How to get rid of those pesky customers

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Melissa Hoffmann, news editor, Direct Marketing News
Melissa Hoffmann, news editor, Direct Marketing News

As a marketer, your ultimate goal is to drive away current customers and repel new prospects, right?

No? What is that you say? You want the opposite of that? Well, if that's the case, you may want to take a gander at the latest report from Pitney Bowes, in which consumers surveyed in the U.S. and European Union weighed in on which marketing activities draw them closer to a brand — as well as those that send them running away.

I know you're busy, so let me break it down for you.

  1. Is it difficult for you to modify your website to address consumers by their first names? This type of web personalization got high marks from consumers, with 59% saying that they appreciated the personal touch (Let's not tell them that this can easily be automated, OK?) It's also a big deal for transactional websites, as it may help to reassure Jane and John Consumer that you're a safe place from which to purchase in the Wild West of the Web.
  2. This seems a pretty obvious faux pas, but it bears mentioning: Offers from third parties are considered an unwelcome intrusion by almost (83%) everyone.
  3. Good customer service on the phone is valuable, but a fine line must be drawn. A surprising 70% of consumers surveyed said they don't like call center reps getting too chummy.
  4. Important for you email marketers out there: You may want to dial down the frequency of those email blasts. Eighty-nine percent of consumers said they don't want weekly emails. However — and this is great for you, embattled Postal Service, so listen up — 74% of consumers said they would like to receive a special offer in their mailbox at least once a month.
  5. Customer forums. Everyone's got ‘em, but how are you using yours? Forums should be used for customer service, not marketing. Surprisingly, it seems consumers can tell the difference, as 81% said to keep marketing messaging out of that dialogue.
  6. Do conduct customer feedback surveys — they're appreciated by three-quarters of consumers, and it's a great way for a brand to see what's working and what doesn't. Double win!

Two other major “don'ts” seem to me to be common sense brand conversation-killers. First, Pitney Bowes says not to ask consumers to donate to your brand's charity. Eighty-four percent of those surveyed said they don't think a brand should appeal to them for donations, and if it's less than likely to be successful — and could drive customers away from your brand — why bother? Target a different audience for that.

Finally, says the report, don't ask your consumer or prospect to create their own homepage. I'm not really even sure what that means in this context, but if you figure that out, I guess it's best if you avoid that tactic, as 69% of those surveyed knew what this meant and knew they didn't like it.

I have some marketing pet peeves to add to this list, as I live somewhat of a double life as journalist covering the marketing industry and die-hard consumer (50% off of something I don't and won't ever need? Sign me up!). For one, fine-print caveats suck. I got a direct mail piece for a free massage — and I love massages, so this medical massage facility had me targeted perfectly — except that when I showed up, I found out there was a transactional prerequisite in something like 2-point font at the back bottom of the offer. I wasted my time and a Metrocard swipe, and was forever lost to this marketer as a prospect.

Crappy customer service is unfortunately quite common, but with the level of competition these days, marketers should be very focused on the quality of these communications. We consumers love personalization and personalized attention. Recently, a small company in Brooklyn that makes art out of vinyl albums failed to respond for several days to an inquiry I made about an order that had been placed and paid for. After ignoring several emails, a phone call, a text and actually deleting a Facebook post in which I appealed for information on my order, the owner contacted me to berate me for not being more patient. “We're not Amazon!” he said. Clearly not. But to expect a consumer to wait for seven days for a response to a simple question about delivery time is bonkers. And to finally respond in such a negative way is quite self-destructive. For this small and apparently struggling business, it meant not just a refunded sale. A prospective customer — and that customer's connections — were lost forever.

Targeted search ads are valuable as a marketing tool, as they provide content relevant to the consumer. But this can backfire when the ads seem to be making assumptions about you — especially if those assumptions don't really apply. For example, a friend of mine is a lesbian, and I used my laptop to help her navigate two popular dating websites. Another friend is having a baby, and I did a bazillion baby gift searches via Google before settling on a gift certificate for the freshly minted tot. I just happen to be heterosexual and childless, so it's kind of annoying to keep seeing ads that reference loneliness (obviously the result of searching dating websites), the cure for my loneliness (a woman, who I will supposedly find on one of these dating websites), and my nonexistent fetus. I'm sure this new technology will evolve and become more consistently and appropriately targeted, but right now, some marketers are likely paying a lot to serve me quite irrelevant online advertising.

Among the other things that annoy this particular consumer are difficult opt-outs, overly frequent emails (I know we discuss once-a-week emails above, but some brands have emailed me several times a week until I opted out), and excessive social media use (I have Facebook “liked” brands or followed them on Twitter or Foursquare, only to be forced to un-like them because my feeds became glommed with marketing messaging). There's a fine line between engaging consumers and driving them batty. Restraint is important.

Did I miss anything? Did Pitney Bowes? Did any of these suggestions surprise you? Be sure to share your thoughts in the comments!

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