HOWZ YER URL?
By Denny Hatch
I've been an American Express Cardmember since 1964. As a company that has been in business for a long time, you would think it would have business on the Internet aced. Think again.
I lost my American Express platinum card (for which I pay $300 a year) and wanted to report it. I went on Google and searched both "American Express Platinum Card" and "American Express," and went through screen after screen looking for how to report a lost card. Finally I found an 800 number to report a lost card and dialed it. The recorded message: "You have reached a non-working American Express number. Please consult the back of your card for the 800 number to call."
I found another 800 number and got this recorded message: "Welcome to the American Express Platinum Card. To check on an application for a platinum card, press one. If you wish to apply for a platinum card by phone, press two. If you know your party's extension, press three. For all other information about your account, please call the 800 number on the back of your card."
I finally found someone to help me, but it took a half-hour. Imagine being in a foreign country in an Internet café and under the horrendous stress of a lost card.
American Express has fallen into the trap of the great turn-of-the-century dot-com boom where incompetent techno-dweebs without one iota of marketing know-how have left their prints all over Web sites everywhere, causing well-meaning companies to be seriously hurt.
What else is happening in URLand? You would be astonished at the number of large Web sites that fail to include a physical address, phone number or contact name.
I get the sense that these technology-loving Web designers feel obligated to "protect" the people in a company from unwanted communications, and employers are too lazy or stupid to get involved. Let the angry customers' messages pile up in limbo, goes the thinking, because our executives are too important and too busy running the business.
One organization that understands the Internet is Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington, D.C., that has an amazing Web site. Not only will you find publications, special reports, white papers and opinion pieces, but click on "staff" and you get a complete list of everybody involved and a slew of e-mail addresses. Do you have something to say to former Attorney General Ed Meese? Log on to Heritage Foundation and send him an e-mail. Click on "contact us," and you not only get the physical address, phone and fax numbers, but also directions to the organization's offices. "We want to be bothered," says Heritage's development director, Carsten Walter, the cover subject of this publication's new sibling, FundRaising Success. Walter likes the idea of a dialog with his contributors. Make them feel needed and wanted, he says, and they give more. The foundation recently moved a $25 donor into the $500,000 category. (Hint: This was not accomplished by playing hard-to-get.)
What else are companies (that should know better) doing? I tried to log onto AOL from my hotel room in London, and was told that access was restricted and to call an 800 number in the United States. Several Web sites I have used in the past have upgraded, and I can no longer place an order with my simple browser. Two of them: The Wall Street Journal-Reuters Factiva Archive and Thomas Pink, the upscale (and now uppity) London shirtmaker. Is it smart to allow your techies to decide who may and may not access your services and cost you revenue? I don't think so!
An old rule of thumb: A happy customer will tell three people. An unhappy customer will tell 11 people. That rule is dead. I invite you to see how many people have created hate Web sites. Log onto Google and type in "sucks.com." You will find yourself looking at 10 out of approximately 13,000 entries. Today, an unhappy customer can tell millions.
Has any knowledgeable in-house person looked at your Web site lately? I mean really looked, with the idea of making it friendly to prospects, customers and donors?
Denny Hatch is the author of: "PRICELINE.COM: A Layman's Guide to Manipulating the Media," "Method Marketing," "Million Dollar Mailings" and (with Don Jackson) "2,239 Tested Secrets for Direct Marketing Success." He is a freelance direct marketing consultant, writer and designer. Hatch can be reached at Denny Hatch Associates, Inc., PO Box 63578, Philadelphia, PA 19147; by phone at (215) 627-9103; via fax at (215) 627-6610; by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org; or visit any of his Web sites: www.pricelineandthemedia.com, www.methodmarketing.com, www.jackcorbett.com.