Here let me read it to you. Best to listen straight off Spotify though, the browser version is buggy.
How to imply your customer is a complete idiot
A question to ask when you communicate with clients is:
Does that thing you’re saying imply they’re complete idiots?
Here’s a personal fave I’ve had a lot recently. A company’s website doesn’t work to do the thing you need it do: book the flight, buy the fridge, deliver the package. You try it on three different browsers to see if it’s a minor code bug. No. You go through their online help section, an archive of basic tips you know and have tried already.
Prepare to sacrifice an hour of your working day: you must call their phone help line.
Which gives you plenty of time to hear the same perky voiceover again and again.
“Did you know that you can get all the answers you need on our website? Just visit www dot brandname dot com dot au!”
Ah yes. The very website whose uselessness is the literal reason for my call.
They deliver that message in a tone that suggests they’re educating you that websites exist, and that they contain information. Just the right patronising tone to further rile up people who already have a problem.
The art of retro-websplaining
I’m pretty sure the person who had to produce the message knows how annoying this is, but they’re following orders from higher up. Reduce costs, have fewer people to help, automate everything.
“Have we told customers to use the website?”
“Uh … they know we have a website. Most companies have websites now.”
“Tell them over and over until they all start using it. We need to fire more customer support people.”
Retro websplaining is strangely common. My local branch of a national franchised homewares brand has a huge banner behind the counter that says “Visit our website! The store that’s open 24/7.”
I feel like their founder personally wrote that banner, and would like you to be grateful that he finances the electricity that keeps that website on all night. All that’s missing is the “We’re also Y2K compliant!”
Or this gem on the subscriber landing page of the Telegraph UK – I subscribed for ten minutes this week to read a story.
That sounds like an awesome ‘paper’. Not only that, it’s easier to wipe the toast crumbs off David’s iPad.
In every business, these sort of dated clunkers live on because everyone inside the company is blind to them. Nobody sees things with the fresh eyes of a customer. The bigger the system, the more mutant relics you find lurking in its depths.
Unprecedented! Except for all the precedents
I have not called one phone help hotline in years that didn’t open with the message “we are experiencing an unprecedented volume of calls”. Even though years of unprecedented is … quite a good precedent. The message should be “please enjoy a level of understaffing that’s our deliberate choice, because executive bonuses.”
The airline I fly on most weeks, which is great in every other way, has a slow, buggy website. You get plenty of messages: “can’t be done online, please contact our phone service centre.”
Where the recorded message tells you that unless your travel is within the next 48 hours, you should get off the phone and call another day.
It’s the triage message they put up during the first months of COVID in 2020, when the country’s air travel system was in total hair-on-fire chaos. After a year of Pablo Escobar margins, they should be able to afford to change that bastard message and stop pretending that business as usual is a crisis.
Customers can help you
This serviceless mentality reeks of CFO dominance in head office, and it’s increasingly a way for your smaller, nicer business to compete.
Obviously service has costs that must be covered. If your product is $29, by all means take the all-robot approach. If it’s a $2000 purchase, no human support other than chatbot or 48-hour-response email is going to piss a lot of customers off (hi Temple & Webster!).
Having someone take human responsibility is a massive benefit to your customers that will save them a heap of time and a lot of people are prepared to pay for it.
We all have these annoying bugs in our businesses. Why not ask your customers for help?
Most customer satisfaction surveys are purely quantitative. Great for presenting scores at your Tuesday morning meeting. Easy to collate into your PowerPoint show. Not great at diagnosing the specific problems.
The Net Promoter Score notionally reduces it down to one question – how likely are you to recommend that product or service? But it’s still just a number. And everyone will have a different theory on how it landed there.
Why just ask your customers just one open question: what’s a single thing we could improve? They’re far more likely to respond to that than spend 5-10 minutes doing your stupid 10-question generic survey. People with legit problems will feel they’ve been listened to.
Sure, 5% of customers are absolute cranks you should ignore, but many of the others will point out legit bugs in your service you can fix.
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For those of you in geo-blocked countries, here’s your non-Spotify audio: