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.