Don’t Stalk Me: A Customer Experience Cautionary Tale

February 27, 2013

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.

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.

Finally, 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?

31 thoughts on “Don’t Stalk Me: A Customer Experience Cautionary Tale”

  1. Thanks for this Sean! Recently, a sales person was trying to get me interested in a new service. Now because I am in sales, I can be pretty impossible to sell to. Each one of his emails was marked urgent- maybe it’s urgent for you, but granting you the chance to sell to me sure isn’t a high priority for me! Then, when he followed up with a phone call, he called multiple times back to back. I was sitting having a discussion about a very real issue with a colleague, and he rang through three times back to back!!! Needless to say, I will not be moving forward with that company. He showed zero respect for my time and the obligations of my job, and expected me to drop everything to give him the chance to make money. Experiences like that make me realize why so many people have a bad impression of sales people.

    1. That’s unreal Rebecca. My head’s about to pop off I’m shaking it so hard. It reaffirms my hypothesis that the top performers in any job description are the ones with the highest amount of empathy. Who in their right mind would call three times in a row like that? What a head case.

  2. Sean, that was definitely a violation, not only of your privacy, but of the sales process and of any intelligent method of doing business. That company definitely needs to re-think this flawed strategy.

    1. Glad to hear I wasn’t losing my mind Nancy. I sat and thought about that interaction quite a bit afterwords wondering if I was being unreasonable. Glad to hear you agree with me.

  3. Wow. Someone called you three times in rapid fire?

    Seriously, I know that salespeople have requirements on calls they must make. I’ve been there myself. But there’s no reason for what you experienced.

    As for the article, upselling, if done correctly, can be seamless and if you do it in a way that shows you’ve been paying attention to the customer’s needs, it’s often beneficial for both the salesperson and the customer.

    To just randomly do it and then to call when you’re in the middle of the transaction? Ridiculous.

    1. Agree about the upselling opportunities that exist Tony. As a guy with about 15 years of sales and sales management experience, I’d say that if done at the right time it can be very effective. My problem is that to make those sorts of offers during a wholly online experience might not be the best time to do it. Why not do it during a follow up email or call AFTER you’ve made the sale of your core product. Or better yet, after you’ve actually delivered on the service I was trying to buy (they do that to for the record – I’ve used these guys before.)

      1. If you’re doing a long, complex sale, then the chance to upsell will likely present itself because you’ve learned a lot about the prospective client.

        But in an e-commerce transaction, where you haven’t said a thing to the client? No way.

        Tactics like what they did to you on that website give salespeople bad reputations!

  4. Sean, hat’s a really creepy, boundary-pushing story.

    I was turned off by the pushiness of a saleswoman working for a very well-known marketing brand (if I spoke their name, we’d all know them immediately). I downloaded one of their free eBooks, this one on Facebook Marketing, and within 24 hours I started getting phone calls and emails from the same salesperson at LEAST once a week for each contact point — and for two solid months! I hadn’t even had time to read the eBook yet, and frankly, I didn’t want to at that point. I’m not sure I want Facebook marketing advice from a company that doesn’t know when too much is too much.

    1. Michelle – I know EXACTLY who you’re talking about without you naming them. They are the other company I feel this exact same way about. TOO salesy. I’m sure it’s effective for them or they wouldn’t do it, but that will never be me. Ever. And I’ll never do business with them as a result of that feeling I have in my gut every time someone mentions them to me.

  5. This story has such a great lesson Sean; I’m glad you shared it here. Obviously, this company crossed the line with you in many ways, but I thought the really powerful point was how they had set a precedent with you in their online process. They had already gotten your “hard sell” defenses up, so when the phone call came in it was all over.

    There is a very good takeaway here for companies designing an online user experience. We want to make the most out of people’s attention while we have it, but there is a point at which it can backfire, dramatically.

    Respect people’s time and the reasons they came to your site in the first place.

    1. I think you’re right Adam. It’s all about perceptions.

      What I also left out of this was that I had done business with them prior and I left that first interaction thinking the same thing “hard sell.” Certainly didn’t help when it came time to do business with them again. In fact might have been in the back of my mind and causing me to delay even starting this process with them the second time.

  6. Good article Sean. I think we have all had experiences with people like that. The true sales professional actually cares about their clients and potential clients. The ones that pull that kind of nonsense only care about making their quota. Not good for long term business relationships….

