When is it good to inconvenience the customer?

bad customerserviceWhen is it OK to make customers jump through hoops? When they are still a prospect? After they have become a customer? 

Ecommerce sites are all about making buying easy. In fact I’d say that was a pretty good mantra for any online communication where there is a desired outcome. Make buying/responding/taking part/commenting/ unsubscribing/ whatever it is you want someone to be able to do … easy.  

Of course there are exceptions. Marketers come up with various strategies to create demand, or urgency, or brand cachet by (for example) limiting availability, delaying a launch, hiking up a price, requiring a complex sign-up. Some do it for other reasons – to filter out timewasters or unsuitable candidates, for example.But the majority of inconveniencing that often goes on is rarely this sophisticated. Sometimes it’s the result of incompetence, not listening to the customer’s needs, poor use of resources or penny-pinching. Companies that can’t deliver on time or via a channel that suits the customer, websites that are broken, firms with limited opening hours or who don’t have an email address. You know the kind of thing.

Then there are the other kinds of deliberate (sometimes dressed up as ‘strategic’) obstruction tactics. Making the customer travel the entire store to get to the checkout even if they’ve only come in for one thing (hello Ikea), or placing escalators so you have to walk through each floor to get to the next one. Or how about the speakers at conferences who send you to a URL to get the handout, but you can only download it if you give your email and allow them to market to you (yes this really did happen to me recently) or all those utilities providers who are very quick to answer the (free phone) sales line, but if you want customer service you hold the line for thirty minutes, get cut off and never speak to the same person twice.

I suggest it’s also down to lack of joined-up thinking. In large organisations there often seems to be no connection made between happy customers and sales. Sales is sexy but customer service is a drag. Sales figures are easy to understand, customer satisfaction and how it relates to actual revenue, less so. The sales, marketing and customer services teams may be different departments and have different job responsibilities, but as far as the customer or prospect is concerned, those differences don’t exist. They want it to be easy for them to do the things they want to do – not just the things you want them to do.

Nothing wrong with jumping through a hoop or two once in a while – obstructions can increase the desire – like Groucho Marx once quipped, “I wouldn’t want to be a member of a club that would have me.” But not when it makes the customer feel their needs, their time and their desires have no value, are irrelevant and not respected.

Whatever you want to call it – sales/customer service/re-sales/relationship building  - can we please all try to make it easy. Even the negative stuff like unsubscribing or complaining. In fact especially that stuff.

Image: from The Vinyl Anachronist

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