Posts Tagged ‘Marketing’
Several years ago, I automated the routing of questions that our company receives from visitors to our website. Very quickly, I realized that the visitors were often making bad selections on the choice fields that controlled the routing. The wrong people were getting the questions and they either ignored them or sent them back to me. Fortunately, we turned off the automatic routing before anyone answered a question he or she shouldn’t have.
I often use that simple story when cautioning people who are asking me if I can automate a business process that I fear could go off the rails. These days, everything is all about branding and there are at least three major ways that improperly designed or unattended automation can cause damage to your brand. As I discuss these, I’m also going to tell you a true story that happened to me this week. The story begins with a click.
I saw that a friend had liked a company that was offering an eBook on Facebook marketing. I do the marketing for the local chapter of a professional association, so I thought I would check out that eBook. Unfortunately, the download failed and I was routed to one of those disturbingly cute “Opps, something went wrong” pages.
Automated processing can undermine your brand – If you don’t think about the things that can go wrong, the automated sequence of events can become inappropriate, unnecessary or annoying.
Minutes after my failed attempt, I received two emails, both triggered, not by the download of the eBook, but by the attempt. Both emails were built on the assumption that I had downloaded the eBook. One included a link to “Access your eBook here” – clicking that link also sent me to the “Sorry” page. The second email appeared to be from a person, so I replied by saying: “All attempts to actually download the eBook have failed…” Moments later, I received a generic reply to a marketing inquiry that included several additional bits of marketing and a phone number for “Other inquiries” – OK, so that wasn’t a real person.
Human processing can undermine your brand when fed by bad automation – If people are provided incomplete or incorrect information, they can’t be effective in their job. This is far worse than the inappropriate automated response, because people expect a better user experience when they are talking to another human being.
Early the next morning, I received a call and the CallerID was the company I was trying to work with. I was excited until the man began by saying: “I noticed that you downloaded our eBook on Facebook marketing…” I explained what had really happened and, in a condescending tone he told me that he would take care of the error and then he went into his sales pitch as if I had the eBook. I stopped him. I told him that I wasn’t impressed with his company’s marketing prowess at this point and that I wasn’t really in the mood to discuss using their services.
Humans can undermine your brand when they aren’t empowered or instructed to deal with customers outside of a prescribed pathway – I don’t understand the corporate culture of this company, but it seemed to emphasize sales at all costs. The man never wavered from his mission. He was like a bad car salesman – he never engaged in true conversation, he never stopped trying to sell until I interrupted to tell him I was done listening. I asked him to send me the eBook, and while I did receive an email, the message was just this side of annoying:
“Apologies on the technical difficulties you had downloading our [ebook]. Here is a web version of the [eBook] that might be easier for you to check out.”
What, this was my fault? Maybe I’m sensitive, but that didn’t sound like an apology to me. I spoke to a couple of friends who had similar complaints about this particular company. One, who had gone so far as to schedule a conference call to discuss the services, relayed this conversation:
Customer: “I’ve been downloading your content, I understand what you do, I don’t need the standard sales pitch, please tell me how your service is going to work for our organization?”
Instead of answering that question, the sales person began the standard demo and with respect to what they actually do, he added:
“…this is probably beyond the limits of your imagination”
OK, so in addition to the above items, hiring arrogant people and putting them in contact with your customers can damage your brand.
First there was B to B, a way of distinguishing businesses that sell to other businesses as opposed to those old fashioned B to C businesses that were intent on selling to customers. Now, the people at TechProduct Update are offering a video from the folks at FileMaker on B to E – Business to Employee. Really?
First of all, let me say that I didn’t watch the video, and I’m not recommending that you do. I am never going to watch a video, read a whitepaper or see the results of a survey that requires me to register with a company that is going to pester me with advertising email, cold calls and more chances to register. Second, I’m pretty sure that the “video” is a commercial for Filemaker’s mobile app building technology. I’m familiar with that, I even like it, but not enough to endure more junk mail.
