Nobody I know starts off their day by asking how they can piss off customers. Yet it happens so often the cynical among us can’t be faulted for thinking it’s often planned.
One of the most common and aggravating methods involves simple failure to communicate. Specifically, promise things you’re unable to deliver and follow up with silence. For bonus points make it really hard for buyers to get answers.
Here’s what I mean.
A few weeks ago I ordered Dr. Michael Rafael Moreno’s 17 Day Diet. I know. It was featured on Dr Phil or Oprah. I don’t even watch those shows and I heard about it. So clearly I wasn’t the only one ordering a copy.
I placed the order online easily enough. They even sent an auto email telling me the order had been accepted and I would receive it in 3 to 7 days.
When 7 days passed without a notice of shipment or a book delivery I went to the website and submitted a simple question – where’s my book?
A few days later, I called. After waiting on hold because “we are currently experiencing higher than usual call volume” I eventually spoke with a live person who tried to help – although we did not speak the same primary language and he was not equipped to answer my questions.
Twice he told me my order had shipped and twice I requested a tracking number. Finally he grew tired of the game and confessed it really hadn’t shipped yet.
He also had no idea when it would ship. “Maybe this week. Maybe next week”.
Now least you think I’m being overly impatient especially at the holidays I want to point out that one of the major selling points of the 17-Day Diet – in fact the very reason it was created – is to help people get through the holidays without gaining weight.
Not sure which holidays they mean, but certainly not Christmas 2010.
So the company was overwhelmed with the response to their product’s mention on TV. It happens. Maybe they didn’t know Dr Phil or Oprah was going to give them a shout out.
We all know things go wrong. Unforeseen problems occur. Deadlines get missed. Stuff happens.
But ignoring it is never the best way to deal with the situation.
The 17 Day Diet people could have easily avoided my frustration – and that of their other customers – by simply manning up. In this case, all they had to do was send an email.
“Dear Susan. We’re sorry. We were caught completely off guard by the demand for our product. We’re working our hardest to catch up and will have your order shipped as quickly as is humanly possible. We’ll let you know as soon as it has shipped. Thanks for your patience.”
Boom. I’m on their side now.
Popular online software company, 37Signals, faced a similar challenge recently when their Campfire chat application suffered an extended outage. They could have chosen to deal one-on-one with people who complained, but this company knows better than that.
Instead of hoping people wouldn’t notice, 37Signals posted a highly visible apology on our Campfire pages, linked to a detailed explanation of what went wrong and what they did to resolve the issue and they gave every customer a free month of service.
Now that’s a company I’m going to stick with.
When we drop the ball, the customers who are affected notice. When we fail to communicate about it, we send a message anyway. Only this message says “you’re not important right now.” And that’s not the message any marketer wants to send.
I went back to the 17 Day Diet website as I was writing this article. To their credit, they have posted a note saying they’re running low on inventory and cannot guarantee orders will be filled by Christmas. At least they’re beginning to manage expectations – although I suspect a lawyer rather than a marketing person may have driven decision.
Meanwhile, I still don’t know what to eat at tonight’s cocktail party.