Online life. Some say that cyberspace is better than meatspace. And sometimes it is. More and more of our time, and our money, is spent online. I have to fill my phone with apps. I buy books. I buy tickets. I join social networks. I try new cloud based services. With mixed results, I have to say. And some of my recent experiences online prompted me to write this post. Why are customers treated so badly online?
I recently bought an app for my iPhone on the App store (myPad, if you want to know). I quickly found out that the reason I bought it, to get a better Twitter client than the official one, was broken. It couldn't connect to my Twitter account at all. Of course I tried to get some support. The developer of the app only have a Facebook page. Hardly a shining example of customer support. After about a week, they suggested a dangerous fix (disabling the secure browsing from my Twitter account) and it still didn't work. It will be fixed in an upcoming update, apparently. Needless to say, I'm still waiting.
I don't think it's unreasonable of me to conclude that I have been sold broken goods. And when sold broken goods, I do expect my money back. So I took the plunge and read the iTunes store terms and conditions (I lie, I searched for "refund"). It makes for an interesting reading. If I understand it correctly, the only way you will get a refund from Apple, is if they physically can't deliver the app to you. No mention of refunds for broken apps. Sure, the app was only 69p, but as a customer, aren't I to expect to be treated with a bit more respect?
Last year I attended the Internet World expo in London. The event is free, you just have to sign up. And that's where the trouble began. I kept getting emails from them. A lot of emails. I tried to unsubscribe from their mailing list, only to find out I seem to end up on another mailing list. I've unsubscribed 6 or 7 times so far, I've lost count. As the event calls itself the "biggest annual event for digital marketing", it's very ironical that they themselves use spammer tactics.
These are only a couple of the many annoyances that can be found when being a customer online. As I have mentioned before in my post about the cloud, technology moves a lot quicker than legislation, and we now found ourselves in a situation where the customer has very little protection online. In general, these seems to be a constant race to the bottom when it comes to dealing with customers.
So here are a few tips, from consumer me, for online businesses startups.
- Don't sell broken goods. I'm rather amused I have to mention it. That's the foundation of a sound business.
- Facebook is not a support portal, don't use it as one. Twitter even less so. Having an online forum, or at least a support email address is not exactly expensive these days. It's a natural reaction to question the seriousness of a company without a solid online presence.
- In general, offer some responsive, useful and personalised support. Promising an update "in the future" is not support.
- Let me try your product without strings attached. I know, it's not possible to have a demo on the app store, but when I see a site like this , I'm not really compelled. I don't know what the product is, whether it would fit my needs, so I don't see why I would sign up. It's like you really don't want to sell me something.
- Unregistering should be as easy as signing up. If you can develop an easy way to sign up, you can develop a similar way for me to unregister and remove my details from your site. Anything else, like having to email, or worse, phone is like taking me hostage. It's your job to make your service compelling enough to keep me interested.
- Be sensible with what access rights you are asking when signing up with Facebook or Twitter. I can't see why you would require write access to my wall or timeline. And even less why you would require access to my friends list. I will assume you want to spam them.
- In advertising, sometimes less is more. A site with two or three autostart video ads do not make sense to me. it all ends up a noisy mess, and I have to run around the page stopping all of them. It goes against the purpose of advertising, really.
Attracting customers is a perpetual battle in our online world. Most companies do a rather good job at differentiating their product from others, but for some reason, when it comes to how they treat their customers (or potential customers) they elect to offer no more than their competing companies. I don't think it's merely a question of costs. It's an accepted, or maybe tolerated state of affair. A lot of these companies are startups who probably don't have long term plans, just to grab the money and run. However, with an ever increasing amount of businesses fighting for the online consumer, it is necessary to offer more. To offer better.
Respect is mutual. Respect your customers, and they will respect you. It's a simple concept.