Now with that disclaimer out of the way, and in yet another reference to a favorite movie, (Remember the Titans) I would like to point out that if you ain’t B-to-C, you ain’t nothin’. Businesses have customers and that’s it, period. The second you start treating me like something other than a customer, I am going to start losing interest in you. Wait, what if you start treating me better than a mere customer? Nope, sorry; been there and special is only special until someone who is more special comes along. I’m a special customer of a major airline, but I board the plane last and I pay $30 for each piece of luggage. Some of my friends who travel much more often than I do are truly special, but some are finding themselves “less special” these days according to an article in the NY Times. I prefer to do business with companies that treat all their customers well. I don’t mind that the guy in 1st Class has a better seat; he paid for that just as some people bought a more tricked-out Jeep than I did. But my Jeep dealer treated me very nicely, as if my purchase was important, as if he actually wanted to sell the less expensive Jeeps on his showroom floor too.
Reward programs are fine, and I belong to several, but the companies that I am loyal to have reward programs that are simply rewards, as opposed to ball and chain style agreements designed to trap my business. In the past month, I have ignored several warnings about my “points that are in danger of expiring” from companies that I simply don’t like dealing with. If I hate flying on your airline, why would I fly more often for the chance of getting a free flight? Look at how often I chose your airline when I first signed-up for your reward program. Look at the way you treat me. Look at how often I choose your airline today. That pattern tells a story, and it’s not that your reward program is broken – your customer service program is broken! I’m still flying, but I’m flying more often on another airline.
At work, I deal with vendors who are clearly B to B companies. Some of these vendors come and go over time, but some stay. The ones that stay treat me and the other people in our company that they deal with, like customers. They aren’t selling to the company I work for, they are selling to me; they listen to me and they try to help me to do my job. I have kept our company’s business with one technology vendor for 20 years. 20 years! These people started out selling me products that don’t exist anymore, some from companies that don’t exist anymore, and yet I kept our business with them. Why? Well, because I like how they treat their customers. I can put that in the plural form, because I know a lot of their customers, and we all love how this company treats us. They are clearly a B to B company, but they are selling B to C.
Getting back to the video that I didn’t watch from the company that I don’t want email from; I think it’s truly absurd to think of doing B to E business. Your employees are not another form of customer, they are your company, and they are part of your customer service program. If you’re treating your employees as outsiders, even a special class of outsiders, you’re cheating them and you’re ultimately cheating your customers. On the flip side, if you are an employee who wants to be treated like a special kind of customer, I would urge you to find a new job – find a job where you feel like you are part of the company and then act like you are part of the company.
A few days ago, the receptionist at work came into my office to tell me that someone was on the phone for me. She quickly added that he said: “…he asked me to call him, but he isn’t picking up – perhaps there is someone else I can talk to.” She also added that he had called several times, and that it didn’t sound like a cold call. Even though I had someone in my office, I told her to put the call through. I mentioned to my coworker that the interruption was going to be short. When the guy started his sales pitch, I let him get as far as identifying his company and then I broke in to tell him that 1) I didn’t appreciate the way he treated our receptionist. 2) I don’t do business with liars, and 3) His company was now on my black list. After my meeting was over, I tweeted:
Later that evening, after reading several flat-out-lie political tweets from a consultant whom I follow on Twitter and who I had once considered doing business with, I added a similar, albeit more general tweet to my timeline:
How is it that intelligent, successful people can overlook the fact that I might know, or can easily determine that they are lying to me? Maybe they aren’t that intelligent. Maybe they are counting on the fact that I am not intelligent, or that I am too lazy to do the fact-checking called for these days . Maybe they are just so arrogant that they think they can leverage their position of self-appointed intellectual authority to bully me. I’m not sure how they rationalize their behavior, and I don’t really care, because nothing can rationalize lying.
We have been inundated with articles, blog posts, and advertising for everything from seminars to webinars to white-papers on the importance of brand and reputation management, yet people still feel comfortable lying in public. I expect political candidates to lie. I expect the various aligned talking heads to lie. I expect the non-news channels across the spectrum to lie. I do not expect business partners to lie, and the ones that do lie to me will find it nearly impossible to remain or become a business partner in the future.
I should say that I am not calling out names here because the worst thing you can do with a liar is get into an argument with him. I will add that I am not talking about anyone that I am currently doing or have recently done business with. I am talking about a couple of business partner wanna-be’s who just scratched their chances with me.
