Bad Marketing & Service Examples, March 2011 Edition

Well, it’s safe to say that no matter what the economy is like, what sales are like, or what the performance of your campaign is like, there’s always room to do better.

For some, there’s more room than others.

Enter my two examples from today on some really poor practices in marketing and customer service. Let’s take a good, long look at what NOT to do for a moment. As I said in a recent post, the economic rebound and business growth has some companies at a point where their capability to deliver effective customer service is lacking, and it ends up hurting their future.
The first entry is a horrendous email from someplace called Now, you wouldn’t think the email below is actually from them. The From line is from a “” domain, while the physical address in the email lists CareerPlannerNow in Columbus, OH. Good luck trying to find either one of those.

First let’s talk about how awful the email is. No context, no identification, no reason to click. I could go on, but it’s not even needed, you can see for yourself. Who’s gonna click on that email?

Really impactful, right? Um, wrong.

Well, I clicked, just for fun and for the purposes of this post — which, mind you, probably dooms me to a life of spam from these shady folks. You arrive at this lovely fly-by-night website called Seriously, is anyone using this site to search for a job? Do they really get enough traffic using shady email marketing tactics? Anyway, they have a blog — which is amazing. Are you going to take advice from someone who has to dupe you to actually get you to their website?

Finally, when you hit the opt-out screen, this is what you see below.

Here's when you get scared, as you ask "Who the hell are these people?"

Enough said about these folks. No clue what they’re doing. Actually they’re probably intentionally spamming people at best, and potentially pursuing much more criminal activities at worst. Not the way you want to market anything to your customers in any way.

The next entry comes from my lovely friends at Foursquare, who are about as responsive to customers as the chair you’re sitting in or the desk you’re leaning on. Actually, worse — because the chair will lean back, turn and do other things you ask it to, and the desk actually works as advertised.

The folks over at Foursquare — you know, that darling of media and market value — have a little issue being responsive to customers. As in NEVER responding to anyone. That is why I was surprised to get the email below in reply to one of my several performance issues with their performance-challenged-yet-popular app. I’m thought to myself “maybe they turned over a new leaf” when I saw the email appear in my inbox.

Well, we aren’t really that lucky just yet. The email itself leaves alot to be desired. Alot of fluffy copy and irrelevant links, no direct answer to anything resembling my question.

Heavy on irrelevant copy, light on relevant answers

Howver, let’s talk about the bigger picture here. When you scroll to the bottom of the email, you can see the original date that I submitted my initial question.

Thanks for the response, 11 months later!

Yes, that is correct — 11 months after the fact, Foursquare blessed me with a response. What adds to the hilarity in that is this subsequent dialogue:

  • Me: Ssssooooo, lemme get this straight. You’re replying to one of my support emails…..a YEAR later? Well, 11 months, technically. Are you serious?
  • Foursquare: I know it’s been a long time, but we thought it was better to respond late than never to respond at all! 🙂

At least they used a smiley face. Yet, kinda sad that they think waiting 11 months to respond to customers is funny. Also sad that a prominent brand has to be on my bad examples list.

Needless to say, what both of these companies do is not the way to treat your customers. In 2011, please make it a point to charge ahead with better customer service and marketing than these examples illustrate.

If you don’t, be aware that your customers are empowered with an arsenal of social tools, just like this blog. And they will take their story to their social networks.

It just doesn’t pay to be shady or be careless in responding to your customers any more.


Economic Rebound = Customer Service Falloff

It’s funny how “things are better” amounts to things actually being worse when it comes to customer service.

It makes sense, though, and with a good, long look you can already see it happening in businesses of all sizes and industries.

There are some companies that are always just historically bad when it comes to customer service – AT&T, Excite, the electric company, (United Illuminating here in CT…awful), the cable company. Add in your own favorites (or un-favorites, if you will). Yet combine a rebounding economy with a make-my-losses-back mentality and a shortage of resources and people, and you have historically bad customer service across the board.

It starts at the local level, with service companies from landscapers to oil companies to snow removers. These were services that a lot of out-of-work and cost-conscious consumers eliminated or scaled back on during the tough times of the past few years. Now that things are doing better economically, some consumers are opening the wallets back up, and those companies are more than happy to take the work again. And on the surface, certainly taking on alot of customers helps these companies bounce back from revenue and sales declines of the past few years. Yet for many of them, going for quantity over quality means delivering subpar service to a wider group of customers — including those who may have stuck by them during the tough times. Ultimately that’s not good business.

These are also businesses who haven’t invested in technology or equipment or infrastructure during the down times, so now they’re taking on added customer volume without the resources in place to provide good service. The first symptom is long wait times on the phone and for service delivery. Online contact doesn’t make it easier either, as someone already stretched too thin manages the online channel. Then, when service is delivered it’s frequently subpar since stretched resources are trying to service more customers in the same amount of time. That extra care they gave you as a loyal customer during the hard times is gone. And new customers immediately have low expectations from less-than-optimal service delivery.

The same goes for big brands. Many of them outsourced customer service overseas, for example, and are now getting hammered by higher volume hitting under-trained staff. And many of them still use social media as a mouthpiece, rather than a means for engagement.

