Why direct marketers treat their customers right – and can’t afford to do otherwise


By Robert W. Bly




            Are there certain industries whose business model is dependent on not helping customers – businesses designed to actually be more profitable when not giving customers the best advice, products, and service?

            Here are some that have been suggested to me by various people:

            1. Insurance – my late father, an insurance agent for five decades, once said, “Insurance companies want to write fire insurance policies for pig iron at the bottom of the ocean.” They want to collect fat premiums for policies they will never have to pay off, and often make it difficult for policyholders to collect on legitimate claims.

            2. HMOs and others in “managed care” – see #1 above.

            3. The pharmaceutical industry – it’s much more profitable to create an expensive drug you have to take for the rest of your life rather than cure the illness or eliminate the condition (e.g., high blood pressure). As comic Chris Rock points out in one of his comedy routines, “There’s no money in curing; the money’s in the medicine.”

            4. Psychotherapists – if the psychotherapist quickly cures every patient in a few weeks, the lifetime value of each client diminishes drastically. There’s a financial incentive to drag treatment out over the course of many years.

            5. Chiropractors – see #4 above.

            6. Stock brokers – Wall Street is rigged against the individual investor. Brokers are told to push shares their firms underwrite, not those stocks that are the best investment. 

            7. Business consultants – ask to borrow your watch and then charge you for telling you what time it is. The consultant or coach gets paid whether you get results or not. The consultant who teaches the client to do it on their own often finds himself out of a job.

            8. Advertising agencies (specifically, general, not DR) – have a financial incentive to sell you ad campaigns that are (a) the most elaborate and expensive (increases billings) and (b) win creative awards (which helps win them new business). We see the latter even in direct response ad agencies: the campaigns that win awards are much more often splashy, creative, colorful, and dimensional mailings; rarely is the award-winning package a plain typed sales letter.

            9. Higher education – there is a growing trend of encouraging students to take an extra year to earn a B.S., which sets the student back in his career and financial progress while allowing the school to collect an extra year’s tuition.

            10. Lawyers – “In most lawyers, there is a sense that if the problem is solved, the billable hours will end,” says attorney Douglas Sorocco.

            I don’t mean to imply that everyone, or even the majority, of practitioners in these fields are out to cheat customers.

            I am just observing that there is an incentive inherent in each business model not to always do what is best for the customer (which a smart practitioner knows is canceled out by the business benefits of delivering superior customer satisfaction).

            Would you dispute any of the above? Or do you agree wholeheartedly? Any other industries you’d add to the list?

            People outside our industry often accuse direct marketing of being sleazy or deceptive, but the fact is, the direct marketing business model is inherently slanted almost totally in the customer’s favor.

            The factor dictating that we must treat our customers like gold and deliver more value for their money is the ROI of DM: namely, that the mathematics of direct marketing make it virtually impossible to be profitable on the “front end,” or initial sale, and almost every profitable direct marketing company makes its money on the back-end sales.

            To do that, you must consistently deliver superior customer satisfaction to generate the repeat orders that maximize customer lifetime value.

            So how do you deliver superior customer satisfaction to your direct marketing customers? Here are a few suggestions:

            * Don’t just give the customer her money’s worth. Give her more for her money than she has any right to expect.

            * Honor your guarantee without quibble or hassle. Give prompt, full refunds politely and without any hedging or attempt to weasel out of your guarantee. When in doubt, err on the site of being too generous rather than too strict.

            * Make it easy for the customer to communicate with you in whatever means she prefers. For instance, if you are an online business, don’t – like Amazon – make it difficult for customers to talk to a live customer service person on the phone, if that’s what they prefer. And provide a toll-free number for doing so.

            * Offer loyalty programs, bonus points, volume discounts, and free gifts to your best customers: the more someone spends with you, the more preferential treatment she should get.

            * Resolve complaints and problems quickly, giving customers extraordinary resolution. For instance, the CEO of a major catalog marketer not only refunds the customer’s money or offers replacement merchandise. He also writes a personal letter to the customer and sends a free gift by way of apology.

            Anything else you’d add to this list?


About the author:

            Robert W. Bly is a freelance copywriter and the author of 60 books including The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Direct Marketing (Alpha). His e-mail address is rwbly@bly.com and his Web site address is www.bly.com.