Archive | May, 2010

How to alienate people and lose customers

28 May

Some companies just don’t get it.  They actually seem to want to lose customers. Here are two examples.


Just one day after I wrote my last post on alienating customers, I got a letter from Citibank informing that my credit card  account is changing.  But not to fear, these changes include several “enhancements.”  But the changes are not enhancements. They are making the card even more useless–no more picture ID, no more 2% cash back for supermarket and drugstore purchases, AND, they are changing the name of the card and issuing a new number.  The thing about the account number was in the last paragraph.

You know what this is: it is a way of further alienating me as a customer. Why? Because first, it insults my intelligence. I know an enhancement when I see one–it usually involves something positive for me as a customer. Second, it forces me to do some work. Now, I have to call places where I have recurring charges to change my card number. And third, it is giving me something I didn’t ask for nor did I want AGAINST MY WILL, WITH NO OPT-OUT.


Although I have few service issues with Verizon, when I do, it is a nightmare to deal with this company. Its customer service truly is atrocious.  I dread having to call them for anything.  I usually get a phone tree, followed by an inept customer service rep who then drops the call when transferring me to the correct department. Just ugh. So, the idea of adding any services with this company is unthinkable.

Verizon seems to think that if they send me enough direct mail, I will buckle in and get FIOS. So, every single week, I get a minimum of one piece of direct mail with an offer to install FIOS. This week, I got three pieces. This has been going on for two years.  Every time I see a letter from Verizon it goes in the trash and I think what a stupid company this is. Spending millions of dollars on direct mail, killing trees and for what? If they had an inkling on how to get customers they would figure out what customers want, and work on serving those needs first (better customer service comes to mind). Instead of doing real work, Verizon keeps sending useless direct mail. How many people are signing up? I bet not many.

How to alienate people and lose customers? Keep hitting them over the head with offers they don’t want, insult their intelligence and make them do all the work.  On that end, Citibank and Verizon, you are doing a great job.


Avoid Alienating (nearly) Anybody

26 May

Marketing communications is about persuading people that your product, service or organization offers something that is of value to them. It’s really that simple.  How you do it may not be so simple as there are many different strategies and tactics that you can use. Perhaps you will show the benefits of the product, perhaps you will make people feel good about choosing your service. But, whatever you do, you should not alienate your audience.

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Businesses and organizations can alienate their customers and supporters by taking certain negative actions.  Perhaps it is raising prices or cutting back services. Sometimes unpopular actions are necessary, which is why how you communicate those actions becomes even more important. In fact, taking a negative action does not have to translate into alienation if it is handled correctly. Perhaps, you work on making the case more forcefully.

Yet, how often do we see companies doing things that alienate their audiences?   We see it often.  Two recent examples stand out for me:  Facebook with its privacy problems and Spirit Airlines with its decision to charge for carry-on bags. Both situations have been widely reported in the media, and both companies have done a mediocre job of explaining why they have taken those decisions. Facebook seems to think that what benefits it as a company should benefit you as customer. And Spirit actually claims that by charging for carry on baggage you benefit from lower fares. Both companies insult their customers’ intelligence, thus, alienate them.

Here are a few tips to avoid alienating your customers

  • If you must take a negative action, explain it from your own perspective before the media/others do it for you.
  • Don’t underestimate your audience’s intelligence: they can usually see right through a bad explanation.
  • When you communicate, avoid being too self-promoting or too self-serving. You customers and supporters are more interested in what you can do for them than in what you did for yourself.
  • Be forthright and say what you mean.
  • Research! It is amazing how many organizations and companies don’t understand who their audiences are and what they want.
  • Offer good-will gestures. If you’ve done something that is bad (cancelled a concert for instance), give your customers a carrot (make it easy to get money back, give an additional discount, etc.).

How do you think companies can avoid alienating customers?


Missing opportunities

19 May

Are you truly making the best use of the many marketing opportunities out there? Probably not.  This is understandable since there are so many things we can do and only a finite amount of time and staff to do it in. However, there are some opportunities that you SHOULD NOT be missing out on.  These are:

  • Responding to your emails
  • Tracking your mentions on the Web and social media
  • Responding to social media mentions
  • Following up when necessary

Let me provide you with one example of a really big missed opportunity. A couple of weeks ago, I wanted to visit a coworking space in Baltimore. I sent an email to see if I could just drop by. It took someone there more than 24 hours to respond (the answer was yes, just come on by).  With that in mind, I did just that. I was welcomed and given a spot to sit. I tweeted about it. No one responded, even a week later. No one asked me for my card or information. In fact, no one said much of anything. There was absolutely no follow up. Even though I believe the coworking space offers a great convenience and is a wonderful concept, I think this particular one won’t survive. They are missing opportunities to engage with potential customers, and they are doing nothing to market themselves.

If we’ve learned anything about social media and the Internet, it is that people expect a response (most expect an immediate response).  My website host is on Twitter, and if I tweet them, they certainly respond. Why? Because they realize that it is giving them an opportunity to engage with a customer and try to fix any problem that is happening.

When you don’t respond to what is being asked of you or being said about you, you are truly missing an opportunity. Social media makes it easy to find out when people are talking about you. Perhaps you can’t monitor it all day, but do it once a day and make sure to engage.