None of this leads to long-term success – customers are unhappy from Day One, so it makes your business a commodity. There’s no loyalty based on price, experience, brand…nothing.

My recommendation? As a business that depends on customers, you have to invest in things that make your business unique. And while tough economic times make it difficult to invest in capital costs – like technology – it shouldn’t prevent you from charging ahead with low-cost investments in training, creativity, and other things that make businesses succeed. And ultimately, it means delivering consistent, high-quality service and experience. If that means taking on less customers now so you can build stronger relationships in the long term, that’s a cost of doing business. You have to realize that if take on too much and deliver bad service, you’re going to spend more on sales and marketing costs in the long run trying to replace customers who leave.

Stay tuned for my next post, which outlines three things you can do to avoid these pitfalls.

I hope this post trickles down to the snow removal service that takes care of (or doesn’t) my building. If you do quick, hasty, low-quality work because you’re trying to make it to as many customers as you can, you’re only pulling a snow job on yourself.

Every Marketers’ Secret Jobs

Hhhmmm, what could they be? CIA agent? Air marshal? F-22 pilot, fire chief, crane operator? No, nothing that involves risking lives, or saving lives, or even putting lives at risk.

However, it does involve putting your brands at risk. If you don’t embrace your secret jobs, that is.

That’s because, if you’re a marketer, you’re also a cheerleader and a trainer.

Did you ever take a good, long look at the quality of the interaction you have with an employee of a great company? They’re happy with the value proposition they share with their employer, they’re engaged, they care about customers. They provide solutions. Hell, they proactively search for better solutions, even in the most dire of cutomer service nightmares. Have your ever contrasted that experience with that of an employee of a poor company (I’ll throw a few out there…AT&T, Excite, United Illuminating, Circuit City…take your pick)? Stark difference. The kind of difference that leads to lost customers.

And so begins the “leads to” domino chain. Poor company leads to disengaged employees, leads to bad customer experience, leads to lost customers, leads to wasted marketing investments, leads to spending more money to search for new customers, leads to higher CPA, leads to…feel free to fill in the rest of the sentence, Mad Libs-style. It usually ends with “you lose your job” or back at “poor company.” Yet, for those whose choose to embrace their secret jobs, it can also end with “you’re an All-Star.” It’s like a cheat code.

By being both a cheerleader and a trainer, you can redirect the domino chain.

You need to be a cheerleader to rally your organization. Even in a poor company, you can refocus energy on things that can make an impact on customers. Because, let’s face it, as a marketer you’re the gatekeeper of customers — you spend all your energy trying to acquire and keep them. Bad things can happen in good companies too…bad quarter, competitors’ products or offers, unexpected glitches, etc. The bottom line is, if something is causing customers to leave, you better find out what it is and rally forces to change it.

You need to be a trainer to direct the implementation of that change by those forces. Optimism and motivating words aren’t enough to make tangible changes. You need to be not just the driving energy behind the change, but bring the front line substance as well. The nuts-and-bolts of how we can make this better.

For example, if the problem is poor point-of-sale service, you need to rally those POS people and give them better training on resolving customer issues. If it’s poor cross-selling in the call center, sit in a chair, take some calls and walk the team through an approach that cross-sells effectively. If it’s lack of management enthusiam that causes low motivation, you re-spin the message to your team and press their motivation buttons (and after that, you walk in to management with a plan on how and why to change their message). If it’s deadlines being missed, illustrate the implications of that and lead your team vigorously through a deadline-oriented approach.

If you embrace these secret roles in addition to your primary role as marketer extrordinaire, you’re well-positioned to charge ahead in these trying economic times. Because it’s going to be tough enough to find customers in the coming months, never mind trying to replace ones you lose.

A Friendly Reminder

I pass it along to you because I just got it myself.  The reminder is to never, ever forget to talk to your customers.

And by “talk to” I mean ask questions and then listen.  Actually little talking involved on your part.

As marketers we spend alot of time talking to our customers.  Sending out materials, calling them, and interupting their day with emails, ads and other communications.  Sure, sure…we may ask them their opinions and needs along the way.  Yet kudos to you if you spend time getting real qualitative feedback from your customers, and use that knowledge to change things for the better.

And by “change things for the better” I mean taking a good, long look at (and listening to) their communication preferences, creating products or services that fill unmet needs, and changing products or services you offer now that don’t meet needs very well (or could meet them better).

Some customers have different communication preferences — you need to find a way to respect those preferences and build your strategy around their preferences.  Stop expecting your customers to build their preferences around your strategy, budget-based decisions or skillsets.  And if your products or services aren’t fitting needs just right, grab a whiteboard and sketch out a better way to make them fit.  If they’re too expensive, find a way to add more value.  If they’re missing something, find a way to add it.  If they’re one-size-fits-all, find a way to segment — maybe there’s a brand extension in there somewhere.

