Automating Failure

Destruction in NYCSeveral 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.

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