Are You at War With Your Customers?

Traditional marketing is adversarial: the marketer against the customer.

The marketer pays big bucks to hammer you with “impressions.” The more times it hits you, the deeper the impression becomes. Marketers do it to you with TV, they do it to you with billboards, they do it to you with junk mail.

Once a marketer has captured your attention and acquired you as a customer, it’s bye bye Mr. Nice Guy (as if he or she were nice to begin with).

You and your personal details have just become a corporate asset. Marketers will fight you rather than let you go.

Magazines will keep hold of their subscribers by automatically billing your credit card each year, unless you remember to tell them not to.

Cellular phone contracts tie you down with penalties if you want to change carriers. They’ll punish you if you exercise your choice to switch service providers.

Retail stores will entice you with offers like “Don’t Pay for a Year!” Then they’ll immediately sell your debt to a third-party financial institution that could care less about you as a “customer” and issues threatening letters the moment your debt comes due.

Traditional marketers will entice you, persuade you, even mislead you. It’s war out there.

The trouble is, marketers can get away with that only if their customers are isolated, unconnected, and have no voice. Online, millions of customers are just beginning to clear their throats for the first time. They’re discovering that they do have a voice and that they are connected and can aggregate their opinions with millions of others.

So if you’re doing business online and are still using that well-thumbed copy of “Marketing Is War” — or whatever other aggressive title your favorite marketing book may have — beware.

Here are four symptoms that indicate you’re at war with your customers online…

  1. Your privacy statement is longer than one screen.

    You need only one screen on which to display a privacy policy designed to protect the interests of your customers. It doesn’t require many words. However, it does require multiple screens to accommodate a privacy policy that is designed to protect your company and its assets and that is written by your lawyers, with no regard for your customers.

  2. You have an opt-out policy rather than opt-in policy.

    “Opt-in”/”Check this box” collects the names of people who have a genuine interest in hearing from you. “Opt-out”/”Uncheck this box” captures the names of people you have successfully misled with your prechecked box. They do not have a genuine interest in hearing from you.

  3. Your privacy and unsubscribe pages are not linked directly from your home page — or from any other page.

    Here’s a cunning ploy used by many sites in order to discourage visitors from discovering privacy policies and the means to unsubscribe from future emails: Hide the policy and the unsubscribe pages deep within the site.

    “But Your Honor, our privacy policy is clearly marked on screen 24 of our ‘About Us’ page.”

  4. You don’t bother to reply to incoming emails.

    Who reads and replies to those emails that come in through the “feedback@” or “contact@” links? Do customer questions that are not directly related to making an immediate purchase get answered quickly and thoroughly?

How well did your site score? And does it really matter? Yes it does, because getting it wrong in these four areas is symptomatic of an attitude toward your customers that is outdated and unlikely to serve you well for very much longer.

You’ll find it tough to build genuine relationships with your customers when your real intent is simply to conquer them.

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