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.

ManagementJobs.net
The first entry is a horrendous email from someplace called managementjobs.net. Now, you wouldn’t think the email below is actually from them. The From line is from a “jobsalertnow.com” 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 managementjobs.net. 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.

Foursquare
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.

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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.

Implications of the “Do Not Track” Movement

Just when you were starting to figure it out online, leave it to potential legislation to ruin it.

Well, maybe not totally ruin it, but at least make it harder. That’s my take on the potential for FTC policy and future legislation on an Internet “Do Not Track” list. While I agree that consumers should have every right to raise their hand for privacy whenever they desire, I think it also raises the bar alot higher for marketers who don’t want to be covered by their customers’ “Do Not Track” blankets.

I’m hoping that policymakers take a good, long look at arguments like David Greene’s post on why the Do Not Track line of thinking may be misguided. While I like and agree with that line of thinking, the Do Not Track movement may have too much momentum to be stopped — Microsoft already announced that when Internet Explorer 9 is released in 2011 it will have a feature included that allows users to restrict sites from tracking them. In reality it’s just an enhancement to features already present in IE 8 and it requires some user effort to take full advantage of the feature, yet the big announcement by Microsoft (which some argue is just posturing to gain an edge) certainly added fuel to the fire.

Essentially, here’s what this functionality means for you as a marketer: Want to be able to track customer data? Then earn their trust with top-notch messaging, content and experience. Then maybe they’ll let you in.

The one sure thing is that if you don’t make an effort to earn trust, you certainly won’t be let in. So my recommendation is to address the issue now.

  • Start improving the quality of your messaging so it’s personalized and relevance-based.
  • Engage customers in dialogue that builds trust.
  • Set high standards for process integrity and data security.
  • Explain to customers what you do with their data and why it helps you help them.

Those proactive steps will help you charge ahead and become an oasis for customers in the desert of online trust.

Reduce Volume, Reinvest in Relevance

The following post is a re-post of an article recently published on Directmag.com, and you can read the original article on that website — which, by the way, is a great source for insights to improve your campaigns.

Rx for Ailing Email Response: Reduce Frequency

Certainly email is still one of the most productive and powerful tools in the marketer’s arsenal of tactics. Recent research shows there’s no falloff in usage even with the shift toward social networks; in fact, studies from Nielsen and others show an enhanced level of email usage among those with high participation in social media.

That said, some of the main challenges we face with email—volume, relevance, and engagement—become more problematic when people use email more. When a user is in his inbox all the time, it’s easy to get tired of senders, even trusted ones, who send too frequently. And marketers need to be diligent to ensure that their email messages and offers remain riveting and relevant in order to create engagement.

As a marketing director at Reed Medical Education, where I promote continuing education programs to healthcare professionals, I have the typical email issues to account for and test against: inbox clutter, frequency, deliverability, optimal send time, etc. There’s also an additional challenge: My recipients also receive a lot of messages that rank higher than mine—emails about patients, medications, procedures, new research, and countless other things that are critical to making people better.

This fall, when rolling out a campaign for our largest conference, focusing on mental health on behalf of Massachusetts General Hospital, I decided that less is more.

For the 2009 conference, during a six-month campaign we sent out 12 marketing emails plus four transactional emails based on actions, such as purchase confirmations. Most of the messages were in a standard HTML template we have for the brand, and two were text-only, personalized emails. Open rates were down to less than 5% across the board, and we barely hit our attendee goal.

In 2010 the goal was not only to exceed our attendee target but also to markedly improve our email metrics. A better campaign should deliver a better overall result, right? I decided to cut the number of emails we’d send for the campaign by 50%, down to six. In cluttered inboxes, I bet that fewer total messages from us would actually stand out more and give us more opens—and I knew that if we put extra time into developing a better message, the clicks would follow.

First we redesigned our HTML email template into a cleaner layout with shorter, punchier copy and highly visible calls to actions. For three of the emails, we focused on key deadlines to deliver time-sensitive, action-oriented messages.

For the other three emails, we crafted personal, text-only messages from key speakers and leaders of the conference. We segmented the campaign to our internal database based on purchase history (2009 attendees, pre-2009 attendees, never attended, etc.), and we customized the message based on that history. For last year’s attendees, we emphasized what was new in 2010. For those who had attended prior to 2009, we focused on why it was critical for them to come them back. And for those who had never attended, we highlighted key unique selling propositions and benefit-oriented messaging. And again, all versions were sent as a personal message from a key figure.

