Personalization, personalization everywhere and not a drop to drink

There’s no doubt about the fact that personalization has changed the landscape for direct marketers. We’re helping companies achieve a robust return on investment every day with personalized acquisition and retention campaigns.

I would argue, however, that personalization is beneficial everywhere in an organization. For me, this recently became very apparent. I received an automated voicemail on my home phone from my cable company (redacted because when I say the name now, I usually precede it with an expletive). The message said, “This is an urgent message from [CableCo] about the status of your account. You must call us within 24 hours. Our office hours are 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday to Friday. This is urgent. Please call.”

It was past 8 p.m. but, robocall or not, it was concerning. Had there been some issue I was unaware of? Maybe even identity theft? Who knew. It was only later when I checked the pile of mail on the hall table that it became clear the “issue” was more mundane. Sure enough, there was a bill from [CableCo] and it showed last month’s bill as past due. Yep, missed a payment. I paid the bill online that night and planned on calling [CableCo] in the morning to explain, apologize and ask them to please remove the late charge if they would. So far, embarrassing, but not terrible.

I should point out here that I have had the same cable company for well over 10 years. My understanding is that the number one issue in the telecommunications business is churn. I’d say that with the cable bill always going up and our longevity, we probably qualify as a “good,” if not loyal, customers. On top of that, I’ve never missed a payment before. Ever. Chalk it up to the frugal Midwestern upbringing, but I think most companies would actually appreciate our business.

My morning call to them was first greeted with intense scrutiny and security questions. OK, I don’t know the secret password (who does?) so they can’t speak to me. I was finally able to explain that they don’t have to talk, just listen. I don’t want information; I want to give it. I explained that the bill had been paid and asked that they remove the late fees. End of conversation.

Tuesday afternoon. Identical automated voicemail. OK, computer systems cross in the mail. Wednesday, same thing. When I call Thursday, after another round of security questions for which I still don’t know the answers. I explain everything all over again, at which point the woman verifies that indeed the companies showed the bill as paid and that they would reverse the late charges. Yeah!

Saturday my “Notice of Service Suspension” arrives in the mail. I have to admit, there’s nothing like a threatening letter to make you feel like a valued customer.

Now, I know companies need to save money and automated calls save money. But how about adding some personalization to recognize, even in an automated call, that I pay my bills and this is most likely a simple error? I know companies need to be paid. Collections are important. But how about setting up rules to identify the difference between customers, so the process of collections is personalized based on payment history?

More than anything, I know companies need customers, particularly ones who pay their bills regularly and stay with them even through weekly offers from the competition. I know [CableCo] has records of my payments. I know they know how long I’ve been a customer. I know they can make decisions based on this information. Maybe if they’d used the information they had, they could have personalized this experience and received a much more positive reaction from me.

Should personalization be used everywhere? I would ask my [CableCo], but I’m busy considering an alternative.

John Sisson is president of Universal Wilde. Learn more about Universal Wilde via the company’s blog.

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