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?
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