A few months ago, I took a trip to PC World with my Mum to help her buy a new computer. Her old one had finally made its way to the big PC Heaven in the sky after years of service, most of which was spent sending crash reports to Microsoft.
This fairly straightforward shopping trip made me realise how companies are forgetting one of the basics – that the customer experience carries on long after the money has changed hands.
We were in the store for around an hour, which was a fraction of the time spent the following week deleting their deluge of emails, trying to sell me other products that a 70-year-old lady with an interest in the Archers might like. Such as another computer, apparently.
I accidentally stayed at a Novotel recently, too. Since then, they’ve sent me at least one email a week (mistakenly believing I’m my colleague who actually booked the trip), perhaps genuinely believing that I can’t have a restful weekend without ticking ‘find out latest Accor hotel offers’ off my to-do list. I’m all for receiving interesting newsletters, but you selling products isn’t really news (although you failing to sell products because you royally annoy your potential customers may be).
It’s as if PC World and Novotel have mapped their ‘in-person’ customer journey from start to finish, and then happily handed the customer over to the marketing team without a second thought, forgetting that a customer experience – and the perception of a company - starts a long time before and ends a long time afterwards.
And it’s not just newsletters. It’s barely possible to be a customer now without instantly being asked to give feedback to the company on your experience:
Phone up a call centre:
‘Please press 1 to complete our survey, or press 2 to get on with your life’.
Buy something online:
‘How would you rate the experience of navigating through our clumsy attempts to apply behavioural economics theory to our checkout?’
Or even visit my (brilliant) local Indian restaurant:
‘Have a free starter. Now, I need a favour. Have you heard of TripAdvisor?’
Not only do these constant and needy requests for feedback actually create a worse experience, but often they’re wholly unnecessary. For example, last week I phoned up a major phone company and spoke to their sales team about buying a new iPhone. As soon as the call finished, three texts arrived asking me to rate the service. The fact that I didn’t end up buying the phone should be a much better indicator of my satisfaction than a score out of 5.
As usual, it’s the smaller, more independent companies that get it right.
Last year, I bought a new bike from The Scooter Cafe in Maidenhead. A brilliant personal service, no log-in, password, or date of birth required. In the 12 months that followed, I didn’t receive a single marketing email, until my service was due, at which point a completely timely and relevant email appeared.
Or last week, when I finally got around to writing my will. A superb in-home appointment which ended with us being given a box of chocolates as a thank you for doing our business with him, and a polite request to fill in a feedback form to be sent directly to the overseeing professional standards body.
How differently would companies behave if our satisfaction surveys were always sent directly to their regulators, rather than simply used to form part of a weekly PowerPoint deck accompanied by red and green arrows?
Not only are we all receiving a sub-standard experience, but we’re wasting time and energy on dealing with these interruptions and fending off this intrusive and uninvited marketing. A better approach is to remember that nobody cares about your business as much as you do - good advice to keep in mind for companies adopting the over-zealous lets-be-friends-and-email-each-other-every-week approach.
John Sills is a director at The Foundation. If you enjoyed this article, you can find him on Twitter @johnJsills, or sign up to his blog for more of the same