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Customer Estrangement

All of us have pretty clear perspectives on web sites we like and go back to regularly – and set the “standard” by which we judge other interactions. We also have (increasingly) high expectations for new sites we encounter for the first time. Customer experience design often focuses on the delighters and gives much less weight to the “estrangers” that drive customers away. There is a difference between building “customer engagement”, and avoiding “customer estrangement”. We should consider both in orchestrating our customer journey.

So, what are the common steps on the path to estrangement?

  • Too pushy at first contact. Marketers want to get as much info as possible as early as possible to tailor (personalize) the experience. Conversely, many consumers like to be wooed. They want to see what you have to offer (products, service, price etc) before they “commit” or sign up for an online relationship. There is a happy place somewhere between anonymity (more accurately only what can be deduced) and asking for someone to register “for a better experience”. This can often mean asking for location, address, phone, email; registering and even creating security challenge questions: a big investment before a customer has even had a chance to properly evaluate whether they want to use a site.

  • “I already told you!” Losing track of prior interactions and information provided in those interactions is a huge source of frustration and abandonment. Online, this could be as simple as not pre-filling fields with phone, email etc to how you manage and maintain wish lists and shopping carts between visits. On the phone this could mean not having access to complete and up to date information on all prior interactions.

  • Content is still king. Customers want to get a warm feeling about the quantity and quality of information they can expect before they commit to a relationship. If they invest effort to explore further, information must be relevant; consistent and available across channels; and accurate.

  • Don’t make me work! - Ease of use and response times should be at, or close to, best in class or they will be an estranger.

  • Be up front – where possible disclose things like shipping and tax info before the last second of an order, especially if there are large minimums.

  • Deliver! Both physically and metaphorically. Once the customer has entered into a transaction with you deliver on time, in full, as promised. Take active measures to assure customer satisfaction. Failing on the fundamentals can cause lifelong estrangement.

  • Fix my Problems. Be as thorough in handling questions / returns / claims as you are in selling the product. A problem well-handled is an opportunity.

  • Now you have got me. For an existing customer, keep in touch at an appropriate level of intensity. Make them feel valued. Do not send me special offers that I am not eligible for.

Are these “estranging” behaviors just a failure to do “delighters” well? I would argue that it is more about finding a balance. Take the “Too Pushy” point as an example. It is a laudable goal to want information that will allow you to deliver a personalized experience, but go too far, too soon, and you can alienate a user who is still in the evaluation phase and ready to abscond at the first frustration.

As in all human relationships, we need to establish trust and mutual benefit, and do this at a pace that both parties are comfortable with. If the customer has to invest too heavily they will seek an easier alternative. If you can afford to “give” without requiring too much in return you could become the preferred partner.

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