Thursday, May 17, 2007

Stop Talking to Your Customers

That's right. Just stop. Shut up. At least, if you have nothing to say that they care about.

In the last week, I've gotten two phone calls on my cell phone that make me not want to be somebody's customer.

The first came from the local Volkswagen dealer where I've taken my car for service. It was a recording telling me that their records show that I was due for service soon, and asking me to remember to schedule an appointment.

That's not a bad reasont to contact a customer, but it's a horrible reason to call them on the phone. Especially in an age where more and more people (including me) use mobile phones as their primary phones.

Interrupting my work day to tell me that I have to take my car in for service makes me never want to go back to that dealership, because frankly, with all the interruptions in a day, I don't want somebody who adds another low-value disruption to day. Really, a postcard would have worked just fine.

Today, it was Allstate. Why did they call me? Just to remind me that I'm their customer.

Seriously. No policy renewal coming up, nothing. Just, "Hi, thanks for being our customer! Call us if you need anything!"

This was worth derailing my train of thought while I was in the middle of something important?

The thinking behind this seems to be, "We have your phone number so we can call you when we feel like it, whether you want to hear from us or not." And what can we do? You can't drop your car off for service and not give them a phone number. Your insurer does need to be able to contact you, because it might be something important.

The VW dealer did get an email telling them to never, ever, ever call me again unless it had to do with my car being there for service. The Allstate call told me I could press 5 if I wanted my agent to contact me, and I did press 5; if he actually follows up, he will get an earful.

But meanwhile, fellow marketers: the next time you are about to launch some kind of customer communication, ask yourself these questions:

  • Does this have any value to the customer, or will they not care, or find it annoying?
  • Is this the right channel for this? Should this message arrive by phone, or email, or postal mail?

If your answers have to do with your interests, not your customers', just stop. They probably don't want to hear it.

Here's how both of the interactions that bugged me could have been turned into positives:

  • A postcard from the VW dealer reminding me that regular service is important, and offering me $ 10 off if I brought the car in on one of their slower days (a way for them to manage their workflow better). Good for me, good for them.
  • A mailer from Allstate thanking me for being their customer which included a quick hurricane preparedness checklist - this is Houston and June 1 is approaching. Yes, I can do my hurricane season shoppping on my own and I will, but a reminder is nice, and would leave me thinking mildly positive thoughts about them.

It's not that hard to come up with something useful to offer your customers, or to figure out the right way to get it in front of them. Invest a little thought in that before you start reaching out, and you're more likely to please your customers instead of irritating them.

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