The Compressed Customer Experience

This article could also be called, “New Rules of the Game: Part II.” A couple of weeks back, I promised to expand on the issue of accelerated expectations.

The technical issue is fairly simple to recognize. When you’re doing business at the speed of email, you compress the entire customer experience.

Customers may well come to your site because they are looking for a convenient and speedy purchase. They want to buy quickly without having to pick up the phone, or get in the car and drive to the mall.

And the desire for speed and convenience is great news for anyone selling on the web, because those are two things we can deliver quite easily. But the delivery of product at breakneck speed to our customers comes with a price.

The “price” is that we have to be able to deliver customer service at the same speed. I’m only the 26,632nd person to have this profound insight, which is why there are already dozens of software companies offering customer care applications to plug into your back end.

What I find more interesting is the challenge to the thinking of online direct marketers.

In the old days of offline direct marketing, we’d apply our brains to creating leads and making sales via direct mail, inserts, coupons, ads and any other direct response medium we could think of.

A certain number of responses would come in and, if all went well, we’d pat ourselves on the back and go home happy.

Very often, issues of fulfillment and customer service were handled by someone else, often in an entirely different company. In fact, from an offline direct marketing agency perspective, we often started work on the next campaign before the results from the previous one had been properly analyzed.

Product returns? That wasn’t something for the direct marketing agency to worry about.

In other words, because of the timelines involved offline, direct marketers involved in the creation of the sales materials were often insulated from and unaware of much of the real-life customer experience.

Online, it isn’t like that.

Online, you can “launch” your campaign at breakfast and have some results in by dinnertime. The next morning, you’ll be handling customer complaints and by lunchtime you’ll be accepting your first returns.

Suddenly, the direct marketer online is presented with a whole new experience and opportunity.

It used to be that we simply did our best to push a sale. (The only time we REALLY believed in all the interactive, relationship-building stuff was when we were pitching for new business, had been drinking too much, or a combination of the two.)

Now all that has changed. Because we really can interact at every stage of the customer experience.

Right now, I think the biggest challenge to direct marketers is to expand their thinking to include that full customer experience.

That means recognizing that your job is not over when the customer clicks on the “Buy It” button.

It means writing the order confirmation email from a direct marketing viewpoint.

It means ensuring that the shipping slip is written from a direct marketing viewpoint.

It means handling customer inquiries and complaints from a direct marketing viewpoint.

Most of all, it means not simply framing next week’s promotions based on last week’s response rate. It means re-framing each new day on the site based on the entire customer experience.

It means we have a lot to learn. And I’ll share more of that in the coming weeks.

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