Dear customer: you’re really not that important

Are you one of the cool kids with a custom short URL? I’ve used a particular free short URL service for awhile. It serves all my needs, from enabling multiple links for a single web page (to track reach in different sources) to respectable analytics. I recently applied for their pro-level service and was tickled to receive acceptance last week. I wanted to experience the custom short URL feature set for myself so that I might be able to advise clients about it.Set-up instructions were short, and to me that signified simple. It seems I just had to enter a URL I liked and then add an A record to my site’s DNS. No tomes of cross-referenced techno babble.

I entered a short URL (how does strike you?) then proceeded to grab the IP address to which to point the A record. At that point I had to tangle with my host (one with a notoriously poor user experience…you know who you are). Hours later, I had a new record added and propagation was underway. Tick, tock. 24 Hours, then 36 hours went by. The URL service admin panel still claimed not to find the record. So Igrabbed a screen shot from my host (the dashboard reflected that indeed, I’d added the record) and sent a nice message to the help desk requesting some help.

Customer experience: lacking

Suffice to say, I was floored by the response. From the community manager, no less! The person responsible for stewarding the brand with its publics and connecting those with needs to those with answers. The brand champion, go-to guy.

What should have been this:customer experience brand image

Customer + 1 user error caused by omission of critical content  / customer-centric community manager – snark = more deeply entrenched customer

Looked like this instead:

“…you just can’t pick a domain out of thin air. [cites IP and DNS mumbo-jumbo, complete with colons and dots] A custom short domain requires [lists 4 points]. Check [lists short domain registrar] to find one available to you.”

Wow, really? Why didn’t the setup page say so in the first place? And was the attitude necessary?

There was no closing salutation (definitely no “Sorry.”) to his stinging reply, no phone number, no offer to Skype me through it. No attachment or wiki with detailed, step by step instructions. Just geek talk, minus the empathy and customer-centeredness a more enlightened company might take. My actual setup process wasn’t wrong, I just left my ESP in my jacket pocket so I didn’t know off-page stuff was required before I could set up the account.

This is not a lesson in DNS, trusty readers. This is actually a lesson in digital (in)civility, customer experience, community management, and branding.

Brand image: meh

To the company’s credit, it now seems very sensical that some off-site prep work is necessary in order to set up a custom short domain. I get it.  However, for it to presume a moderate-to-advanced level of knowledge by all customers is short sighted. The presumption, coupled with the manner and tone with which the company “resolved” my inquiry, leaves me without a working solution.  It also put a sour taste in my mouth when up until those touch points I had a favorable opinion of the brand.  I’m now more…reserved.

I’m but one person. My opinions and perceptions my not be of appreciable value to the company. And yet I firmly believe that experiences like this – where content and experience are given little value and customer issues are dismissed – often typify the values held by executive leadership. Gotta say it. Your employees, in particular those with customer contact (like a community manager!) are your brand, like it or not. They often take their cues (as to what’s important) from the head honchos.

In this instance, my word of mouth reach and influence is a drop in the bucket for this service provider. But the drops all add up. And well, there’s value in my experience, value that if channeled, could improve the experience of future customers and inspire me to speak out in support of the brand.

April is customer service month. How’s about setting aside some time to see where, and in what ways, your company could improve upon existing attitudes, behaviors, and processes that intersect with your customer base? In some cases, doing things the way you’ve been doing them? Well its not really doing your brand any favors. Interested customers like me could be part of your solution.

Listen to us, please.

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© Internet Marketing, Branding, Content Marketing, Social Media – Cedar Rapids, IA 2014 - Heather Rast, Principal