Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Overcoming a Bad Customer Experience

I received an email this morning from HyperOffice (www.hyperoffice.com) but I don’t know what it was for.

Which is exactly their problem. HyperOffice offers hosted versions of common office functions such as group calendars and project management. I took a detailed look at them a couple of years ago and was impressed by quality design at an extremely low price—about $5 per person per month then, still under $10 per month today. But I chose not to write about them because the service proved very unreliable.

And that was it for HyperOffice and me. A really bad customer experience prevents me from ever looking at them again, or even from reading their advertisements. What actually happens is I see a note from them, remember that their service didn’t work, and go no further. So the contents of the ad itself never register.

I mention this mostly as a reminder of the overwhelming importance of operational experiences—actual use of a product or service—in developing customer attitudes, and therefore long-term customer value. It’s easy for marketers to forget that central point and focus on building the best messages and campaigns. But no amount of promotional genius can overcome the personal knowledge of a customer who has tried a product and had it fail.

Or can it? Maybe a promotion that directly addressed past problems and claimed they had been cured would earn HyperOffice a second look. It might at least get my attention because it raises the topic (product failure) I already associate with them.

The other point to bear in mind is that HyperOffice is contacting me by email. This means the message is nearly free, so the campaign may be profitable if just a tiny fraction of the people respond. And part of my disinterest in HyperOffice is because I have no current need for what they offer. If that changed, I might be willing to take another look. In that case, a timely message from them might well result in a sale.

So the lesson here is a bit more complicated than it seemed. Yes, the operational experience is primary and getting it wrong can be devastating. But if you’ve fixed a problem, smart marketing may recapture some of the lost customers, particularly if you have a low cost way to reach them.

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