The Golden Telephone Rule

Marketing’s Golden Rule is often stated as: “Never forget the customer.” But an extension of the rule could be: “Never do to your customer what you wouldn’t want done to yourself.”

When we are in marketing mode and plan complex campaigns of direct mail using cunningly segmented lists, we often forget the most important person in the food chain. customer. We have to be aware of business procedures and policies that could frustrate our customers and keep them from responding to our prospecting and reactivation efforts.

What happens after you have rented lists, merged them with your customer file and gotten your wonderful direct mail piece into consumers’ mailboxes? The recipients read your offers and call or go online to order. When they dial your toll-free number, they are likely to reach a person who is happy to take down the order and payment information.

But what happens later when they have questions or need additional support? They call a toll-free number and encounter interactive voice response (IVR) menus. At that point, their enjoyment of their purchase and their relationship with your company can stay positive or go seriously wrong.

Have you tested the phone system your prospects and customers are expected to use? An IVR system expert I consulted recently told me that customer-friendly systems offer an escape to talk to a live person early in the cascade of menus. Though such IVR systems incorporate choices and responses designed to handle the majority of a customer’s needs, there are shoppers whose needs go beyond automated help. A live human voice offers people comfort as well as a chance to ask questions on their own terms. A customer receiving sympathetic assistance that resolves their questions and needs is more likely to buy from you again.

Some IVR systems, I learned, deliberately keep callers in loops to force them to choose from progressive menus. A customer that reaches the end of the menus without finding an option that addresses their need gets looped back to the main menu to start over. Companies implement these programs to save expenses on human customer service representatives. There is no way to get out of the system except by hanging up.

These firms have decided that the cost of losing a frustrated customer is less than the cost of staffing a live help line or customer service desk. That might be true financially for a single transaction. I suspect that that idea is wrong over the lifetime of a customer’s relationship with such a firm because they will be less likely to buy again and are more likely to complain about their experience to anyone who will listen.

Your marketing responsibilities extend beyond selecting and processing your rental lists and customer data and overseeing the printing and mailing for a campaign. They include insuring that anyone responding to your mailing can find a system or person to take their order and their money and provide the help and support to use and enjoy what you have sold them.

I suggest that the easiest way to fulfill these responsibilities is to put you in the customer’s place. You and your staff should test the order and payment system. You should test the help and support systems. Time how long it takes you to find an answer or response to common problems and complaints on your IVR. If you, with your knowledge of your company’s products and systems can’t resolve common issues in a reasonable time, imagine your typical customer’s frustration at trying to do so and failing.

Applying the extension to Marketing’s Golden Rule to your own operation can be both a terribly frustrating and embarrassing as well as a wonderful learning experience. By doing so, you put yourself in the position to change the parts that don’t work before your customers discover them and take their business elsewhere. The result will be a better working system and more satisfied customers.

Bill Singleton is a Manager of Analytics and Consulting Services at The Allant Group in Naperville, IL. He can be reached at: and 630-579-3448.