Super shiny perfect customer service or you’re dead!

I know I’m guilty of coming up with the odd blog title that could be described as link bait, and it would appear that this one is no exception, but no… I genuinely mean it from a business sense.

Carry on tricking and cheating your customers – because that’s what we’re talking about here – and they’ll all go on their merry way and you’ll be left with nothing.

This post has been prompted by a couple of recent experiences: one with a client who shall remain nameless and the other with ao.com, the white goods online store.

A fly in the ointment?

ao.com’s customer experience is superb. I bought a washing machine a few months back and the UX was so good it prompted me to buy a new dishwasher through them a few months later (why does stuff like that break at the same time?!).

Anyway, the experience with the dishwasher was just as good – the website is a joy to use and ao.com’s delivery service is impeccable – except for one thing.

I received a call from them prior to delivery disguised as “we just wanted to check you’ve ordered the right item” but was actually “we want to sell you insurance”.

I have no objection to someone calling me in a scenario like this trying to sell me insurance as long as they don’t try and hoodwink me. Added to the fact that the call was disguised as something else, the guy on the phone used some very strong coercion-based sales techniques to get me to agree to sign up. He didn’t ask me if I’d like to sign up for a particular option, he just assumed that I’d accepted and it took me saying “hang on a minute, I don’t want that” to stop him. My reaction was met with mock surprise and “oh, well if you’re sure”. This happened with three products he tried to sell me.

I can imagine some people feeling that they would genuinely be making a mistake, or putting themselves at risk, if they didn’t buy.

I’m willing to give ao.com the benefit of the doubt in that I just got the wrong guy (I don’t even remember a call from my first purchase). However, if I get the same treatment next time I’ll know that they’re working from a script and have been drilled in the most coercive methods in getting people to sign up.

If that happens, they will have lost me as a customer forever.

Manipulating (tricking) people into signing up for a secondary product (we’re already paying for a fairly expensive piece of kit after all) will lead to zero repeat business from me and I suspect I’m not alone.

I’m sure that these people will have some pretty hard targets to meet and that is exactly where the problem lies. One department – in this case, the insurance sales department – is being measured by how much money it makes. That’s it, full stop. There is no consideration of how its practices affect repeat business. This isn’t surprising I suppose because it’s a really hard thing to measure. This is why companies need a very senior ‘Experience’ director to ensure these things don’t happen. They need to have a holistic view of the customer experience and have enough clout to stop practices that could be damaging.

Before I move on, I need to clarify that I think having a call offering insurance products is fine. It’s just the way that it’s done that’s important. ao.com’s website copy is well thought out, friendly and reassuring. I very much expect that there’s a content style guide that editors work to. The same rules need to apply to phone calls. It’s all part of the customer experience.

Hidden sign-up

I mentioned something similar happening with a client. The similarity is that one department’s goals are at odds with providing a good customer experience.

I thought the days of people having to opt out of signing up for stuff (newsletters, new product deals etc) were long gone only for the dodgiest of sites. This appears not to be the case.

We are fortunately past the ridiculous (and frankly funny) use of double negatives:

Tick the box if you don’t not want to sign up for us not to steal your first born child.

The vast majority of us aren’t stupid enough to fall for this. But, organisations are still making us opt out of stuff we don’t want rather than encouraging us to opt in for the things we do want.

If I forget to opt out of signing up for a newsletter I don’t want, when it appears in my inbox I’m left thinking bad things about the organisation that tricked me into signing up for it. I have to unsubscribe to something I never wanted in the first place. I.e. it’s down to me to do something about it.

It all adds up to me thinking negative thoughts. Am I likely to use the site again? No. Am I likely to recommend it to others? No. Am I likely to complain about it on social media thereby spreading the negative feelings far and wide? Quite possibly.

And all of that came about because the organisation’s marketing department will have targets relating to sign ups. My contact details on one line of a spreadsheet added up to all that bad feeling.

Our recent experience is with an organisation where phone number and postal address are mandatory fields on a donation form (which is fine) but, these details are automatically opted in for future communications and the only way to opt out is by sending an email to a specified address or phoning them up. That is, donors cannot opt out of being contacted by phone or post online.

This could all add up to the same “bad feeling” scenario I described above. We pointed this out to the client but were informed a different department had insisted on it because of their targets. Not good.

What can we learn?

I think my key takeaway from these examples is that one small bad experience, within a generally good one, can mar the whole thing. This underlines what I said earlier regarding the need for someone in power to have a complete view of the customer experience. They can then make decisions about the design of all aspects of the customer experience knowing all the facts.

  • Great insight Marcus. It reminds us that “digital” is a form of Systems Thinking. We must break down the walls of the silos and think in terms of the organisation and its customers and partners as a system, where each part has varying degrees of influence over the other. Unfortunately, we humans don’t seem to be too good at thinking in systems, especially when the system is complicated, like the environment, economy, relationship with the EU, etc., etc.

    I recommend Donella Meadows’ “Thinking in Systems” as a primer on Systems Thinking. The Wikipedia article is pretty good too: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Systems_thinking

  • Thank you for pointing this article out on the Boagworld podcast (top of google. Get in!). It’s 100% right, and has led to me cancelling several contracts, and terminating relationships in the past including with clients that lets say had big ideas about spreading out and seeing how much they could get serially. I think it is definitely hard to create contracts that protect you from danger, and avoiding lawyers demo’ing how clever they are, with unreadable jibber-jabber from a Lewis Carroll novel. I find websites with icons and content flying in from everywhere, fading to be a bit the same. It’s all very clever, it can even be technically impressive, but ultimately a bit off-topic, quickly irritating and short-term.

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