If you want to make the most of easy opportunities, track and respond, and do so sooner rather than later.  What are you doing to make sure you are responsive?


Tech vs. communication

12 May

Recently, I have been noticing jobs that require someone with technology skills (html, programming) to handle web development and social media. It is interesting that in some organizations social media efforts are housed under the IT umbrella. But should they be?  I don’t think so.  That is like asking the kitchen installer to cook a meal. Just because you know the appliances and how to work them does not mean that you can use them to their best potential.

Last week, I attended a social media workshop (not worth my while, but that is a topic for another post). One of the presenters was a tech guy, and he came out and said that he didn’t know marketing.  He understood the power and importance of social media tools, but not how to use them for marketing purposes.

Then there is the whole web developer versus web designer issue.  A web designer is concerned with the aesthetics of the website, and the web developer makes the site work.  Some people claim to provide both services, but in my experience, a web developer’s websites never look pretty. And a web designer who does his/her own development probably can’t do complex back-end stuff.

It boils down to what technology can and cannot do. Technology is a tool, a very specialized tool. And in the “internet age,” keeping up with evolving technology is crucial. But technology alone cannot communicate, it cannot market. A superior tech website with no communications strategy or well written content will not do the job.  Technology is not communication.  Tech people are notorious for being hard to understand.  They speak a specialized language and have skills that your average communications person just doesn’t have.

The bottom line is that to have your IT department handle social media does not make good marketing sense.  Social media is completely about communication. It is not about the technology that allows said communication. I don’t have to understand how Twitter works to use it for marketing promotion. I need to understand how people communicate, what information they are seeking. This is not to say you shouldn’t involve your IT department–they can probably help facilitate what you are trying to do.  Just leave the communicating to the communicators.


Marketing one to one

11 May

Perhaps this post should be called Marketing 101, but it is about marketing one to one, person to person.  It is perhaps the most basic of marketing techniques, yet the most dismissed.

Companies spend lots of time and money and effort coming up with brilliant marketing/communications plans. They develop beautiful websites, and attention-grabbing ads. They do media outreach and get great publicity. And then the potential customer walks in the door, and the surly receptionist (or clerk or bank teller or any other frontline person) ruins the experience. He or she makes the customer feel unwelcome, unwanted, unserved. And guess what, the customer either walks away never to come back, or he/she becomes a NEGATIVE brand ambassador, sharing negative stories about your organization wherever he/she goes.

You see, many, if not all organizations, forget that marketing is really about getting people to buy your products or services or mission. It is about making it easy for them to realize how your product/service/mission fits in with their lifestyle and needs.  It is about people.

People want to be treated nicely and politely. It really is that simple.  I would argue that part of your marketing plan should be to train your frontline employees to treat people nicely and politely. If your sales are down, perhaps you should try to figure out what is going on at the point of contact.  We’ve discussed the four “Ps” here before:  price, product, promotion, place. What is the place of contact with your customer? What is happening there?

With the rise of Internet commerce, we are losing the sense of the importance of people–their feelings, their needs–when making a purchase. But in a bricks-and-mortar world it should definitely be front and center.

I am writing this post because of two positive (gasp, right?) interactions I had today on the phone.  I was making a doctor’s appointment at an office I have not been to, and the receptionist was helpful, informative and friendly. She made me feel confident that I will get professional service when I arrive there.  The other was the reminder phone call from the hair salon where I have an appointment tomorrow. The receptionist was polite (called me Ms. Brody) and friendly. I asked a question and he nicely answered me. It shows me that the salon VALUES its customers.

Are you showing your customers you value them? Are you treating them as people? Are you making sure that the one on one interactions with your organization are positive?


Beyond marketing

5 May

Although marketing communications can help brand your business, differentiate you from the crowd and even increase sales, it cannot make your business succeed.  To succeed in business, you have to provide something useful or necessary–a product or service people want or need. And you have to provide that something consistently. You can have great advertising, but if your product is not available or is not of good quality, guess what? You are going to get nowhere fast.

Lots of people spend time on their marketing strategies. And they develop great websites and fabulous collateral materials. Some people spend lots of time coming up with fancy names and lovely logos. But what they fail at is defining AND providing their product/service.

This morning I read an article from the Philadelphia Business Journal about two local small businesses: a gas/service station and a dry cleaner. Both business owners work very hard and show up every day to run their businesses. People can count on them.  Neither business does much in the way of marketing because they don’t need to. If you need your car fixed, you go to one, and if you need some shirts cleaned, you go to the other.

Yesterday, I came across this post over on Copyblogger. It is about how it doesn’t matter whether you have a beautiful website if you don’t have a message. I would go further–you have to know what you are doing, and to quote Nike, just do it.

Time and again I meet successful business people. You know why they are successful? Because they provide the goods. On the other hand, how many times have you seen a restaurant fail? Probably dozens of times. You know why restaurants fail? Because people didn’t go there to eat. And why didn’t they go? Probably because the food was bad or the service was bad.

Basically, it boils down to having the product or the service. Of course, if you want to increase your market presence and/or let people know you are there, you are going to have to engage in marketing. But marketing alone will not get you business.