Also in these text emails, we linked to a five-minute video recorded with the chief of psychiatry at Mass General. He directly addressed some of the cost, time, and other objections we frequently hear from attendees and tied it all back into the positive impact to their clinical practice they’d gain from attending the conference. He said it much it better in the video than we ever could have said it in an email, and it provided a deeper level of content that users could access with just one click.

The results of these changes were exactly what the doctor ordered. Campaign-wide open rates more than tripled over the previous year’s to 15.4%, and average clickthrough rates were up over 2.6%, with some segments having rates as high as 9.7%. The personal emails had the best performance, as expected, with open rates all over 16%, yet year-over-year the HTML emails did considerably better as well. And the ultimate win was in our performance against our attendee goals: We converted far more registrations via email than in 2009, and we exceeded both attendee and revenue goals by 15%.

In summary, here’s my prescription for your email woes:

· Worry less about how many emails you send. Less is more when the message is right.

· Put the extra time into developing better quality messaging. Relevance and personalization matter.

· Segment, segment, segment — and leverage the information you have about your customers.

· Make your emails interactive. Link to video, integrate with social media, and provide compelling content or offers that make the click worth the time.

· Sanitize your data. We scrubbed out some long-inactive records that depressed metrics and messaged those users separately to reactivate them.

More than anything, don’t settle for the same old thing. Just as a doctor does with a sick patient, if one approach doesn’t work, try another to get better results. And remember, relevance trumps frequency to win engagement.

Privacy Mistakes, Part 2

In my last post, I raised the question whether or not the following message was sufficient enough to rectify a boneheaded email data-sharing mistake.

I would like to sincerely apologize to everyone blind copied here for accidentally delivering a mass email earlier today with your email address visible.

Needless to say, I am deeply embarrassed my error.

If there is something I can do to rectify any inconvenience that my hastiness may have caused, please do not hesitate to let me know.”

First let’s take a good, long look at the things wrong with this situation, then we’ll get down to the correct way to manage and fix these kinds of predicaments.

This first thing wrong is that something big is missing — and it’s the root cause of the overall problem. There’s a clear lack of marketing control. The original email was sent by a sales rep (happens to be a guy), and it had all of his customer email addresses visible for all to see. The lack of marketing control at his company could’ve led to this for a few reasons. Perhaps there aren’t any marketing professionals employed here at all, and sales folks like this guy are blindly doing their own marketing as best they know how, considering they’re clearly not trained to be marketers.

The second thing wrong is there’s a clear lack of marketing control and/or involvement as it pertains to company email policy. Certainly, with the serious implications presented by CAN-SPAM laws, email should be managed by a marketing team that provides best practices in messaging and metrics, adequate tools for managing deployments and opt-outs, and clear direction on compliance with privacy and security requirements. There’s no way that in 2010, some sales guy should be randomly firing off a mass email to several dozens emails, with no regard for potential liability or consequences. I like to think that perhaps this sales rep just “went rouge” in the overzealous pursuit of sales — yet his subsequent email response shown above belies a clear lack of understanding about anything regarding effective email practice.

The last thing wrong here (that I’ll point out, anyway) is the callousness towards customers on the company’s behalf. I’d never do business with this firm, as they surely don’t consider my needs or my data privacy important. Not to mention that the sales rep’s original email was not effective at all — it was a monologue-oriented rant on the company’s products, not my needs as the customer.

Now that we have that bad stuff out of the way, let’s look at the right way to rectify mistakes when they happen:

