Your marketing is killing your customer service

Yeah, you. Corporate America. [Maybe corporate everywhere…but my recent experiences are homegrown, so no blame-passing today.]

Your amazingly successful efforts in data collection, standardization, segmentation and automation have removed the human element from your interactions with your customers — remember them? The people who make an emotional, human decision to spend their cash with you and not your competitor.

We’ve all complained about automated phone systems — everything from “press 1 for sales” to advanced voice-recognition — but everyone still uses them. Somewhere along the line, they became cheaper [and therefore “better”] than human operators. They easily hold all the options in their automated brains, and “always” direct calls to the “right department.” I got one yesterday that gave me a dizzying amount of options. I wanted sales. I wanted to make a purchase. And I couldn’t figure out what number to press. I had called the 800-number promoted on the company’s website that said, Call here to make a faster purchase.

People, I’m a marketer. If your marketer customers can’t figure this out, you’re making it too hard.

On each of my four [4!!!] phone calls with the same company, trying to make the same simple purchase, I had to give out my account number and my PIN number. This was not a financial or health care institution. I had no secret data with them, and my purchase certainly wasn’t private in any way. But they refused to make the sale until I’d given them all this identifying information, so that their records would reflect all my purchases together.

Let me stop here to point out a company that does this right. I’ve bought from Lands’ End for more than 20 years. When I call them, which I still do occasionally despite using their website primarily for more than 10 years, they do ask for my catalog number, but if I don’t have my customer number, no one freaks out. They will still sell me stuff.

But what made me angriest about the whole thing yesterday was that the phone rep never, ever went off script. Everything she [I talked to 2 women and 1 man on the 4 calls, and this was one of the women] said started with something like, “In order to serve you better….”

No. It does NOT serve me better to have to tell you all the information I just told the LAST representative I spoke with. It does NOT serve me better to have to wade through more than 20 minutes of data confirmation and gathering on your part in order to buy one product. I understand that as marketers, we want all the data. We want to make sure the customer orders the right product, because they’ll blame us if they order the wrong product. But placing the burden of information-gathering on your customers does not serve them better. At the very least, let’s all write better, more honest scripts, shall we?

The whole scenario made me angrier than I care to admit, but the part that really ticked me off was that the customer service rep kept telling me it was my fault. I was the party in the wrong for being upset at having to repeat all of my data. At having to give them ANY data beyond the truly essential: product, shipping address and credit card number. I was wrong to think that was all I needed for a purchase, and I shouldn’t be so mad about it.

Well, what I’m really mad about is that apparently, someone in corporate America decided it was a good idea to evaluate customer service reps on how well they read scripts, instead of on how well they serve customers.

This woman couldn’t fix that. Bless her heart.

But maybe you can.

I'll now say something nice about Ning

The Ning director of support gives us an update on a bug fix that caused some of my recent trouble.

I’m easy. In fact, I’m a flat-out sucker for the director of support making a comment on my blog and apologizing for my problem.

I’ve complained in the past couple of days about some problems I had with Ning, and today, Laura G. from Ning let me know that in one instance, I’d actually run into a bug that they’ve now fixed.

So I will just add this as my final though on Ning for a while: It may be frustrating, but they are paying attention. So, thanks, Laura G.

Find where your audience lives and meet them there

When you find your customers are using a service like Twitter, your presence becomes a requirement.

Twitter’s been around since early 2007. It really started breaking out in the tech community after its debut at South by Southwest 2007. In the last several months, it’s grown significantly. I think the many mainstream media outlets sticking their toes in the water are having a big impact here, much as more Web- and tech-focused folks wouldn’t want to admit it.

I’ve used Twitter more and more in recent months, for two reasons:

  • It helps me stay in touch with trends and thought leaders in digital media.
  • I have a number of real-world friends using Twitter regularly.

Companies exploring Twitter usage now can take advantage of both of these areas, but significantly for organizations, when you find your customers are using a service like Twitter, your presence becomes a requirement.

As communications and technology continue to change rapidly, it’s critical that we continue to assess how our target market likes to find and receive information. To do that, we have to always be open to new possibilities ourselves.