Let’s take it as a given that you want to create lasting relationships with your visitors and customers.
These are the people who will come back to your site of their own free will, with the express purpose of making an additional purchase. They’ll do all the things you need them to do — and you won’t even have to ask them. You won’t have to persuade them or bribe them or remind them.
These are core users and supporters of your site who will come back because you have something that they want. You serve them well. You deliver on your promises. Well if you’re half-smart, you over-deliver on your promises.
So how strong is the bond that ties you and your most loyal customers? Is the relationship forged in steel or terribly fragile? How easy is it for you to mess things up?
I think that depends on the way in which you mess up. As always, I’ll just point you to your relationships offline — in the real world, with your significant others.
Good relationships, wherever they are formed, are generally very resilient to mistakes. My wife will probably forgive me if I forget to pick up the dry-cleaning, lose the keys to the car, spend money on software I don’t really need, wear dirty shoes in the house.
Likewise, relationships with your customers online will likely survive a late delivery, a damaged item, a slow email response, delivery to the wrong address.
In fact, making and then rectifying mistakes online offers a great opportunity to strengthen a relationship. Much of the sale and delivery of your products and services is probably fully automated. When a mistake happens, it gives you a great opportunity to communicate with that customer one on one.
If I were to back into my wife’s car in the yard and smash her rear lights, a nice bunch of flowers could transform a mistake into a wonderful evening.
In short, I believe that mistakes online are not a huge threat to the relationships you have created with your customers. So long as you take immediate responsibility for your mistakes, apologize and put them right.
However, relationships anywhere are extremely vulnerable to betrayals. My wife may forgive the broken lights on the car, but she wouldn’t be so understanding if she found a love letter from another woman in my briefcase.
That’s not a mistake. That’s a betrayal. It’s a betrayal of trust.
And dumb direct marketers online betray the trust of their customers every day. It’s a betrayal of trust when you sell, barter or give your customers’ personal information to a third-party. It’s a betrayal of trust when you say that you’re collecting information for one purpose — and then use it for another purpose.
It’s a betrayal of trust when you take a customer’s permission to send you one email for one purpose, and then abuse that permission by extending it to the next email, and the next, and then the next.
It’s a betrayal of trust when you have your lawyers write your ‘Privacy Statement’ and fill it with terms and conditions that regular folks like us may not fully understand.
Be sure that you and everyone you work with fully understand the difference between making a mistake and betraying a trust.
Mistakes you can recover from. Betrayals, sooner or later, will lose you everything.