I am not a number
Completely out of the blue, 02 sent me a text the other day offering me a 40% discount at a Hilton hotel. Barclays also sent me one saying that if I'm stranded abroad (I was in the UK at the time) I can call their 24 hour helpline. Some random number has just texted me to say "our records indicate you may be entitled to 3750 pounds for the accident you had" - what accident, I wondered? These are just a few examples of how many companies, mostly very large ones, get it completely wrong with their communications. By treating me as a number rather than a customer and blanket texting in the hope that a small percentage of recipients will respond they incur my wrath at wasting my time with their nasty intrusive behaviour. Hilton get a double black mark (which is a shame as I've praised their service in previous columns) as I now wonder why, as one of their gold card holders, I receive a smaller discount than any and every 02 customer? Barclays also score a home goal as I was led to understand their security would mean they will never text me and any communication to my mobile should be treated highly suspiciously.
By contrast I've just been reminded that I'm having my haircut on Saturday. The text from Headmasters always comes 48 hours before my appointment with a request that I confirm by texting "Yes" back, which I always do. In October I'll receive another text but this one will have something extra, a 10% discount included - how do I know this, well it's my birthday next month and every year Headmasters gives me a 10% discount for my anniversary cut and I have no doubt that they will do this for the fifth year running. This is in addition to the 25% discount I also receive for being a member of their club (membership is free) and I've just been entered into their free drawer to win a holiday in the Cayman Islands.
I'm flying to Nairobi on Monday to climb Mount Kilimanjaro to raise funds for lung cancer research (if you're feeling generous you can support me at www.justgiving.com/team-hall ) and before I leave for Heathrow I'll receive 3 texts from Addison Lee. The first will confirm my booking, the second that my driver is on the way and finally, and always on time, a text to say my driver has arrived. This last text will state: "If necessary feel free to contact your driver on his mobile (number) and the vehicle is Ford Galaxy reg (number)."
Headmasters and Addison Lee understand how to use text messages very effectively. Headmasters only text me when it’s relevant and appropriate and their reminder service has substantially reduced the number of no-shows. Addison Lee understand the stresses their customers experience, particularly on airport runs, and seek to remove these with timely texts which reassure.
I find it surprising that many companies don't seem to take any note of customers preferences nor learn from previous experiences. Take a walk down any residential street in the UK and you'll see "NO Junk Mail" signs on letterboxes, check the permissions on any PC and you'll most likely find junk settings set to a high level and apparently over 15 million people have registered with the telephone preference service to avoid cold calls. How many times do we need to tell big companies to stop bothering us? How many clues do these giants of commerce need that their lack of consideration turns potential customers and fans into enemies? And talking of fans, if the rules of texting are ignored then see what’s going down on Facebook and Twitter. There are hundreds of examples of companies using these mediums for sales promotion and once again applying a blunt instrument approach to try and generate business rather than seeking to woo customers and build relationships.
Communication has always been about saying the right thing to the right people in the right way at the right time and this principle is being broken more frequently than ever it feels. Just because you can text gazillions of people at once doesn’t mean you should. Just because you it’s cheap to tweet and post on Facebook doesn’t excuse your doing so indiscriminately. Treat your customers like human beings, (note that’s what they are by the way) not numbers.