Anyway, I just held one of the bigger events in my portfolio, and had a lot of quality face time with customers.  That feedback was a greater source of rich ideas than any quantitative survey has been (at least this year).  And honestly, that’s the way it’s going to be in the future.  In the middle of a busy day, week or life, quantitative surveys are proving hard to sell to customers.   So when you have face time with customers, use it wisely.  I held a focus group with 12 customers (in return for a great lunch), and separately I had meaningful conversations with at least two dozen others.  I am so ready to charge ahead with great ideas, and feel confident and energized that they will serve my customers’ needs.

If you’re a marketer, feel free to siphon off some of that energy and go spend time talking (i.e., listening) to customers right now.  If you’re at an agency, do the same thing even faster — it provides the kind of insight that is hard for clients to argue with.

Customer Service Impacts Marketing, Part 2

Speaking of the how the blogosphere megaphones the negativity of bad customer service, take a good, long look at this WSJ article on negative brand websites.

Of the companies surveyed, 35% own the domain name for their brand followed by the word “sucks.” They include Wal-Mart Stores, Coca-Cola, Toys”R”Us, Target and Whole Foods Market, according to FairWinds. Some 45% of these domains have yet to be registered by anyone. (FairWinds based its analysis on 1,058 domain names for companies on the Global 500 and Fortune 500 lists.)

Marketers have it in their best interests to charge ahead and create a strategy to deal with negativity in the blogosphere and beyond. Yet, again, the most effective way of dealing with it is to do everything to align your customer service and entire organizational strategy with the messaging in your campaigns (or vice versa). That way, hopefully consumer expectations either align with the brand experience, OR if there is a problem they at least give you adequate chance to resolve it. And even then it can be too late:

While some of the gripe sites that remain in the hands of critics have fizzled, others have grown bigger. Take, which was started by former Bank of America customer Jonathan Speigner nearly five years ago after a dispute with the bank over a car loan. It now is home to thousands of postings, and it calls itself the “Official Bank of America consumer opinion site.”
Consumers continue to post complaints on the site. One recent post from a user named “Ripped_off” says: “BOA does not care about customers….BOA is a disgrace to banking. I can pretty much relate to every complaint I’ve seen on this site and others.” The site is mentioned in numerous blogs and newspaper articles, and appears among the top 15 results on a Google search for “Bank of America.”
Even though Mr. Speigner’s dispute with the bank over the loan is long settled, the information-technology director at an Atlanta technology company says he keeps up the Web site because it continues to draw traffic.

If you’re a brand dealing with a problem of buying domains to salvage your message in the blogosphere, you need to flip-flop your strategy and deal with it at the other end of the spectrum. And if you read this and still think customer service doesn’t impact marketing, think again (or find other work).

Customer Service Impacts Marketing

One bad experience with customer service can tear down everything a marketing campaign has built up. Several bad experiences can turn a campaign into negative marketing.

Just ask AT&T — as Seth Godin mentions in his recent post, the quality of their network, and susbequently their customers’ negative experiences, has a negative effect on their business.

Now, I had a good, long look at AT&T as their customer a long time ago, and I swore I’d never have them again. I was a happy Cingular customer for a long time. Then AT&T buys Cingular, and I began to have a wary eye as to what it would mean for me. Sure enough, suddenly my reliable 5 bars turns into dropped calls and frustration (I could rage on, but I am gonna keep it short…I’m over it, really…well, maybe not). And when I’ve interacted with their customer service team, the resolution is not sufficient. “No, we can’t give you a credit” — even though I haven’t gotten the value they promised and I’ve paid for. “That’s a technical issue” or “We’re currently experiencing some network difficulties” — well, as Seth says, how about you fix it.

Anyway, what that means is all the marketing dollars they spend end up having the opposite effect as intended, at least in the worlds of all their customers who’ve had negative experiences (and I know there’s alot of others like me, otherwise Seth wouldn’t blog about it). And that just multiplies as those customers become negative brand evalgelists, and not just in the blogoshpere. When I see those “fewer dropped calls” commericals, I laugh. I comment to friends how untrue it is. I advocate others to get another service.

So, the moral here is, before you charge ahead and launch a marketing campaign or spend a marketing dollar, make sure your customer service function (and really, your whole brand story and every customer touchpoint) is aligned with the messaging you deliver in your campaign. Make sure customers expectations will be met at whatever level you set them in your messaging — and beyond. And that’s the same moral for any campaign for any size or any company.

Otherwise, you’re the next AT&T slammed in the blogosphere or in a living room when a commerical comes on.

How NOT to Treat Customers, Part 2, Courtesy of Lloyds TSB

If you took a good, long look at the morals of my recent Excite-related post, then you’ll also find many of the same themes in this article about Lloyds TSB, the fifth-largest banking group in the UK.

It’s amzing how lousy a company treats its customers when a company-centered culture or lack of perspective/judgement is passed on down from the upper levels of management.

Earlier this year, Lloyds customers mounted a campaign to have certain charges refunded after the bank refused to do so. Oystar, a British group, released a parody of “I Fought the Law,” called “I Fought the Lloyds.” The song detailed the customers’ struggles, and was popular enough to hit number 25 on the UK singles chart.