Your customers are people, too

This past week, O2 sent me a text offering me a 40 per cent discount at a Hilton hotel. Barclays also sent me one saying that if I?m stranded abroad, I can call their 24-hour helpline ? I was in the UK at the time. And a minute ago, some random number texted me to say ?our records indicate you may be entitled to ?3,750 for the accident you had?. What accident, I wondered?

These are just a few examples of the many companies, mostly very large ones, that get their marketing communications completely wrong. By treating me as a number rather than a customer and blanket texting in the hope that a small percentage of recipients will respond, they achieve little more than to incur my wrath. Hilton gets a double black mark. I now wonder why, as one of their gold-card holders, I receive a smaller discount than any and every O2 customer?  Barclays also scores an own goal. I was led to understand that their security policy meant they will never text me and that any communication to my mobile should be treated as highly suspicious.

By contrast, I?ve also just received a text reminder about my haircut on Saturday. The text from Headmasters always comes 48 hours before my appointment, with a request that I confirm by texting ?yes? back, which I always do. In October, I?ll receive another text but this one will have something extra ? a ten per cent discount included. How do I know this? It?s my birthday next month and every year, Headmasters gives me a ten per cent discount for my anniversary cut. This is in addition to the 25 per cent discount I receive for being a member of their club (membership is free) ? and I?ve just been entered into their free draw to win a holiday in the Cayman Islands.

I?m flying to Nairobi on Monday to climb Mount Kilimanjaro (to raise funds for lung cancer research) and before I leave for Heathrow, I know I?ll receive three texts from cab company Addison Lee. The first will confirm my booking; the second that my driver is on the way; and finally, one to say my driver has arrived. This last text will state: ?If necessary, feel free to contact your driver on his mobile (number provided). The vehicle is a Ford Galaxy, reg (number provided).?

Headmasters and Addison Lee understand how to use text messages effectively. Headmasters only texts me when it?s relevant and appropriate. Addison Lee understands the stresses their customers experience, particularly on airport runs, and attempts to soothe these with timely, reassuring texts.

It?s surprising that many firms don?t seem to take any notice of customers? preferences, nor learn from previous experiences. Take a walk down any residential street in the UK and you?ll see ?no junk mail? signs on letterboxes; check the permissions on any PC and you?ll most likely find anti-spam settings set to a high level; and apparently, more than 15m people have registered with the telephone preference service to avoid cold calls. How many times do we need to tell big companies to stop bothering us?

If the rules of texting are ignored, you should see what?s going down on Facebook and Twitter. There are hundreds of examples of companies using these sites for sales promotion, applying a blunt-instrument approach to try to generate business rather than build relationships.

Communication is about saying the right thing to the right people in the right way at the right time. This principle is being broken more frequently than ever, it feels. Just because you can text gazillions of people at once, it doesn?t mean you should. Just because it?s cheap to Tweet and use Facebook, it doesn?t excuse your doing so indiscriminately. Treat your customers like human beings ? that?s what they are.

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