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It is URGENT that you give us a call… February 8, 2008

Posted by Elana Anderson in Customer Analytics, Customer Experience, Customer Experience Hall of Fame -- and Shame, Database Marketing, Marketing, Marketing Technology.
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6 comments

Have you noticed an uptick in the number of robot marketing messages that you are getting? I have and it’s making me crazy! For the last several years I have worked from my home office 2-4 days a week. In recent months, the number of calls that I am getting with robot marketing messages has increased dramatically.

Some of the messages are “transactional.” For instance, we get calls from Blockbuster reminding us that we have an overdue movie. But most of the messages are pure marketing. Yes, my phone number is on the DNC list, but these calls are coming from firms with whom I have a “preexisting relationship.” The company I bought my car from, financial services firms I deal with, etc. The most egregious, from my perspective, are the messages that come from my credit card company which go something like this:

Hello, this is Amy from your credit card company! Now, nothing is wrong with your card, but it is URGENT that you contact us immediately to discuss how you can lower your monthly interest rate….

The first of these messages came just after my wallet was stolen last spring (see my post on that descent into customer experience hell). What did I hear? “URGENT that you contact us!” I like to think that I’m a reasonably intelligent person but I must admit that it took me a second to realize I was listening to a pitch, not a customer service call.

It may be legal, but it’s the worst kind of spam

As a marketer, perhaps you’re wondering what’s wrong with this. I’ll tell you. For me as an individual, these messages are highly interruptive, irrelevant, and unwanted — not to mention misleading. If this came to me as an email, I could delete it without a second thought. It would be a little annoying but not annoying enough to write this post. These calls require that I pick up the phone and listen. They take more of my time and attention and they make me mad! 

I am not debating that these calls reach some people that probably consider a lower interest rate to be a very good thing. But, if my credit company bothered to do a very easy query against its customer databsae before teeing up these calls, it would see that I pay off my bill every month and don’t pay finance charges. Therefore, the interest rate is totally meaningless to me. For a company that I know employs fleets of statisticians and has very sophisticated customer analysis, I find this absolutely inexcusable!

Be responsible with this technology

I’m not suggesting that you never use this tactic to reach your customers. I am suggesting that you recognize that the phone channel is one of the most interruptive of channels (just shy of door-to-door sales) and if you choose to implement these automated phone campaigns you need to make sure that you are properly targeting your calls. Some suggestions:

  • Don’t use “preexisting relationship” as carte blanche to call. While it may be legal, there are customers out there that just don’t want the calls, period. I recommend filtering contacts that have registered for the DNC list out of the call list particularly if your list isn’t well targeted to customers for whom the message is clearly relevant.
  • Use data to target the campaign. If you have good customer analysis and response modeling capabilities then, by all means, use them. Even if you don’t, use basic queries to filter the list in order to screen out those customers for whom the message is obviously irrelevant. If you don’t have this capability, then you should not be running these campaigns.
  • Be more genuine in the communication. If you are properly targeting the message, then you can make a more genuine appeal to your customer. Rather than, “it’s urgent that you contact us!” empathize with the customer by saying something like, “we notice that you have been paying high finance charges over the last few months and we want to offer you the opportunity to lower your rate for the next three months…” If I ever do get in a situation in which I am carrying a monthly balance, then this kind of offer would come in handy and I would feel like my credit card company was on my side.
  • Be transparent with Caller ID. I failed to mention above that the calls don’t even have proper Caller ID (most say “unidentified number”). Although the FTC requires that telemarketing calls have proper Caller ID, apparently the rule does not extend to marketing phone calls where a “prior relationship” exists. I believe marketers should take the high road nonetheless and give customers the opportunity to screen the calls.
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