Creative Corner-Play the "Be Your Own Customer" Game (1,128 wor
When you live every aspect of your business from your customers' perspectives, you can't help but thrill them and prevent potential trouble, even before they complain or defect.
There are many examples of companies that need to play the "Be Your Own Customer" (BYOC) game. Here are just a few.
Last month, one of our clients, a hotel owner, was in our office discussing the response to a specific direct mail program. I suggested we dial his hotel's 800 number to get first-hand knowledge of the customer experience. I made the call and inquired about rates and availability for a particular weekend.
The rep was courteous, and the call was going well—until I asked for more information. The rep connected me to the sales department, where I heard this recording: "The office is open 9 to 5. Please call back tomorrow." Click. I looked at my watch. It was 4:45 p.m.
The client was upset. The operator should have made sure someone was in the department to accept my call. The recording shouldn't have instructed me to call back, and my call shouldn't have been disconnected by the machine.
The point is, by going through this process, we realized that both good prospects and good customers were falling by the wayside.
Stuck in Cyberspace
Here's one of my pet peeves: Why doesn't a company put its customer service phone number on the online order form? This has happened to me many times: I'm online and ordering product. I complete the form ... but wait, something's wrong. Maybe a promotional code isn't working, or I make a typo on a product number.
Now here's the problem: To get the customer service phone number, I'll lose the information I've put in the order form. What's even worse are companies that don't even have a phone number on their sites, just a form to complete with questions that are sent via e-mail. It stops me from ordering, and I leave the site. Business gone.
Rewards Programs that Aren't Very Rewarding
My partner, Charlie Mason, flies to the Caribbean on a particular airline a few times a year. One day he got a dividend miles credit card so he could build his mileage. He characterizes his following experiences as "entirely customer unfriendly."
After only two purchases—totaling less than $200—an airline rep called to say there might be security issues with his card. They asked him 15 security-related questions. He made only two charges for a modest amount on the new card.
But here's the kicker: When he got his statement, he discovered the interest was in the 20- to 30-percent range, and there were penalties for almost everything. Charlie wrote the airline to say it was not being served well by its association with a bank that would charge such rates. He cut up his card.
These problems could have become apparent to the company's marketers if they simply played BYOC.
How to Play
Step 1: The Drop
Be a seed on your own direct mail list. When you get the piece, imagine you've never seen it before. Look at it like a discerning prospect would.
n Would you even open it? Is the envelope inviting? Is this the kind of mail that gets opened standing in front of the mailbox, at the kitchen table, relaxing in bed or in front of the trash can?
n When you do open the piece, is it inviting to read? Is the type large enough? Is the copy compelling? Do the bullet points and cross heads sound interesting? Does the offer jump out? Is the offer relevant and appealing?
n If you're not in the target market for your mailings, put together an informal focus group of people who are. Get their thoughts on your direct mail promotions.
n Do you feel secure about the company that's sending you this solicitation? Does it look like a real company? Is there a phone number, a street address or P.O. box, and an URL? Who is the letter from, and what is this person's title?
n Is the order form clear? Do you feel excited about ordering?
n Does the mailing represent your company and your brand? Is the tone and look consistent with your advertising and promotional materials?
Step 2: The Order
To get the full customer experience, order your product in every way your customers do: phone, fax, mail and online. Call your 800 number. Be a pest, and ask questions, such as: "How long will delivery take?" "Can it be sent as a gift?" "Does it come in a lighter shade of blue?" Is the rep courteous or a bit annoyed? It's important to get a sense of how a typical CSR handles everyday questions. Are you put on hold, and if so, for how long? Does the person with whom you speak have access to a supervisor who can answer more difficult questions? Are they upselling, offering you specials of the day and items that go with the item you're buying? Could they be doing this?
Fax orders. Don't be too neat when writing on the order form. Are you contacted for clarification of your order and sent a confirmation by fax?
Mail orders. When you mail in your order, use a check instead of a credit card. Any problems encountered?
Online orders. Does the site represent the company and the brand? How easy is it to find what you're looking for and to order? What kind of customer support is available, and is it enough? Is there a guarantee? Does it explain how long fulfillment will take? Do you receive an e-mail confirmation of your order?
Step 3: The Delivery
Now you've got the goods. How long did fulfillment take for each order channel? How does the product look? Is it well-packaged, fresh and clean? Is there a "thank you for your order" note enclosed? Is there a bounce-back offer enclosed? Is the receipt easy to understand?
Step 4: The Return
Return or exchange what you've ordered. Are there instructions for this, and are they clear? Is all the necessary information there, such as how long it takes to get your card credited? How does your company handle the credit for the item you paid for by check?
How did you do? I have a special offer for the first 10 people who e-mail me their results. If you see weak spots, I'll give you a free, one-hour, lunchtime Direct Marketing Boot Camp here in New York. Or we can do it in a conference call if you work outside of New York.
LOIS K. GELLER is president of Mason & Geller Direct Marketing, a full-service direct response agency. She can be reached at (212) 697-4477, or via e-mail at