Venus Fly Trap Marketing

Microsoft’s new print campaign, “Software for the Agile Business” boasts about the “1(degree) of separation between delayed and delighted.” It implies what can happen to a person when they are connected to the web. The print ad specifically illustrates the difference between being stuck at the airport waiting for a delayed flight vs. having the flight information in advance and deciding to hang at the beach a little longer.

Though what MSN is promoting is certainly attractive, how some companies interpret what “retention” means in their e-commerce based practices is increasingly becoming a perception vs. reality issue.

Folks, we have entered a new era of CRM. This acronym no longer means Customer Relationship Management. It’s closer to Customer Rip-off Mechanism nowadays. Unfortunately, we’re now seeing new CRM practices that are actually set up to cheat people by making it very difficult for them to achieve a satisfactory experience and thus, ripping them off.

I’m talking about scenarios where you click a button, often for the most innocent or curious of reasons and suddenly find yourself being “thanked” for some order, subscription, membership or service that takes money you were not planning to give and is designed to make it almost impossible for you to cancel or get your money back. Seems some companies are using interactive technologies, circular voicemail, call centers and scheduling hours according to some “actuarial table” of American impatience, betting that you will simply let yourself get billed each month for $9.95 until eternity (or get billed one “convenient” 12 month fee up front) rather than take the 90 minutes or more it may take (with no guarantee) to get the bogus sale credited.



There’s a real exploitation setting in on customer call center management practices that is tearing at the very fabric of American culture, no less than the Nike factory $3.00 a day salaries being paid in the 3rd world we heard about.

Too many this holiday season are saying “ho ho ho” for all the wrong reasons. They’re the ones behind the “Venus Fly Trap” marketing schemes insidiously feeding off of unsuspecting American e-commerce consumers - the ones that degrade holiday spirit into holiday “spear it.” And if the DMA and the interactive industry can not “out” them or force them to change, consumers are very likely to begin pushing for more protection.

We’ve seen this all too often before, which is why home-based commerce (Fuller Brushes, Singer knives, Electrolux vacuum cleaners, and really anything sold door to door) requires companies to offer consumers a 3-day cancellation policy with no questions asked.

The industry needs to develop audit-worthy practices that cannot by design screw the consumer with deceptive purchase funnels that force them into a wild goose-chase that only the most patient/least-time-squeezed individuals can endure. The goal of ridding unwanted credit card purchases must be in line with other types of standards that guard against abuse in the interactive age.

Here’s some audit criteria being looked into by one company that evaluates the top 100 e-commerce based companies customer service policies:

1. Credit Card Sharing – Companies should be fined for giving affinity partners their consumer’s credit card numbers that make it “easy” to buy for the consumer;

2. Call Center Hours – Just as customers can buy something 24/7, they should also be able to have some flexibility to call for assistance beyond basic business hours;

3. Voice Mail – which gives people the option of talking to a live person, at a minimum, after they’ve gone through the voice mail menu;

4. Pre-Purchase Warnings/Requalifiers – to insure that customers know they are buying something and that they will be charged for it once they’ve clicked “purchase” instead of “download now;”

5. Prompt Email Communication – If they say consumers can contact them (and even get a confirmation number of their request) consumers should have guarantees they will be followed up with on a timely basis.

Credit card companies have relaxed their standards to make these kinds of irritating purchases easier to bake onto a person’s monthly balance. This promises to be an increasingly important issue in 2003, as customers better understand what’s fair and equitable. It would be great to see our largest media companies finally get serious about making a positive difference relative to interactive marketing and the consumer experience.

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