Newspaper editor and presidential candidate Horace Greeley once uttered: “Common sense is very uncommon.”
Of course, it takes more than common sense to oversee marketing in today’s increasingly global and digital world. Yet, at the same time, it’s remarkable how often and how profoundly many companies—and their CMOs—trip and fail at the basics of getting customer relationships right. Marketing experts say that several common mistakes, faux pas, and blunders persist, and they’re unlikely to disappear anytime soon. Could you be guilty of any—or all? Just in case you’re interested, here are 10 highly effective ways to piss off your customer and clients—and risk permanently losing their loyalty and business.
1. Web Sites And Mobile Apps That Don’t Work Right
By now, you’d think CMOs would have heard about the popularity of mobile devices. News flash: Sometime in 2013 consumers will click past 50 percent in terms of smartphone and tablet use at Web sites. So one has to wonder why so many sites are so difficult to access and why so much content doesn’t display correctly in browsers? On top of all of this, some companies fail to list phone numbers or conceal them in obscure places. “There is nothing more frustrating as a consumer than going down a rabbit hole and winding up at a dead end,” said Peter Cosco, founder and CEO of marketing consultancy 4Forces Group, in an interview with CMO.com.
Here’s the bottom line: If your site or mobile app makes it difficult to request information, place an order, check on order status, return an item, or obtain assistance, your customers will go elsewhere. Do yourself a big favor: Talk to your IT people and representatives from other departments about designing a Web site that works with all major browsers—Internet Explorer, Safari, Firefox, and Chrome—and across smartphone and tablet devices. Also, if you’re going to go to the trouble of building an iOS or Android app, then make sure it performs as billed in the real world.
2. Serve Up Irrelevant Content And Promotions
Despite seemingly endless discussions and articles about analytics, big data, and transactional marketing, way too many companies continue to spit out content and promotions that completely miss customer touch points. Worse, a lot of the content falls into the severely annoying and “offensive” categories. This is the point where customers click off the Like button in Facebook, unfollow you on Twitter, and unsubscribe from text and e-mail lists.
“Generic and blanketed mass-communications is dead. It’s important to understand the customer’s digital DNA and communicate in a highly relevant and personalized way,” Adobe Systems industry strategist Anoop Sahgal told CMO.com. The focus must be on providing maximum relevance and value. “It is crucial to find a way to create a sense of personal attachment,” he added. In the end, the use of social media, surveys, and ongoing analysis of click behavior and buying patterns can tilt the equation toward greater brand loyalty and buy-in. It can create a marketing environment that benefits everyone.
3. Too Many Exclusions, Too Much Fine Print, And No Way To Use Coupons Or Codes
There’s nothing more irritating for a customer than thinking she has nailed a killer deal and then finding out at checkout that the coupon, promotion, or rebate doesn’t apply. Some retailers include so much fine print on their coupons that they begin to resemble a Congressional bill. Others make things breathtakingly difficult to figure out as a result of arcane language. Or they print coupons valid at company stores but not at franchises—a distinction that totally escapes customers. Still others create loyalty programs that sound great but deliver too little.
For consumers, the equation is simple: confusion equals upset. The best approach is to keep things simple and straightforward, said Peter Krasilovsky, vice president at market research and retail consulting firm BIA/Kelsey. What’s more, marketers must ensure that promotions are available in the area in which advertisements appear. For example, a few years ago a major fast-food chain offered a coupon on Yahoo for a free iced coffee. Alas, the restaurant hadn’t yet opened locations in the western U.S. Others offer online codes that don’t work right or are dead-end links for discounts. “While a coupon or promotion might help build visibility, it can also lead to extremely frustrated consumers if the retailer hasn’t thought through the entire process,” Krasilovsky told CMO.com.
4. Use The Business As A Megaphone For Political Views
Let’s face it: We all have a desire to persuade others that our political and social views are correct. Some companies can get away with promoting causes that are generally embraced by the public. However, savvy CMOs do everything in their power to muffle the mouths of loquacious CEOs and others who feel the need to spout off about controversial issues.
Although Chick-fil-A’s staunch anti-gay stance is perhaps the highest profile example of corporate politics gone wrong—YouGov Brandindex reported a 55 percent decline in its score following inflammatory remarks from former COO Dan Cathy last July—others have taken significant hits. For example, Papa John’s CEO John Schnatter promised he would cut work hours for employees if Barack Obama were re-elected president and Obamacare stood as the law of the land. His firm’s Brandindex score plummeted from 32 to 4, while Applebee’s sank from 35 to 5 after CEO Zane Turkel went on another anti-Obama rant. Stated Adobe’s Sahgal: “It’s never a good idea to alienate a large portion of your customer base. It’s best to keep your mouth shut and focus on the business.”
5. Cheat Customers On Your Brand Promise
The most successful companies understand how to deliver a brand experience that forges a strong sense of loyalty. Think Disney, Apple, Coca Cola, and Starbucks. Unfortunately, a lot of businesses sputter in the execution department. “Customers will generally let slide the fact that you market a product that they see little need for or one that is not particularly differentiated. But not delivering on the brand promise is inexcusable,” said Tim Koelzer, managing partner at marketing consulting firm EquiBrand, in an interview with CMO.com.
