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Too many companies are like bad marriages


It's been said that the secret to a good marriage is... don't change. In other words, be the person you were when you were merely dating. Don't stop paying attention. Don't stop being kind. Don't gain 50 pounds. Don't stop flirting. Stay passionate, stay sexy, stay caring. Answer their calls. Unfortunately, too many companies are all candle-lit dinners, fine wine, and "let's talk about you" until the deal is sealed. Once they have you (i.e. you became a paying customer), you realize you got a bait-and-switch relationship.

This is such a big bowl of wrong. I don't understand this in personal relationships, and I don't understand it in business-to-customer relationships. Shouldn't you treat the people you're in a relationship with better than you treat anyone else? Shouldn't you treat your existing customers better than the ones who've given you nothing?


Most companies would never outsource their sales reps, but we all know what happens with most tech support.
Most companies would never make a brochure with the same (lack of) quality in the product manual.
Most companies would never make their main website as uninviting as the tech support site.


If we want passionate users, we should take a lesson from successful marriages and keep the spark alive. Just because they're now a "sure thing" doesn't mean we take them for granted.

Besides, if we shift that marketing and ad budget from pre-sales to post-sales, we won't have to worry about getting new customers. Our loyal, cared-for customers will take care of that.


Posted by Kathy on February 24, 2007 | Permalink


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» Too many companies are like bad marriages from promotingblogs.com
It's been said that the secret to a good marriage is... don't change. In other words, be the person you were when you were merely dating. Don't stop paying attention. Don't stop being kind. Don't gain 50 pounds. Don't stop flirting. Stay passionate, st... [Read More]

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LOL :))

worth to be dugg: http://digg.com/business_finance/Too_many_companies_are_like_bad_marriages

Posted by: Sergey Petrov | Feb 24, 2007 10:36:04 PM

Just wanted to say I love the graphics you make for these!! You're the best!!

Posted by: lmat | Feb 24, 2007 11:10:11 PM

It's not easy to strike a balance.

Posted by: KE Liew | Feb 24, 2007 11:11:07 PM

Lol... Great post. True as ever in many cases. eg- My ISP :)

Posted by: Inverse | Feb 25, 2007 1:19:31 AM

I don't know... This post gives me a serious case of déjà entendu. You keep saying this. In fact, I'm not sure if any of the actual content is new. I get that this is something that is important. I totally agree with you there. It'd be nice to get some new content though.

Too many posts are like a bad marriage. You used to have me seduced with what you had to say, but now I'm bored, annoyed, and not interested by this dull topic anymore. I guess it's rather selfish of me to demand you write something else. I think we need to see a subscription counselor. ;)

This doesn't mean I don't love you anymore though.

Posted by: Ryan Fox | Feb 25, 2007 1:58:31 AM


What a way to put it! Very true! Very true!

Posted by: Dennis D. Balajadia | Feb 25, 2007 3:59:33 AM

Ha! That is brilliant. I help run a site for customer service people and those intersted in improving their customer experience and I'll be pointing them at your post here, Kathy. Thank you. Phil

Posted by: Phil Dourado | Feb 25, 2007 5:18:21 AM

Excellent, delicious,

We love to read you in Paris !

Posted by: Benjamin | Feb 25, 2007 5:43:58 AM

Another Gold Medal point of view. Thanks for sharing. I'll be sharing this with my team of 80+ realtors. Rock ON Kathy!

Posted by: Ken B. | Feb 25, 2007 6:40:01 AM

Love the pictures, but I think we need a new metaphor for this type of discussion. I'm 13 years into what feels like a very good marriage, but it certainly doesn't resemble our dating days any longer. Sometimes, in fact, it looks more like the "After" pictures and comments than the "Before" — and I KNOW my wife would agree. :-)

But that's a big part of what makes a successful marriage. It's not in maintaining some breathless passion (while the kids are grumbling about taking out the dog or saying, again, "I don't want THAT for dinner."). It's in sharing the full experience of life with someone who cares as much as you do about what really matters in life.

I don't have yet a good replacement metaphor, but I'm sure it's out there . . .

