Remarkable Customer Service Means Leaving the Spam in the Can

We hear a lot about spam (the technology kind, not the food product) but usually it’s in the context of email. Most of us know or have heard of spam filters, spamming rules and anti-spam policies. There are even laws that seek to reduce the amount of spam we have to deal with.

But, we don’t typically think of spam in terms of customer service. We should though because, no matter how it’s being used, spam is dangerous and damaging to businesses that use it.

Before we start, let’s define spam so we know how to identify it outside of the world of email. I define “spam” as:

“Any communication, which imposes a cost on me to receive, which is forced on me, by someone whose primary intention is to serve their needs and who has no obvious reason to believe I am interested in what they offer.”

Let’s break this down into its pieces so we can see what’s going on with spam.

First, it’s a communication. That’s obvious. As a communication, we know spam is the result of someone wanting to deliver a message to someone else.

Second, spam costs me to receive it. It might cost me by using my Internet resources. Or maybe it costs me by using my time to go through junk mail or answer junk phone calls. The resulting junk mail also imposes a cost on me to dispose of it.

Third, the sender gives me no option. They intrude into my world and dump their message onto me. To avoid most spam I would have to make huge changes to my life, like cloistering myself in a north woods cabin and living off the land. Otherwise, I have no choice but to be exposed to spam.

Fourth, the sender is spamming me in an attempt to serve their needs, not mine. Their primary motivation is to meet some need they have (usually to sell a product). I’m not suggesting I would not benefit by accepting their offer. I might. But the critical point here is that the spammer is focused almost 100% on meeting their needs. Anything I might get from the transaction is a distant second in their priority list.

Fifth, they are completely indiscriminate in who they send their spam to. In my book, this is the worst sin spammers commit. They engage in no targeting, no filtering, no planning whatsoever. They just lock and load and blast away. Thus, most of their spam goes to people who have no interest in what they’re offering.

When you look at spam this way, you realize, it’s not just in email. Spam is everywhere. For decades, marketers have been spamming us. They’ve been doing it for decade because it worked for many years.

But the world has changed.

It’s the 21st century and people are sick and tired of getting spammed. From the moment we wake to the moment we lie our heads down, we are exposed to spam. And since it’s gotten less effective, many mega-marketers have cranked up their output. Apparently, their strategy is “if it’s not working as well as it used to, then you should do more of it.”

Some spam is so subtle, we don’t always recognize it right away as spam. Often this is because it’s done in person, not in written or broadcast format.

Here’s a recent example:

A couple weeks ago, I rented some movies at our local BlockBuster. Every time I rent a movie they ask me if I want candy. Or they ask me if I want to join their current monthly program. Sometimes they ask both.

Every time I say “no”. In fact I say it multiple times because they usually don’t listen. They’re so focused on their spiel they don’t bother to notice I’ve said “no” 8 times before they’ve finished.

Then, they often end with a smart-aleck remark like “you don’t like getting free movies?”

Great strategy! Insult the customer. That should bring me back.

I know they use a computer to track every customer transaction. So, why can’t they look at their screen and see that I have NEVER responded positively to any of their offers? All the information they need is right there. In fact, why can’t they put a note on my account that says “don’t ask about special offers anymore – customer is not interested.”

Because I’m not interested. I’m an adult. If I want a candy bar, I’ll decide that for myself and I’ll buy one. Heck, you don’t even have to be an adult to do that! I’ve been doing it since I was 7 years old.

Same for their monthly programs. I’m fully capable of learning more about them on my own. If I’m interested, I can ask. They have signs and banners everywhere so it’s not like I’m unaware of the current promotion.

The fact is they COULD note my purchase record and easily determine I was not a good candidate for their offer of the day. And they could EASILY flag my account screen (as I have asked them to do) to inform the clerks to NOT waste their breath or my time with their unwanted spammy sales pitch.

But they don’t flag my account. And they do continue to pester me with their sales pitches. Because they don’t care what I want or what I think. They are totally focused on their needs.

They are spamming me.

When the BlockBuster clerk asks me if I want candy or if I want to join their “movie club” they are spamming me. Their communication meets all five spamming criteria.

1. It’s a communication. (A question is asked)

2. They waste my time with their questions.

3. I have no option. If I am to rent a movie I have to listen to their offers.

4. They are trying to sell more product, not help me have a better customer experience. If BlockBuster was interested in my customer experience, they would do as I ask and stop asking me if I want to buy things I am not interested in.

5. They ask everyone the same questions. They use none of the customer data they have available. They simply blast their incessant pitches at everyone who gives them money.

What I find amazing is that if I walk into their store and I leave WITHOUT spending any money, then they don’t pitch me. They never ask me if I want to buy candy or join a movie club. Apparently, if I don’t spend money, I don’t qualify to get spammed.

By meeting the above spam criteria they show they are focused on their needs. They are not focused on helping their customers have a good experience at BlockBuster.

What marketing people and executives fail to consider in is the annoyance factor. And this varies depending on the situation. Maybe it’s no big deal at a fast-food restaurant. Maybe most people don’t mind it at a movie-rental store. But at some point people will get sick of it. If we are clobbered with too much spam, it will take its toll. Companies will see customers leaving and revenue dropping as a result.

Because, it’s still spam.

It still takes the focus off the customer’s experience and puts it on the seller’s financial statement. In the end, that’s the big problem with spam. It shows the seller is focused on their goals and their needs, not their customer’s.

No matter what organization you’re in, you always have a choice. You can make it your goal to deliver a great customer experience. Or, you can choose not to.

It’s up to you.

When you focus on helping your customer have a great experience as they do business with you, you will give them something they can’t get anywhere else. You will place your organization so far from everyone else, your customers will forget the others even exist. You become number one their list because you’ve made them number one on yours.

When you focus on delivering a great customer experience, you’ve made a decision about the type of organization you have. You’ve declared that your organization will be remarkable. And you’ve taken steps to have a healthier, more sustainable organization.

To keep your customers coming back, make sure you don’t spam your customers in any way, shape or form. Spam has no place in a amazing organization.

The article was written by Kevin Stirtz