In fact, if a customer doesn’t get exactly what’s promised—speed, convenience, product selection, a magical experience, whatever—it calls into question the entire brand campaign experience and opens the door for competitors. Moreover, organizations must deliver a consistent brand experience across all channels and distribution points—and get the entire organization in sync, from sales to support. Said Koelzer: “In the end, it’s better to slightly underpromise and overdeliver. Credibility in marketing is a key to building loyalty.”
6. Treat Your Customers As Though You Don’t Value Them
Somewhere between best intentions and actual staffing, budgets, and IT limitations lies the real world of customer interactions. Don’t tell your customers you value them and then banish them to an automated system or place them on hold for 30 minutes while they wait for a rep. Don’t allow staff to be impatient, condescending, apathetic, or argumentative. Don’t send out canned responses and form letters. And don’t create an inflexible environment where there’s no leeway for resolving disputes.
“There are too many instances of companies that think from the inside-out rather than the outside-in. The customer is actually the last thing they consider when making business decisions,” Jim Lanzalotto, founder and CEO of marketing strategy and outsourcing firm Scanlon.Louis, told CMO.com. The most successful companies understand that any program, technology, or interaction must extend beyond benefits for the enterprise and touch customers in a positive way. Customer interactions are, in the end, an opportunity to build a sustaining relationship. The takeaway for CMOs? Be honest and forthright with customers. In an era of social media and online reviews, there’s no hiding from reality and unhappy customers.
7. Misrepresent Values And Social Causes
If there’s one thing you can bet on, it’s that marketers will respond to any major trend by pandering to consumers. Although companies such as Patagonia, Ben and Jerry’s, Starbucks, and Seventh Generation have made environmental issues and social causes the center of their businesses, many other companies have flooded the market with a barrage of product claims that fall somewhere between questionable and patently false. In fact, greenwashing has reached such severe proportions that several Web sites—including Terrachoice and Greenpeace—regularly call out companies for what they consider to be false claims.
Unfortunately, persistent and ongoing greenwashing—as well as misrepresenting corporate values, programs, and causes—chips away at overall corporate credibility and leaves a business exposed to social media and PR debacles. The same thinking applies to inevitable marketing mistakes and screw-ups. “If a company tries to put a positive spin on an event and misrepresents what happened, they are going to take a big hit,” 4Forces Group’s Cosco said. Today, honesty, transparency, and authenticity rule. No exceptions.
8. Treat All Of Your Customers Equally
Remarkably, many businesses act as though every customer is equal. The person who spends $10,000 a year gets slotted into the same sales and support queues as the person spending $100. Worse, the business offers new customers and inactive customers stellar promotions while the most loyal customers don’t receive any love. There are two problems with this approach: The inferior customer winds up expecting more (and demanding disproportionate resources), and the loyal customer winds up getting less—all while growing more resentful.
Today’s analytics tools deliver detailed snapshots of customers, Sahgal said. “You have to use the information to create different tiers and then use the data to market and serve different customer segments,” he said. At the heart of the problem: organizational silos and a lack of communication between business and IT functions. “It’s critical to understand your customers, create optimal rules and processes, and ensure that they’re embedded in workflows and IT systems,” Sahgal added. Take a cue from the airline and hospitality industries and establish customer tiers. Then create perks and rewards for your preferred customers.
9. Don’t Give Customers Any Control Over Their Preferences Or Data
Unfortunately, a lot of businesses take a heavy-handed approach to customer preferences. They decide how often a customer will receive catalogs in the mail, the frequency and content of e-mails, and with whom the company will share customer data. They also decide which channels customers will use for sales and support—in some cases eliminating the option of phone calls. Not surprisingly, many of these companies also make it somewhat inconvenient to change settings or opt out of data sharing with partners.
It's critical to think how customers think and make an earnest attempt to understand their point of view when creating processes, procedures, and workflows. Lanzalotto suggested letting customers click to their online profiles or accounts and choose which marketing materials they want to receive and how often they want to receive newsletters and e-mail or text ads. Also, let them manage their privacy settings and easily opt out of data sharing with affiliates. Over the long run, you will wind up with customers who feel as though the company respects them, values the relationship, and accommodates their preferences.
10. Consider Yourself Smarter Than Your Customers
A great way to burn through customers and imperil the bottom line is to devalue their opinions, ideas, and suggestions. Of course, it’s impossible to incorporate every good idea into products and services. But marketing is more than the sum of ideas emanating from meetings and retreats. It also transcends product features, packaging, focus groups, and catchy slogans. The ability to analyze social media streams, online reviews, e-mails, and letters from both happy and dissatisfied customers goes a long way toward gleaning nuances, understanding trends, and building the best possible product and marketing strategy. CMOs must also crumple silos and work with other executives to streamline workflows, ensure that programs and polices are applied in a uniform way, and promote staff training and development.
The end goal is to create consistency that echoes through the brand and plays out at every customer touch point. Said Cosco: “Customer relationships are a two-way street. They are always based on mutual understanding and respect.”