Don't Stalk Me: A Customer Experience Cautionary Tale | Cheetah in Grass

Don’t Stalk Me: A Customer Experience Cautionary Tale

Sean-McGinnis Avatar 250 x 250Guest Poster: Sean McGinnis

It is my pleasure to introduce Sean McGinnis. Sean McGinnis is founder of 312 Digital , a company that provides digital marketing training for business owners, marketers, consultants and agency employees. He consults, speaks and blogs about SEO, internet marketing & social media. Sean is based in Chicago and has been involved in Internet Marketing since 1998. He also builds high performing web sites and consults & trains businesses and agencies on SEO, content strategy and other digital marketing disciplines. You can find Sean on .


I recently suffered through a negative customer experience that should serve as a cautionary tale for every business. It was a learning experience for me. It forced me to really sit back and think about what I believed about the customer experience. It may prompt you to re-think some of your policies as well.

I went online to purchase a product/service from a well-known company. The online order process for this company is lengthy and for good reason. Completing the online form took a few minutes.

At the conclusion of the order process, there were a few additional upsell screens where the company attempted to up-sell me to include some third party products. I clicked through those screens in due course. Somewhere in the middle of that process was a screen asking if I wanted to be contacted by a consultant with the company for a free consultation. I declined.

Don't Stalk Me: A Customer Experience Cautionary Tale | Cheetah in GrassFinally, I made my way to the check-out screen. I was about halfway through completing the payment information — with every intention of completing the transaction — when the phone rang displaying an unknown number from California. I answered the phone.

“Hello Mr. McGinnis. This is Bob from the company you’re purchasing XYZ from. I’m calling to see if I can lend any assistance today.”

I lost it.

After telling off Bob and shutting down my browser without completing the purchase, I took to Twitter and lambasted the company. They defended themselves by saying their specialists contact customers with incomplete orders to see if they can help. But my order was still in the works! There was literally zero delay between me starting the order and me (almost) completing the order.

Context Is Everything

I’ve been thinking about this experience (and my reaction) since it happened, trying to condense the lesson and wondering whether I overreacted. I really don’t think I did and here’s why:

The Company had established a precedent in my mind.

Throughout the order process, they set a tone that told me they were aggressive and sales-oriented. Every aspect of the online experience with the company screamed upsell, upsell, upsell – which colored my perception and created my reaction to the phone call.

Had the order process not included 4 different upsell attempts and had I not declined their earlier offer to have someone contact me to assist with my order, I might have given them the benefit of the doubt when their “specialist” called. I might have completed the transaction and went on my merry way.

But context is everything. And when that poor sales guy on the other end of the phone announced who he was, I was literally flabbergasted. My jaw hit the floor. All I wanted to do was get off the phone, shut my browser down and never do business with them again (and I won’t).

Avoid the Creepy Factor at All Costs

As I thought about the experience, I realized I had another reaction to the phone call. In fact, I included it in my original tweet to the company on Twitter. Because the company called me when I was in the middle of completing the order, I felt like it had violated my privacy — like there was a Peeping Tom looking over my shoulder while I was surfing the internet.

Naturally, this is a feeling we don’t want to create in our customers. Ever. And yet that’s exactly what I felt. A combination of stalked and betrayed.

A Fine Line Between Helpful and Stalking

Wooing and winning customers is challenging. As Peter Drucker once said, “the purpose of a company is to create a customer.” The very reason you exist as a company is to win customers to your product or service. When you get a bite on the line, there is a tendency to react. Quickly.

It’s imperative that you not react TOO quickly – unless a potential customer has invited you to. In this case, the company overreached and created a highly negative customer experience. One I will never forget, and one I told many people about.

What do you think? Did I overreact? How do you ensure your customer outreach isn’t going too far too fast?


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