Posted by: John Windsor | Feb 25, 2007 8:40:08 AM

Nice post. The situation can be improved by understanding the importance of customer service in marketing--specifically, in retention of existing customers and the generation of positive references therefrom--and adopting appropriate metrics. The number "new revenue from existing customers," for example, usually has at least as much to do with the customer service function as it does with the classical sales function.

Posted by: david foster | Feb 25, 2007 9:49:07 AM

Too right, Kathy! The trouble is, we all know it, but we don't seem to be in a position to do anything about it. When we raise the matter with those who are, we're told that we're naive and we don't understand all the ins and outs. We're all customers in some way, shape or form - how many more ins and outs can there be??

Posted by: Karyn Romeis | Feb 25, 2007 11:12:23 AM

Well written, a great use of images and artistry. You always do a great job of separating your content from the rest of the content producers in the blogosphere.

As for the article, there are always companies that love new customers, and then see existing customers as revenue drivers. You can't purchase a cellphone without experiencing this.

There are also a veritable plethora of companies that don't do this.

There are also a minority of companies that love existing customers, and treat them in a special way. Find those companies, and write a post about how they do the opposite --- call out the good ones!!!!!!!

Posted by: Kevin Hillstrom | Feb 25, 2007 11:19:11 AM

Quoting from 'freakonomics' what is the incentive for companies to keep their customers happy? Their challenge was to get a customer, which they did. Obviously after they have sold a 2000$ Nikon D200, what is the need for the company to still care for you?

By the way I cannot see how the topic heading relates to the post? How does the presence of too many companies change this attitude. Would'nt you think the more the competitors, the more would companies try to get and keep their customers.

Posted by: Sesh | Feb 25, 2007 1:33:46 PM

Ah! I misread the heading.

Posted by: Sesh | Feb 25, 2007 1:35:48 PM

Kathy, you are crazy (in a positive sense). I don't know what runs you. But whatever it is don't stop it ;)

Posted by: darya | Feb 25, 2007 3:14:33 PM

Great pictures! The double bird is the best...it's straight from my mental images of tech support (and insurance, mortgage houses, and credit card companies...)

I can't mention enough how Stone Design (www.stone.com) provides great software and support. You can talk to THE MAN himself (Andrew Stone) and he offers FREE UPGRADES for life.

Stone doesn't believe in eating into his own customer base. So instead of constantly wondering if you're getting your money's worth, you become a Stone salesman! Everyone always has the latest version - so the user is happy. And he only has to support ONE version.

It's a happy marriage.

Posted by: daddydoodaa | Feb 25, 2007 3:19:00 PM

Great post.

I had been thinking about sexual metaphors for describing the way brands communicate with consumers (http://memehuffer.typepad.com/meme_huffer/2007/02/brand_kama_sutr.html) but this takes a more interesting, wider approach. And less liable to attract the wrong kind of visitors to my blog!

Posted by: Jason Lonsdale | Feb 25, 2007 4:04:50 PM

This post really struck a chord. I've had some amazingly bad experiences lately with customer service with online services; the kind of thing that just drives me nuts.

In one case I purchased a season pass for a TV show on iTunes and instead of the purchase being debited against my gift card balance, it was charged against my credit card. When the problem was "corrected" the new shows stopped downloading to my computer.

It isn't such a big deal to me that sometimes things go wrong, but what does make me crazy is that both times when I tried to contact customer service it took me nearly a half an hour to figure out how to actually contact them. I kept ending up in some circular loop where I would just keep seeing the same pages over and over again, but none of them (even the one whose URL was linked with the words "contact us") actually let me contact them.

The other situation occurred with NetFlix. They sent me two copies of the same episode of a PBS series on accident (instead of two different episodes). I reported the issue and sent them both back in the same envelope; for over a week only one registered as returned. I guess their system didn't know how to deal with getting a title back that they didn't think that I had.

Again, odd situation and no big deal that there was an issue. But..., it took careful parsing of the "contact us" links and at least a half an hour (hey, maybe I'm just dumb) to figure out how to tell them, not just that I had a problem, but to actually be able to tack on a note to say what the problem was.