    1. Hey Jon – great to see you here. Thanks for commenting.

      You know I agree with your comment about making quota. In this instance, the process was clearly designed by the business. I cannot conceive of a lone wolf making this type of call on his own. My guess is this was sanctioned (and probably even required) by the business.

  7. Wow – way creepy. Its one thing to wait a few days and give you a call. But this behavior just reminds me of that “I’ll Be Watching You” song.

  8. Thanks for sharing, Sean. Most companies, nowadays, aren’t sensitive to their customers as a result they are turning even their prospects away.

    Your experience highlights what we all are experiencing everyday. And I completely agree with Nancy Myrland comments – flawed sales strategy!

  9. That’s totally creeptastic. I would have done the same thing. That’s just too much. Another thing that pushes my buttons is when companies flat out do NOT honor or respect your break up. You didn’t name names, but I will… I’ve done business with AND broken up with Service Magic and Main Street Host. Fine. No hard feelings but we’re through.

    Until they call me again. And I say, “Hey yeah we broke up” and then I say “You need to take me off your list because we’re never dating again”… until the call me AGAIN. And AGAIN.

    In my experience, both these companies are relentless. They just keep calling. So I can only assume that they’re either a) blatantly disregarding my request to be removed or b) their database is so jacked up that they honest to God think I’m a new prospect every time.

  10. Interesting experience

    The company is clearly more focused on sales than Customer Experience

    I am sure there is an internal business case that stacks up, when looking at the additional revenues from the upsell opportunities as well as the additional sales from the outbound calls. I am also sure there isn’t a line item on that business case that talks about the lost revenues from customers being put off by the experience – an unseen cost of poor experience!

    I am sure that many customer like the outbound call – if it helps them complete the process with a “personal” touch ……..

    Question is, does the company lose more than they gain with this approach?

    1. I was thinking the same thing Lee. I’m sure there’s some business case that suggested this was a positive outcome from the company’s perspective. Not from mine. I’m not even sure how you can quantity business lost from this. Do you have any experience in proving a negative like that?

      1. I have completed work and analysis looking at the loss of direct revenues resulting from poor service with a customer. Direct revenues being the tangible loss from a customer leaving an organisation – and when you think about negative word of mouth etc, these losses can be multiplied. I have never looked at the loss of customers NOT joining in the first place from poor service / experience during the joining processes. Could be an interesting little project…

  11. Wow. Such a crazy story. I’m guessing they got your phone number early in the order process so they could call you? That’s nuts.

    I haven’t ever had a call in the middle of ordering, but I’ve had a similar instance where the sales process felt uber creepy. There is a CRM / Marketing automation company that reached out to me to demo their product. I don’t remember the exact process, but I remember they called me shortly after I clicked on a link in their email. Yes, I clicked on the email to check out the company and see what it was about, but I was still so early in the information discovery process that it took me so off guard when they called and emailed to follow up.

    I think following up and using behavior as a trigger for the sales team to call can be good, but there comes a point where it’s too much, too fast. And, the fact that they guy led with “I saw you checked out these pages on our site” gave me the wrong impression and, like you said, it felt like they were invading my privacy. Had they let me look around their site without jumping to push the sale, my experience might have been different.

    Now, I have that same sales guy in my phone listed as “Do not answer”. He STILL calls even though I told him it’s not a fit for me. #FAIL

    1. I bet that’s the same CRM company mentioned above, You two should compare notes. 😉

      As a sales guy of over a decade, you’d think I’d hate sales people much less that I do. I HATE being “sold.”

  12. Sean, I think you reacted the way anyone does when they are almost frighten by an aggressive sales company or even a promo. I had a bad experience on Valentine’s Day. A company sent me a package that was wrapped in a pretty ribbon and looked like a box of candy from a man I did not know. It creeped me out and I searched to see who this person was and saw that the package was shipped from a business. Who was this guy and why was he sending me a married woman a box of what I knew was not candy on Valentine’s day? I waited for my husband to get home before i would open the “promo” gift. I was furious that this company had set it up to look like some admirer was sending me a gift. They followed me on twitter the next way and wanted to know what I thought. I told them what I thought and it wasn’t what they had hoped I would say. They stalked me down on social media and I chewed them out there. I think it was fair..;)

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