I try very hard to gather the facts before I write a blog post. I have given the blog posts that come close to being technical to others to read, just to make sure I’m not misrepresenting the facts. If someone leaves a comment suggesting that I am wrong, I research their thoughts and I reply. If I am right, I try to explain my thoughts better. If I am wrong, I thank the person for correcting me. I replied to a comment the other day that seemed to be from someone who had only read about a third of my post, and I tried not to be snarky about it. Unlike some of the people who do get a bit snarky with their comments, I don’t hide behind an anonymous user ID. I also don’t delete negative comments unless I am confident that they are spam.
Even if I thought I could get you to buy something from me, or vote for the candidate of my choice, I would not want to risk losing any respect that you have for me. I’m not quite sure what to think about people who are willing to take that risk.
I received two pieces of information from vendors this week that had my head spinning. One was an email asking for my help in “spreading the word” about a vendor’s services, and one was an invoice. Normally, I am very happy to help my vendors with their marketing, either by serving as a reference or Tweeting or blogging about them. Normally, I grudgingly open and process invoices. This week was anything but normal.
I am going to take these in opposite order from the title; that is, I’m going to start with the absurd request I received from a vendor.
The request for a referral began:
Have you received great service from our company? Fantastic – can you help us spread the word? We’re hoping you’ll tell others about your experience with us, because referrals from people like you are essential to us in sharing the message about what we do.
You can imagine how special that made me feel. Just for grins, I put the email address they used to send me this piece of junk mail into Google and Bing. Both immediately returned an entry in the #1 spot on the list that contained my name, title and the company I work for. It would have only taken a few seconds to look up the details and make that a more personal request. By neglecting to do that, they not only missed an opportunity to have me talk about them, they sent me the message that they don’t value our relationship very much. That makes me wonder about how hard the work on anything and that makes me think that I will avoid these guys like the plague in the future.
Shortly after reading that email, my mail arrived and I noticed an envelope with a hand-written address. The return address told me that this was going to be Jill Hart’s invoice. Jill owns Brain Logic, whose company provides consulting on the broad topic of “improving user experience.” She had recently conducted a usability review of our company’s website and I was extremely happy with the things she pointed out to us so paying this invoice wasn’t going to be hard. When I tore open the envelope, I received a surprise. In addition to the invoice, there was a cover letter thanking me for the opportunity to have worked with us and a self-addressed stamped return envelope. A cover letter – this woman doesn’t just advise on the subject of user experience, she lives it!
I can’t begin to express what a difference this little bit of personal attention made. I’m sure it was made even better by having arrived on the heels of the pathetic “Hi customer” email, but even on its own, this was an awesome bit of correspondence. With a little time and effort, Jill turned the necessary but normally unpleasant duty of collecting money, into a conversation with a friend. Sure, the end result is a check being cut to Brain Logic, but I never felt so good processing a check request in my life.
I am in the technology business, I write software, I build websites, and I work to provide solutions so that others can do their jobs better, faster and cheaper. One of my pet peeves is that so many companies (banks and airlines for example) only focus on the ways in which technology can help save money. We hired Jill, and I guarantee we will hire her again in the future, to help us use technology to make doing business with us a better experience. One of the things we need to do a better job of is personalization. We want our customers to know that we remember them; we remember their name, the business they have done with us, their preferences and the people on our team that they have worked with. We have all of this information, but we don’t always use it well enough. We aren’t nearly as bad as the companies that have you punch in your account number before answering the phone and then immediately ask for your account number, but we could do better. We certainly aren’t interested in putting a message on our website that says “welcome back Customer!”
Looking ahead to my next pet peeve, I have to point out that so much personal information is available today, that there is an emerging fine line between personalization and creepy stalking behavior. I want people to make the connection and address me by name, but I don’t really want someone plying through my Facebook timeline and asking me about a vacation I took five years ago. I don’t want artificially generated familiarity created by randomly assembling a few facts from cyberspace. If you want to make contact personal, your attempt has to be based on personal experience. If you have personal experience and you don’t use it, you have wasted an amazing opportunity.