13 July 2008

Beware Marketing "Expert" Advice

Let me start by saying that most all of Seth Godin's advice in regards to marketing is revolutionary and that more marketers should follow his lead. But, not all he has to say is sound.

As the father of "permission marketing," a wholly innovative approach to marketing, I sometimes find his advice rather antiquated. Stripped straight from the mindset of old-school marketers, I find some of his advice illustrative of the fact(?) that he's never actually worked the front lines of customer service. Rather, he has dictated from the ivory tower of marketing.

Seth recently wrote about the power of scarcity in the marketplace and cited the recent 3GB iPhone debacle as the inspiration for the post.

A little background, Apple didn't produce enough new iPhones to match demand for the overrated phone. On top of that, their carriers (AT&T mostly) wanted the customers to come into their stores to make sure the customers signed contracts.

On top of the shortage of iPhones, the process of activating the phones took at least a half hour. Multiply that by 70 to 1000 people per store and you have some pretty agitated consumers.

Now in true Godin fashion, Seth proposed some principles that Apple and AT&T could have employed to smooth over the situation AND to benefit from the scarcity of the iPhone. I agreed with all of them, but the third principle made me shudder.
Principle 3: Treat different customers differently. Apple, for example, knows how to contact every single existing customer. Why not offer VIP status to big spenders? Or to those that make a lot of calls? Let them cut the line. It's not fair? What's fair mean? I can't think of anything more fair than treating the people who treat you well, better.
Having worked in customer service, working the front lines where I am face-to-face with the customer, I know first hand that nothing infuriates a new or regular customer more than line cutting. Someone who actually worked in the trenches would understand this principle.

I'm not saying that Godin is wrong in offering VIP treatment, per se. That's a terrific approach in rewarding and retaining customer loyalty. What I am saying, though, is to keep that VIP treatment on the downlow. Advertise that VIPs get the royal treatment - yes! Flaunt VIP treatment in the face of those who didn't get it - no, no, no! You're creating unnecessary tension that only makes the employee's job that much more difficult.

It's easy for the marketers to call the shots, to establish the protocol, but they aren't the ones who have to actually deal with the customer.

If you are a marketer, remember this principle above all else:
A happy employee equals a happy customer.
If you make things inordinately, unnecessarily difficult for your employee, you will lose customers.

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