely concerned about the nicety of their remaining day. It's just a thinly veiled attempt at making your "shopping experience" (gaaah!) better - for mutual benefit.


On the long run, I expect more anthropomorphization happening: when the automated systems around us gain more complexity, become more autonomous, this is certainly an improvement over "an algorithm picked your account for termination.".

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In case of services, where any orders or complaints are processed manually (even if confirmation of the order from website can be automatic) it can add an extra value in case of any troubles — the reciever of the message sees, who is responsible in company for the case and has the ability to contact with concrete person that he can communicate with.

In my personal experience, suggestion of such "personal emails” improved the interaction between clients and managers in hotel booking service — and made clients more loyal in different situations (for instance, when they happend to appar at hotel and meet any differences, they knew, that the concrete manager, not abstract “phone girl” will help them).

Naturally, adding only personal signature without any additional changes in business process is not honest trick – at least any real contacts (internal phone number or email) should be added also.

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The important note is what tone you are attempting to convey to the user. If the tone of the correspondence is personal then the signature should be personal.

  • I looked over your account and it seems...
  • We have not heard from you recently. If you need help, please contact me at...
  • Your balance is up to date, thank you for your payment. For questions, contact my office at...

These are all personal phrases, meant to convey a direct and specific investment in the customer relationship. It may be a polite fiction, but regardless of whether there is actually an individual handling the correspondence or not the signature should match the tone; a personal signature for a personal letter.

When the tone of the message is impersonal, then it would be better to have a group signature.

Whether your tone should be personal or impersonal is a different question, one perhaps better answered by a marketer than a UX professional.

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