Is Our Marketing Creating the Perfect Irate Customer?

Posted: September 14, 2010 in Culture, Passion, Retention
Tags: , , ,


The irate customer is our own creation.

I have faced customers and members spitting mad, so mad I thought they may be on the verge of a cardiac event (we have an AED on site).  I usually smile — not patronizingly, simply because I know they are right.  Unreasonable?  Yes.  Delusional? Sometimes.  Insulting?  Occasionally.  Wrong?  Not always.  The customer may not always be “right”, but when they are “wrong” it may be our doing, not theirs.

When a customer “loses it” the event is a great time for organizational introspection.  Peeling back the layers of the rotten onion and what do we usually find — we created an expectation that was not delivered.  Kind of like the CSI of customer service failure.  In a membership organization like ours we live and die by member attrition and retention.  They are our lifeblood, our fans, donors, advocates, evangelists, end-users and our finest critics.

Absolutely everything we do is marketing.  The program starting late, broken bottle in the parking lot, dirty restrooms, inattentive welcome staff, broken equipment — it is all marketing.  The gap between expectations and actual experiences occurs in our marketing/advertising message and through our delivery.  We must live in and master that gap.  It is where we will thrive.

“It is 12 times more expensive to gain a new customer that keep a current customer”…BLAH, BLAH, BLAH!!!  Who really cares, if you’re marketing a mansion and serving up a double-wide you’ll have neither.

We must lead by expectations, just as we lead the experience.  “Your call is very important to us…”  Then why isn’t anyone talking to me?  I am absolutely convinced that the line about the call be recorded for customer service monitoring is to prevent nuts like me from really going off.

“The ad said.”  “Your flier states.”  “Your promotion reads.”  Fine print?!  Darn, the line to use the Haldron Collider (world’s largest microscope) was too long and I couldn’t use it read the fine print.  In the last nanosecond of the TV commercial I was supposed to read that there is only one model available at that price with those features?  And it’s in Yuma?  And it was only for sale for 17 minutes on the 2nd Thursday of the month only if my last name ended “Q”?  Oh, but you can show me a similar model, different color, no features, different brand, and no warranty?  No thank you and I didn’t know there was such a thing as upgraded AM HD radio.  We sit back comfortably righteous knowing that if they’d taken the time to read the fine print or didn’t have such high expectations they would know we’re right.  Wrong.  We’d have time to sit back because we would have no one to serve.  I tell my staff that if it won’t fit in a text message (or a tweet – 140 characters) we will not advertise it or promote it.  Keep it simple.

If you are promising the world.  Deliver it. Otherwise get real.

Ads I’ve spied this month:

You won’t find lower prices, ever. (make a bet)
Take 10 years off today. (botox sign – can I select which years?)
Lose 25 lbs. in a week. (cutting limbs off?)
We drive a hard bargain. (you’re tough to negotiate with?)
We are the cheapest in town. (is it safe?  is it stolen?)

What if we kept it real?  What if our advertising matched what we could deliver?  Marketing our true selves.

You won’t be ready for the runway, but we’ll make sure you can handle the stairway.
Bikinis aren’t for all of us so we’ll have you swimsuit ready in 12 weeks.
Stop chasing a six pack, we’ll help you lose the keg.
Participating in our family programs won’t make you a better family, but you’ll sure have fun…together.

Under promise and over deliver?  No.  Promise what you can deliver.

An irate customer we’ve only had a brief relationship with is our fault.  We communicated an expectation that we would not or could not deliver.

Keep it real.  Keep your customers.

Photo by: Frank Stein

  1. Customers will be irate no matter what if they decide to.

  2. Love this: Under promise and over deliver? No. Promise what you can deliver.

    Especially in today’s economy, people are still spending their money, but they have higher expectations now for the service they get for that money. It is up to all of us to deliver on that expectation. Thanks for the reminder.

  3. I would love to spend my money with a business that could take itself lightly (with hilarious ad copy above as an example) and my investment seriously! This was incredibly relevant and I wish everyone with customers would read it!

  4. This was an amazing article, thanks so much for posting!

  5. The best way to avoid irate customers is to set forth realistic expectations from the beginning. It also helps to have some sort of action plan on paper that you can provide to them for further reference. This would explain the planned course of action as well as any potential mishaps. Having something palpable such as a doc, makes customers feel more secure and is more likely to prevent unnecessary customer service calls.

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