The UnFailerator

Do you groan (inwardly or outwardly counts) when you are presented with a task that seems to be outside your area of responsibility? When you receive a request from a customer, a colleague, or a member of the public, do you help, ignore their pleas, or quickly turf them to someone else in your organization?

As a young secretary,1 I worked for one of the state’s2 largest insurance companies. In the marketing training department, I spent most of the day typing memos and taking messages. A few times a week, one or another hapless customer would call wanting to speak to someone about an insurance claim. How could anyone have thought the marketing training department could help? You could hear the guy gritting his teeth as he recounted having been transferred three, five, eight times and the last person hung up on him. Anyone who complains about automated attendant systems should know that they were designed to replace the people who had been messing around with this guy.

I would always tell the customer the same thing. “Please write down my direct telephone number. After we hang up, I will find the right person for you to speak to and ask that person to call you back. If you do not receive a call within 15 minutes from someone who can help you, please call me back and I will try again.”

Then I would go ask Diane (I don’t need to describe her, do I? An office without a Diane is truly impoverished) who to call. Then I would call that person, confirm she3 could help, and make her promise to call the customer back right away.

There are plenty of people out there who take this approach.4 And it turns out a lot of them are in charge of their company’s Twitter feed. Back in the Dark Ages, my friend Caitlin taught me how Twitter was an effective back channel for customer service. I had tried it twice so far, with the following results:

  • A local chain pizzeria, after years of neglect, began removing the snow from its sidewalks so that the elderly, the infirm, and I could pass without cracking our tailbones.
  • A chain coffee store with a super-active Twitter feed did nothing in response to my two-day tweet-a-thon complaining that they hadn’t closed their store for a proper cleaning the day the toilets backed up and flooded the premises. Eeeuuuw. Also, no one retweeted me. I guess no one wants to think about coffee and raw sewage in the same 140 characters.

Based upon my 50% success rate, I went to Twitter one more time when I experienced a marketing “fail.” For some time, I (and possibly you) have been receiving irresistible email offers from a company, which I shall call Company B because I’ve always loved the song “The Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy from Company B.”5 The offers went: Entertain (endure?) a 30 minute demo of our software and we will send you a $25 (down from $50 last year) Amazon gift card. Wow! After a few months of this, my curiosity about their software6 overcame me and I signed up.

I’m sitting there in my office, palms actually sweating, waiting for their rep to call and scold me for signing up for a demo just to get the gift card, or waiting for my boss to walk in and see me taking an online demo for software she knows we’re not going to buy. When I got dehydrated enough, my palms stopped sweating. A few weeks later, I hadn’t heard from them.

A few months later, I had forgotten about my initial failure to learn more about their software7 and took the bait again, signing up for a demo. Again I never heard back from them.

By now, my feelings about Company B had moved from mild curiosity and anticipated guilt / gratitude to half scorn, half sympathetic embarrassment on behalf of whoever had set up a great system to bring in leads at the top of the funnel only to have the leads ruthlessly ignored by the folks who are supposed to care about them. “I’ll show them,” I thought fiercely… and hit “Unsubscribe.”

What happened? Zippo. Company B continued to send emails offering demos, webinars, and demonars (I made that word up — isn’t it cool?). They also sent a bunch of emails from themselves and Company L, claiming they were strategic partners and offering double-dip webinars, white papers, and whitepapinars. It was almost as if I got more email after unsubscribing. Now I was mad as a heckled FLOTUS. So I took to Twitter, using @CompanyB, @CompanyL, and #fail in my tweet.

Within minutes, @CompanyB’s social media manager had tweeted me back, inviting me to share details via email. She worked hard to make sure my email address was removed from all their lists, kept in touch with me on her progress, and patiently read my opinions about email marketing. After we were sure that I would never ever get another unwanted email from Company B, she sent me a gift to thank me for my trouble — along with a handwritten note.

This person — by taking the time to “give a ***,” as Gary Vaynerchuk says — transformed my attitude towards her company from #fail to #wow. This is why I will always think of her as the Un-Failerator.

By the way, I know I’m supposed to keep blog posts short and throw a couple of images in them. I know all this. But the really important point that I’m trying to get across is that none of this matters even a teeny, tiny bit if you don’t have someone further down the funnel who cares. Who will take the time to answer questions — even stupid ones. I’m quite sure that someone at Company B is a little bit concerned about how their automated marketing system goofed the detail in this one case. But it’s the humans who really matter.

1.Okay, I was actually less than a secretary. I was a temp. On my first day of work, my boss flashed a set of sharpened teeth and said: “Are you the new secretary? My name is Frank (yes, this is his real name) and I’ve been through 13 secretaries in the last two years.”

2. Not Massachusetts, where I grew up and live now.

3. Or he.

4. I was going to write “a surprising number of people but I have spent my adult life being stupefied at the number of people who do NOT give a chit.

5. The large number of parenthetical comments and footnotes on this blog post owe to my recent reading of Tina Fey’s “Bossypants,” which you should go out and buy if you think these footnotes are super witty.

6. petty greed
7. score a $25 gift card