A few days ago I was the victim of misguided marketing strategy. Let’s break it down one step at a time.

  1. I’m spending a few months in Canada, so I recently got a prepaid phone plan and a new SIM Card for my unlocked smartphone. So far so good.
  2. One week later I received a random call from one of the customer service agents of the company managing my new plan. This came after I had already opted out of their text message alerts (not-so-good), and the first thing the agent did was mispronounce my name (bad).
  3. The agent asked if I had a moment to go through the new service on the phone. I told her no, I didn’t, and asked her if she could email me. I admit, I was trying to make this a polite brush-off, but her response shocked me:
  4. “Actually, I cannot email you the information. Would you like to reschedule the phone call?” (worst)

There is a clear hierarchy in communication methods. In ascending order of detail:

  1. Very short messages of a general nature that do not require a response can be handled effectively via text (ie, account information)
  2. Brief messages that may prompt a response can usually be sent through email (ie, our privacy statement has changed)
  3. Longer, more detailed messages that will definitely motivate a response are best handled on a phone call (ie, Q&A sessions)

The higher the level of detail, the greater the level of interruption if the message is delivered unexpectedly.

Do you see the problem? I already told the company that I didn’t want to be interrupted with messages of Type #1… but then they immediately jumped to Type #3. This was their first mistake, and I hope it set off alarm bells at corporate headquarters

Their second mistake? I told them I wasn’t interested in talking with them on the phone, and they responded that they were only able to share this information on the phone at a later date, and they asked me to schedule a new time to talk. Wait… are you telling me you’re unable to make a gentle transition from one type of communication to another, even at a customer’s request? And you expect me to believe you can only share this information over the phone. Seriously?

How about an interactive online guide where I could see animations of the different features? Or what if you gamified the process and I could win a statement credit for different levels of engagement? Either of these options – and many more – would have been easy to implement and even easier to track through digital means. But if you the company are asking me the customer to reschedule an inconvenient event that I never wanted in the first place… kiss your customer engagement goodbye.

Now believe me, I understand the motivation behind their original strategy. Engage with your customers directly and you’ll have a better opportunity to upsell or cross-sell them on related products and services. Makes total sense. Too bad they missed all my non-verbal cues.

If you want to surprise your customers, make it spontaneous and delightful. If you begin with an interruption you’re already at a disadvantage. Not insurmountable, but why create a challenge unless there’s a gigantic upside? But if you then ignore the three levels of hierarchy in communication and try to pigeonhole your customers on top of that… you may as well hang up the phone now and spend the rest of the day practicing email etiquette. You’ll need it.