What kind of smell are you leaving behind?

There are three levels of interaction with a customer. If you are stictly a direct mail or online operation, you will never see most customers at all. As a freelancer, I have to “go deep” with a client, but it’s almost always on the phone — so, while I get to know my customer intimately through long, frequent chats, I wouldn’t recognize them on the street. Lastly, if you are, say, a doctor or a retailer, then you operate in the same space as your customer, face to face. You can see, hear, touch and smell them.
Now, the biggest blunder most businesses make is to ignore the lifetime value of a customer. These “future blind” businesses operate as if the current transaction is the only one that matters. So they get short-sighted about the long-term effects of customer satisfaction.
It’s human nature. Most direct response joints will lavishly woo a prospect until he actually orders… and then consider him a nuisance that, oh well, must be sent the product. I can tell you from experience that most clients (in all industries) suck — they will come to a freelancer or vendor desperate and begging for help, promising the moon… and, once the crisis has been handled, will get nit-picky over paying the rest of the fee. In retail, once you buy something, you’re just taking up space in the store.
Businesses treat customers the way a cad treats a date — intense attention and interest, until they get what they want. Then, hell, you can walk home.
Smart businesses never operate this way. They understand that a happy customer will buy again, and again, and again. The lifetime value of a happy customer is a multiple of his first purchase. Often, the first purchase is a “test” buy… and, if he’s satisfied, the next one will be huge.
So it’s important what kind of smell you leave behind, after your prospect becomes a customer. In direct response, even if you never meet your customer, you can still bond with him through your emails, letters, and occasional phone calls. (This is one reason I insist that my clients have long, outrageously generous guarantees on all offers — it forces them to continue “wooing” the customer after he buys.) If you deal more intimately with people, you have even better opportunities to re-establish that critical human connection.
I’m thinking of this as I stew over my second attempt to reach a human being at the “customer service” phone center for Best Buy. I dropped over a grand at the joint, and there seemed to be some suspicious activity on my credit card connected with their online operation. It would be a simple matter to solve, on the phone, with another human being. But no — they’ve installed a robotic system that has NO OPTION in the menu to talk with a live person. Their site chirps about being able to handle all matters on this line… but if what you need is outside the narrow confines of the menu, you’re out of luck, dude. They don’t spell it out, either. You have to figure it out, after putting in your time: You ain’t never gonna speak to a real person.
I like Best Buy, I really do. It’s a cornucopia of electronic gear, with at least moderately helpful staff, non-gougy prices, and — important for me — lots of stuff in inventory. And, if it’s not in the store, you can just pop online and order.
But you cannot reach a human being after the sale. I suppose I could haul myself down to the store, find the right line to stand in, and eventually get some sort of answer. But that leaves a bad “smell”, and it ain’t good customer service. That smell is even worse because of the forty minutes of frustration on the phone trying in vain to find a way around the robot. (Come to think of it, I’ll bet the store won’t handle something done online. I may just be paranoid, but I can clearly envision the conversation: “Sorry, we can’t help you if you ordered through our Web site. But we do have a great customer service phone number…”)
I’m just venting here. I discuss it further in the latest issue of the Rant, because it’s important. We shouldn’t have to be reminded that every customer still has us on “probation” after each sale… but it’s in our nature to want to take the money and run. And that’s wrong, both on a karmic level and a pure Operation MoneySuck level. It’s a lesson that needs to be learned the hard way.
Sure, I’ll bet the geniuses at Best Buy did the numbers, and decided that not having live operators saved a bundle. But I just started exploring new places to buy computers and other massive mounds of electronic gear, after being left at the altar one too many times by my former “go to” place. Best Buy seemed like a relationship that could have gone on happily for a while… until they made me walk home after the first date. (Okay, I’m through with the romance metaphors.)
Show me the place that will sell me what I want, and be there afterward when I need to cuddle (sorry, couldn’t resist), and that’s where I’ll be spending my money.
I’ve got a lot to spend, and I’ve got many more years left to be wanting new electronic gear. They had their shot, and they blew it. Does anyone know of a place that understands the need for some hand-holding after an electronics sale?

John Carlton

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  • RobFromGa says:

    Customer no-service is a big area of opportunity for a bunch of companies. On the Friday after Thanksgiving, I purchased over $1000 worth of items from Staples that were on-sale that one huge shopping day with large rebates. (big flat screen monitor, photo printer, digital camera stuff, etc) The equipment all arrived quickly and I put in for my “easy rebates”. Then the horror started………….

