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Why are you not putting your customer first...?

Dr Simon Davey reflects on his experience adjudicating as an Independent Commissioner in the field of direct marketing...



The heart of the direct marketing Code is “Put Your Customer First” – it usually applies but as ever the devil is in the detail and the three underlying outcomes (below) are not always realised:

  • Customers receive a positive and transparent experience throughout their association with a company
  • Customers receive marketing information that is relevant to them and reflects their preferences
  • Customers receive prompt, efficient and courteous service

Customer journeys (and an individual customer’s experience of those journeys) are critical to how a business and brand are perceived. It’s easy to make, or perpetuate, a minor mistake which causes a major issue for an individual. Think of the customer journey as a train journey – every so often there will be an unexpected and unforeseen problem for which passengers will understand. But ‘leaves on the line’ and ‘signal problems’ are neither unforeseen nor unexpected.

In the new age of GDPR, customers are told they have control of their data, and control of the information you send them;  something which increases their expectations;  Inability to amend preferences;  inability to unsubscribe and pushing responsibilities onto the customer are not going to win you friends but rather cause you brand enemies.

Brand enemies in today’s networked world can be costly. Social media amplifies word of mouth (and creates its own PR headaches;  costing time and money to resolve). The power of online communities might cause more disruption than a regulator could or would. If you’re playing outside the lines you probably don’t care;  if you’re trying to be good, you almost certainly should.

So what are your ‘leaves on the line’ or ‘signal problems’?

Am I actually unsubscribed?

Subscriptions are a matter of choice and the customer or prospect retains the right to unsubscribe. It is one thing to unsubscribe and another to know that you have been unsubscribed and have evidence of it. You need a clear and explicit unsubscribe channel (and ideally a mechanism to pick up stray unsubscribe requests which might not start from the right location). It would save frustration on all sides to have a mechanism for confirming this back to a customer (via email, text or otherwise).

A customer who doesn’t want to hear from you, and is likely to hear from you whilst the request works its way through your systems, can get mightily irritated that you either didn’t receive the request - or worse still blindly ignored it. In 2018, there is no excuse for not acknowledging a request, leaving a customer hanging and not managing expectations.

There’s also a concern about outdated helpline numbers or email addresses. The old helpline should resolve the mistaken channel through personal contact or a recorded message, pointing the customer in the right direction, and the email address should do the same. How hard is it to use an autoresponder when the consequence of not doing so is dealing with a formal complaint and adverse PR? This isn’t about regulatory obligations, it’s about respecting customers and keeping the journey as straightforward as possible.

Take money in hours, repay in weeks

As customers, we expect to be debited for products and services when they are provided (or despatched). If we return a product or cancel a service, we have similar expectations;  yet ‘returns’ services can take weeks to process administration. A customer is left with a hole in their pocket and nothing to show for it.

It is fair for a company to need ‘proof’ of return (either tracking information or the physical return of goods) but the resources invested in managing returns are often inadequate. The company retains funds, puts the issue down to administrative difficulties and the customer is left hanging and poorer with often very little communication in the meantime. For poor or vulnerable customers this can be devastating. The lack of connection between returns processing and customer service helplines often means customers who do chase up delays in repayment get very little comfort or useful updated information.

Telephone bingo – press 3 to give yourself a headache and a tedious meander to a dead end

It is unlikely to be cost-effective to have a human being answer every call;  but as an industry we can do much better with automated answering systems and menu choices. A customer may be in a state of emotional distress when they contact you, so complex and misleading menus only serve to increase frustration. Not enough thought goes into designing the journeys and paths these menus take;  and consequently, when customers do end up talking to someone, they are even more frustrated and irritated (especially if they’ve had to wait 30 minutes without a call back option).

Better-designed menu options with clearer paths and a simple way to jump to speaking to a human would save an awful lot of stress and frustration.

It’s not me, it’s them

Anyone who has recently moved house will be used to receiving mail for the previous occupant. A simple ‘no longer at this address’ or ‘moved away’ marked on the envelope and then popped in the postbox ought to do the trick. Yet it doesn’t. Whether because of ineffective or painfully slow returns / ‘gone away’ processing, or the lack of connection between different divisions of the same perceived ‘brand’, it can prove painfully difficult to remove the old occupier’s name from a mailing list. Whilst some of us might just recycle (whilst recognising the waste of money and resources to send that communication in the first place), it’s a growing source of annoyance to many. And as is often pointed out, why should I waste my time processing your inaccurate marketing whilst you ignore my offer to correct and clean up your database?

What to do about it

If you truly know your customer; if you are tracking all the issues and complaints (formal, informal and those which are unreported but visible online through social media); you probably know where to concentrate your attention. Winning customers is important, retaining them even more so but politely ‘breaking up’ with them is even more critical, if you don’t want to end up in the equivalent of a messy divorce which gets irritating, expensive and time- consuming.

So fix those signals, clear those leaves and let’s put the customer at the heart of the journey once again so they feel they are ‘first’.









Dr Simon Davey - Independent Commissioner, Direct Marketing Commission

Dr Simon N. Davey
Omega Alpha Limited
Tel: 07958 292990 or 020 8249 3106
23 Henry Street, Bromley, BR1 3JB

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