I love both of these services but I'm one issue away from switching to blockbuster so that I can drive to the store if I have a problem like this (and presumably find a human to talk to about it) and I've already started buying my music and movies on, gasp, discs again because this is just too damned irritating.

These guys just don't get it. When they bury their customer services links deep inside of a spider's nest of links and then steadfastly refuse on somekind of quasi-religious basis to offer an 800 number, they aren't saving money, they are losing revenue. Customer service can be a great value add and could be cementing me as a user, but instead it is driving me away from services I would otherwise really love.

I know this comment is probably TMI but I needed a sympathetic ear to vent to!

Posted by: Jim S. | Feb 25, 2007 5:47:02 PM

Kathy, Really love the marriage metaphor. It's so cool!
Love the pictures there too. I am always waiting to read your new post!Uta

Posted by: uta | Feb 25, 2007 7:23:40 PM

Karyn: "When we raise the matter with those who are, we're told that we're naive and we don't understand all the ins and outs."

We'll just have to change that, one small step at a time. More and more companies are starting to appreciate the value of passionate users... who become evangelists... who become community members...
The companies that get this *right* are rewarded, and can have a competitive advantage, and that will (fingers crossed) drive more companies to do the right thing, even if it means kicking and screaming. ; )

Sesh: " Their challenge was to get a customer, which they did. Obviously after they have sold a 2000$ Nikon D200, what is the need for the company to still care for you?"

I'm glad you brought that up... three big reasons why they should still care, especially in the case of a company like Nikon:

1) A $2,000 Nikon is nothing compared to what one could spend on a single good lens... assuming Nikon does a decent job of helping me appreciate why I now need one.

2) If there's little to differentiate high-end consumer/prosumer equipment (Canon vs. Nikon), then Nikon should hope that their customers will want to continue to stick with Nikon because Nikon helped them kick ass.

3) The better care they take of me, the more they increase the chances that I might become passionate about photography (and Nikon for supporting it), and now I'm out there evangelizing Nikon to everyone else...

There are also a lot of products and services for the costs of acquiring a new customer greatly exceed the costs to keep one.

I agree that there are companies who have little incentive to take care of a customer, but they won't be reading a blog called "creating passionate users", so I don't usually address those kinds of products. Then again, I'd take it as a personal challenge to argue that almost ANY product can be associated with passion. When we talk about "passion" here, we don't always mean passion for the product... we mean passion for the thing the product lets the user do. A creative company (with a mundane utility) could choose to help someone kick-ass at something completely unrelated. (Red Bull sponsors the DJ music academy. Nobody wants to become a Red Bull expert, but they CAN become passionate about DJing, and Red Bull helps 'users' kick ass at that).

Posted by: Kathy Sierra | Feb 25, 2007 10:02:20 PM

"Most companies would never outsource their sales reps, but we all know what happens with most tech support."

I think this incorrectly points the blame at outsourced tech support. Whether tech support is outsourced or not, the problem is the attitude of the company that is outsourcing, and the reasons why they outsource. When tech support is bad, it's because the company doesn't value it, so they choose a super cheap provider of support.

I'm certain that if a company valued support, that they could find a provider of high quality support services, put the necessary time in to train these people, and actually end up providing better support than if they did it themselves. And the provider would have the extra pressure of knowing that if they don't provide good support, they can be changed much more easily than if the support was done in house.

Outsourcing can result in _better_ service... but only if you look much deeper than the bottom line.

(Note: I do not work for nor am I associated with any provider of tech support :) )

Posted by: Jon N. | Feb 25, 2007 10:29:22 PM

Jon: I completely agree. The outsourcing is not the problem... it's just that it's usually a symptom of devaluing support (at least as compared to pre-sales support). But yes, a company could definitely outsource support and do it right -- as opposed to just making it about saving money. Thanks for pointing that out; I think you made a really valuable point.

Posted by: kathy Sierra | Feb 25, 2007 10:48:59 PM

Wow!! Excellent visuals...Bang on the head...

Posted by: Seshu | Feb 26, 2007 1:54:39 AM

waw--what an interesting and targetfull outlook!!!

Posted by: Belayneh | Feb 26, 2007 6:08:31 AM

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