    I started getting inbound email messages by the boatload about my “invalid rebate dates” and how they were all invalid. Since we were talking about $300 in rebates, I tried the email service people and they expressed that this was a computer bug and that it would be resolved in a matter of three days– not to worry………

    I continued to get email notifications about my invalid rebate dates at least five per day just to remind me of how incompetent they are. Since my email was not resolving the problem, I waded into phone hell and called the customer service line. At first they just assured me that it would be taken care of soon, and not to worry…………

    Finally after three weeks of not fixing the rebates, I got on the phone and they told me that the rebates department was outsourced and that they were unable to solve the problem with the software, so my option was to return the stuff because my rebates were not gonna happen. After telling him that I couldn’t believe that the CEO of Staples would really want to allow the outsourced rebate department to throw away a good sale (and a great office supplies customer) in this competitive environment (OfficeMax, OfficeDepot, plus all the big box electronics stores like Best Buy)…………

    I was assured that the CEO was aware of the problem and that there was nothing else that could be done to make the rebates work right. I told them to pick the stuff up. After ten days, they finally came and got it yesterday……………

    They are imbeciles as far as customer service goes.

  • Joe C says:

    Hey John,

    First, I’d like to say I think you’re a great teacher and philosopher of copy and life, please don’t go anywhere. I’ve recently lost almost everything except for my 2 beautiful children. I hit the rocks in this game of life with some bad business decisions. My wife had seen enough and booted me. I can’t really blame her, but I do. She wanted a more stable life, I don’t really know that kind. I’m keeping a positive out look, I must for my kids. I’ve stopped thinking about the past, and previous mistakes that brought me to my big speed bump. I just think ahead to an exciting new career.

    Anyway, I have two Questions, first: I’ve always loved business and I’ve had some success in the past on a small level, and I’m not an idiot, so do you have any tips on starting a Marketing Consulting business targeting small local businesses. I truly have that “gun to the head” mentality. Im 45 and I have to bounce-back big and fast. My second Q is: I’m immersing myself in direct marketing and copywriting the past few months, doing what you and Gary say. I really can’t afford any of the products you guys sell at this moment. I bought all the classic books and study and copy them. I must do this on a shoe-string. I cut off everything, Success is my only option, failures not. So this means no girlfriends, no SEX, (that ones a killer) no TV. Nothing but studying this interesting career, and taking time for my kids and I cut that back as well. I’m banking everything on what you and Sir Gary Halbert proclaim…that if you become very good at direct marketing and copywriting…(there will be “99 Beautiful Virgins” waiting for me. Ok, Ok I’m a little horny at this point.) plenty of lucrative work out there. I know it won’t happen over-night and it will be a lot of and is hard work

    Please fill me in if there are any other requirements. I haven’t much money left and feel this is my last shot at the true American dream. Going to work at my age for some one else is a thought that keeps that “gun to the head” mindset.

    Joe C.

    I’m listening to the Allman Brothers CD ???a decade of hits??? right now, is that not an ass-kicken 16 tunes CD?

  • Yep, I have several companies that could have continued earning hundreds of dollars from my pocket that I canceled because I found what they called “service” offensive (phone companies anyone?).

    However, I also noticed on the other hand – being a small business operator, that even though I treated my customers “good”, I did so only when they contacted me.

    I was kind of a passive recipient. And that business never took of that much, even though most of my clients were very happy with what I delivered.

    Instead of following up with them… I waited for THEM to contact me… without any reminder from my side. And most of my clients have been very busy people.

    I also noticed another avoidance strategy: at one point I’d notice that this customer wouldn’t call me again, even though they were obviously very happy last time (I knew that because they told me and provided me with very generous tips). And I wondered: should I call them? Nah, I said to myself – I don’t want to seem pushy. And besides, if contacting them would be the right thing, I should have done so three weeks ago. Now it’s too late already.

    Looking back it’s so obvious that I was bullshitting myself to stay in my comfort zone. But it’s still a lesson that sometimes I need to talk with people who know business and are willing to give me some honest feedback.

    And more than that – I learned to care more about my customers and to take a very proactive approach to caring about them. So that every contact I have with them leaves them in a better emotional state than the one they experienced immediately before they had contact with me.

  • Jesus Miguel says:

    I don’t know what’s the name of that phenomenon. But it’s true.

    We get what we want, so we get kinda cocky and ignore the other person then.

    It has happened to me a ton in relationships.

    I need to remind myself, to keep in touch or keep the spark turned on.

    Thank you John.

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