  • 1. Don’t make the same mistake twice — If someone in the organization goes rogue and mistakenly deploys an email that discloses customer data, don’t follow up with the same damn kind of email that led to the mistake in the first place! From the same person, no less! Not too smart!
    Deploy your next emails, fully-compliant with CAN-SPAM laws, using email deployment software — that way there’s no risk of the same mistake happening again.
  • 2. Escalate the level and tone of the response — This mistake was made by a front-line person. So in the follow-up efforts asking for forgiveness, consider sending those messages from someone higher up in the management of the brand or company. This approach signifies that the company acknowledges the error at the highest levels and shows that you’re not taking it likely. Consider complementing any email messages with timely follow-up phone calls to address any customer concerns directly.
  • 3. Explain your solution to the problem — The sales guy who sent me the message above not only didn’t know enough not to make the mistake in the first place, he also clearly doesn’t have a clue what to do to fix it. Don’t tell your customers to “let you know if there’s something they can do to help you.” Tell them how you’re gonna make sure this problem doesn’t happen again! Be clear about recognizing the cause of the initial problem, and be clear about how you’re changing your processes to ensure it’s solved forever.
  • 4. Offer an olive branch — A simple gesture to make up for an inconvenience often makes the difference between losing and keeping a customer. If you shared someone’s email data by mistake, offer them a free subscription to an email privacy service. It’s a small correctional investment that proves you value the business relationship and are putting your money where your mouth is in terms of rectifying the problem.

    The moral of the story is that a commitment to effective marketing and running a customer-focused business eliminates alot of risk for these kinds of mistakes. A business that looks for dialogue with customers and uses effective marketing practice (that leverages best practices and is compliant with other requirements) has built-in process to manage communication and feedback — making these mistakes less likely. However, it also ensures that when mistakes do get made, there is appropriate process in place to deal with the clean up effectively.

    If you don’t have that kind of commitment to customers in place, don’t become the bad example of the next blog post — charge ahead and correct your process now.

Privacy Mistakes, Part 1

Mistakes are bound to happen, no matter what. In a fast-paced marketing team, details do get missed and things happen that, while ultimately preventable, are inevitable.

Certainly, how you recover and manage damaged relationships is critical in any situation. Sure, there are measured actions to take for crisis control on serious issues. Yet it doesn’t always have to be an enterprise-level problem in order to damage customer relationships, and no matter if the issue is big or small, when measures are taken to resolve the issue it can lead to backlash if not positioned or implemented correctly.

One of the most sensitive issues is the security of data. For purposes of this blog post, let’s say it’s marketing data. Specifically, let’s say it’s your email database. Your customer email addresses are valuable — priceless, even. And surely, your customers would rank the privacy of their data as a pretty high priority. What do you do when, say, one of your sales reps sends out an email to your entire customer list, yet instead of blind copying everyone he makes the email addresses visible to all? That’s what happened to me recently — although, thankfully, the sender wasn’t from my company, my email address was in his list for all to view. Here’s the message I got later in the day:

I would like to sincerely apologize to everyone blind copied here for accidentally delivering a mass email earlier today with your email address visible.

Needless to say, I am deeply embarrassed my error.

If there is something I can do to rectify any inconvenience that my hastiness may have caused, please do not hesitate to let me know.”

Is that sufficient enough a reply for you?

Ponder that question and let me know your thoughts, and I’ll answer the question myself in my next post.

Mass Personalization

We see it all the time, yet we don’t always do it. It’s a critical part of building relationships with customers.

I’m talking about personalization. It really makes a difference.

No, not a simple “Dear Marie” at the start of your email. I mean real personalization that creates relevance. Relevance that leads to great things — engagement, relationships, sales, upsells, etc. Some studies in retail show that as many as 77 percent of consumers report they have made additional purchases when they encountered personalized product recommendations. And there’s no arguing that a significant percentage of customers now expect to be communicated with on a personal and targeted basis, with personalized messaging based on what they’ve done, bought or told you they want.

A significant percentage of consumers not only welcome but expect…personalized experiences and product recommendations.”

Plus, we all know it’s easier and less expensive to reactivate a current customer than to acquire new ones. So why wouldn’t you leverage what you know about your customers to differentiate what you say to them? Each one of them.

To reinvigorate your email campaigns, start by either adding in a personalization element, or better yet supercharging the personalization you already use.

  • 1. Take a look at your data. What do you know about your customers, and how can you organize it to help customize your messaging to them?
  • 2. Reformat your templates to allow for simple personalization like first names in an introduction and meaningful mentions throughout the email. Make it sound genuine and not contrived, however.
  • 3. Begin to add in more relevance-based personalization like purchase history, recommendations and content. Stuff like “since you bought this item last month, you may be interested in this to complement it” or “since you clicked on this article link, you may be interested in this new content too.”

It’s easier than you think. It doesn’t take alot of time. Change your process, organize your data, and put the thought into what makes the most sense from your customer’s perspective. Then charge ahead.