Commentary

Marketing's Push-Pull Problem

Marketers in many industries have a “push-pull” problem: They spend a lot of time devising ways to pull in customers -- identifying the right buyer segments, crafting messages and making promises. But their efforts are frequently undermined by company behaviors that push customers away.

Companies push customers away? According to results from our recent research, that's what consumers think their providers are doing. Consider, for example, that of all survey respondents who changed product or service providers in the last year, 85 percent said the company could have done something to keep the switch from happening. What's more, 67 percent said they might not have left if the company had resolved a sticky issue during the first interaction. Fifty-four percent believe that being recognized and rewarded for their level of business could have prevented their leaving. This is money walking out the door -- money that probably wanted to stay!

Companies may not be doing enough to hold onto customers. But is that the same as pushing them away? Maybe not. Our research has also identified a slew of common corporate behaviors that are likely to repel customers:

  • They don't tailor their customer interactions. People interact with providers in increasingly diverse ways: from “digital consumers” who rely mostly on mobile devices and online venues to “traditional consumers” who prefer to shop in physical retail stores and speak directly with call center representatives. Unfortunately, few companies have built sales and service programs that cater fully to (and across) buyers’ diverse preferences. Only one-quarter of survey respondents believe their providers deliver tailored experiences.
  • They ignore the power of incentives. Consumers expect that when they give companies data, the companies will use those insights to make consumers’ interactions easier and more relevant. However, many companies market the same offers over and over, or constantly ask callers the same questions.
  • They make -- and subsequently break -- promises to customers. This is among the biggest “push promoters”: pledging to do (or not do) something and then failing to deliver. For example, it is common for companies to make (but not fulfill) promises such as “on-time delivery,” “no hidden costs,” “easy resolution of issues and complaints,” and “smooth interaction with service technicians and agents.” Setting reasonable expectations -- and then delivering -- is key.
  • They don’t get the basics right. Many companies still make rudimentary mistakes that undermine most of their other improvement efforts. Roughly two-thirds of survey respondents said they have had to contact customer service multiple times for the same problem, deal with unfriendly agents and endure lengthy hold times. More than three-quarters say they are likely to switch providers as a result.

Preventing the push

Many solutions are implied in the above list of shortcomings: Provide multiple -- and relevant -- channels for customer interactions, as well as simple and seamless movement across channels. Verify whether customers who are willing to share data are rewarded for their efforts. Don’t make promises that you can’t keep and make good on those that you do make. Looking more closely, it can be helpful to monitor conversations conducted on social media (quickly identifying user concerns and remedying the situation before issues turn into problems). It’s also important to ratchet up analytics capabilities: mining data to more fully understand what customers want and expect. After all, switch-prone customers are basically saying “you pulled me in, so don’t negate your efforts by pushing me away.”

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