A cookie cutter approach – especially when it comes to Content Marketing and Strategy – may be scalable – but it makes you less human. It’s that simple.
I thought I’d share an experience I had last week that illustrates this particularly well.
I’ve been a customer of Network Solutions – the domain name registrar – in varying degrees for more than 10 years. Over that time period, I’ve utilized them for two things exclusively – domain name registration and (only twice) email hosting. In the last two years I’ve spent almost $1,200 with them – so extrapolate that out over 10 and you can see I’m a relatively decent customer. It also tells you two things. One – I register quite a lot of domains. Two – I overpay (and am painfully aware) for that privilege.
Now, a couple of years ago I got notified that I was a special, super-duper “Gold VIP” customer of Network Solutions. Beyond the fancy little banner that greets me each time I log in – it means I get special deals (none of them have really been that special) and I got a dedicated email address and phone number to rectify any questions or issues.
So, okay all that notwithstanding – I’ve been lazy about moving my domains over to another registrar. Moving domains is kind of a pain in the butt. But also – given that I’m aware that I need to do it – I’ve also shut off “auto-renewal” on them. All that brings us to last week.
Have You Contacted Support?
So, two weeks ago, one of my domains(my wife’s photography domain) expired. As such, her email and site stopped working. Life went on (as she doesn’t get a lot of email through that account) for about five days (and by the way I’m absolutely *sure* they sent me an email warning that I just spaced on).
But then as soon as she did make me aware of it – I had the usual Homer Simpson “Doh!” moment and logged in to Network Solutions to renew the domain. Only this time – for the first time in as many years as I’ve been a Network Solutions customer – I got greeted with a “$25 Reinstatement Fee”. So – in addition to the hugely overpriced renewal on my domain ($38) for another year – I was getting hit for an additional $25 reinstatement fee. Basically they want to charge me a 65% penalty for missing the renewal by 5 days.
So… what to do…. Well, even though I was annoyed – I was actually on an airplane, busy and I decided to pay it so that my wife’s stuff would start working again. But, I also thought I’d just reveal my displeasure with the new policy on Twitter. So I tweeted the following:
To their social team’s credit – less than half an hour later. I got a response.
Now… Hmm… This didn’t strike me as a “template” at first (though in hindsight I believe it is)… But I would have thought that my mention of being a “Gold VIP” customer might have struck a little different chord. Not so much.
So, after the @Reply Tweet – even though I wasn’t really looking for “support” per se, I decided that I’d actually take them up on that suggestion and see what being a Gold VIP customer really meant. And so I sent this email to my handy dandy special VIP Gold member services email address:
Now… to be clear – what I was looking for there wasn’t necessarily remediation (although that would be nice). I actually was (truly) interested in understanding WHY they wanted to charge me $25. In other words (and certainly I could have been clearer in my email) I really wanted a human response as to why they felt justified in charging me a 65% penalty.
Well then (as is common when email gets involved)… things slowed down a little. It was a day later that I got the following email back from the Gold VIP support system.
Okay Really??? The first sentence is just kind of um… Yeah, Duh! Now, I’m pretty convinced that this is a great example of Copy and Paste type of communication here. If I had to guess – I would say that even the apology for the tardiness is part of a template because they’re counting on always taking a day or so to respond.
Certainly the email didn’t answer my question. And, in fact, offered nothing in the way of a satisfying resolution to my question. If I had been, in fact, looking for special consideration (as a Gold VIP Member) this email was basically saying – “look dummy, turn on auto-renewal and you’ll avoid this charge in the future”.
So by now I’m convinced that they’re not interested in “talking” with me – but are just interested in closing this “trouble ticket” as quickly as they can. So, I thought I’d end it by just giving them some feedback. And so I sent this email – expecting it to end there:
To which I then got this response two days later:
Now this one looked to me like a combination of a Human assembling an email – with a good dose of copying and pasting the frequently used “modular” content from some FAQ library. But, come on, what kind of ridonkulous name is ARLYN002?!? (If there are any ARLYN002′s out there – I sincerely apologize). I mean at this point – it’s like you’re not even trying… Even in an automated system you can fake a real name….
But, okay… Interesting. At least they say somebody is going to call me to resolve the issue. Again, in my case there’s no issue to resolve – but okay… let’s talk. At this point – I want to learn more about ARLYN002.
Now comes my favorite part…
On Friday (remember this all started with my original email on Monday) I was heads down working on client work – and my cell phone rang. I didn’t recognize the number – and so not wanting to get into any type of long discussion I let it go to voicemail. I got the following 22 second voicemail (I’m quoting the voicemail verbatim):
“Hello Robert this is from Network Solutions. We appreciate your feedback. However, if you need further assistance, please call us back at XXXXX – and provide this service request number XXXX. Thanks for choosing Network Solutions.”
Now, whether it was ARLYN002 or not I’ll never know… Because it was just “this is from Network Solutions”… But I also love the use of the word “However”. They appreciate my feedback – HOWEVER if I need further assistance – please call…
Then (and this is my actual favorite part)… almost simultaneously – (because literally the voicemail timestamped at 11:39 and the email was timestamped 11:42) – came this email:
ARLYN002 was done with me. This came from a generic “Network Solutions Customer Service address”. Also, note that it’s not part of the original thread. It’s as template as template gets. It states, almost comically (my cellphone only shows one call from that number), that they’ve tried to reach me several times. So, even though it’s a template – it’s STILL kind of passive aggressive – as if it’s now somehow my fault that I’m so damn unreachable.
So, if it was ARLYN002 – who has a lovely sweet voice by the way – who called, she literally had her finger on the “send” button (or perhaps that too was even automated) and hit send on that email as she hung up the phone.
So – in the end I’m going to bow to the templates. I don’t need further assistance, and because the email explicitly states not to “reply” – I shan’t be calling back.
Come On – Just Be A Little Human!
I understand that large organizations (and even small ones) that have a very large customer base – and very common challenges will develop modular content to deal with frequently asked questions – and challenges. I also understand that legal departments can sometimes require that you not “admit” any guilt in email exchanges.
But come on – this is just not that hard. I’d like to suggest that in my particular case – Network Solutions missed a huge (and EASY) opportunity to make me feel like an important customer – and simply just answer my question. Let me suggest an alternate reality to what could have happened:
- Robert forgets to renew domain. Goes to renew – gets hit with $25 reinstatement fee and gets annoyed enough to tweet about it.
- Gold Customer Service sees that and quickly sends Robert email (or @ Reply) that says – “So sorry – we could have communicated that reinstatement fee much more clearly to our Gold Customers. We’ll waive it THIS TIME. And, by the way, thanks for all your business and please call or email GEORGE your customer service representative if you have any other questions.
- Robert does neither of those things – but appreciates the effort and feels like an appreciated customer.
- Robert stays with Network Solutions and subsequently forgets to renew another domain three months later. This time, he gets hit with the same $25 reinstatement fee. However, – because he knows better – he feels like a heel, eats the $25 and switches on autorenewal on his domains.
Sticky customer goal achieved.
But this isn’t the alternate reality. This is the reality where I now put moving domain registrars front and center on my to do list.