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Is your marketing more than just a good idea?

I’ve been traveling an awful lot lately on many different airlines, and I’ve been given a close-up view of the travel industry. As you might expect, someone who travels as much as I do is told he has all sorts of status (gold, platinum, preferred, elite—you get the idea), but the truth is that what really makes me feel special is when marketing claims get paid off. What I see, mainly, is a world of good intentions with not-so-good execution.
Last week, I flew on Continental from San Francisco back home to New Jersey. I had a lot of work to do and was ecstatic to see that my seat had a power outlet. Except it didn’t work. My battery ran out before the flight was over. Normally, that would have been what I expected, but because I saw the outlet was there, my expectations were raised—and then dashed.

Also last week, I was at the Marriott in San Francisco and could not get wireless to work no matter what I did. It was included in what I bought from the hotel, but it was so weak that it might as well not exist. I found myself using my Verizon 3G connection instead of the wireless I paid for, or I was shackled to the Ethernet cable in my room. Now this isn’t the end of the world, but it is just one more marketing promise that is not fulfilled.

Yesterday, I flew United from Newark to Denver. I was very happy to have my seat upgraded to first class. But when I went to plug in my head phones, the audio was broken. Don’t sing any sad songs for me—first class without head phones is still better than coach with—but it was another promise broken.
But the strangest problem I had came from Expedia. They helpfully sent me an e-mail telling me that my flight home this Thursday from Detroit was canceled. That’s news I certainly wanted to get, and I dutifully called Expedia at the number they sent in the e-mail. After waiting for several minutes, I explained the whole thing to an Expedia representative. He verified my identity, located the reservation, began to check out the problem, and then stopped dead in his tracks. He could not help me because I am an Elite Expedia member.

This had happened to me before with Expedia. They have given me preferred status, but the way it plays out is that it takes longer than it used to because I call the wrong number first. The reason that I call the wrong number is because they put the wrong number in the e-mail. If they want me to call the Elite number, then they should put it in the e-mail.

But if I do call the wrong number, why don’t the help me anyway? What’s the point of transferring me to another queue where I wait again and then have to explain the problem all over again. Who does this make feel special, exactly?

I want to be very clear here. I am not upset that airlines are adding power outlets to their seats or upgrading me to first class. I am happy the hotels are trying to provide wireless Internet access. And, sure, being an elite Expedia customer is probably great, even though I don’t know exactly how. I am sure that Expedia is trying to make this a good thing.

But trying isn’t enough.

The problem with too many of these great ideas is that the follow through isn’t there. And when you add up all of these promises unfulfilled, you end up with the frustrating travel experience that so many of us live with. And, dare I say it, your customer experience could be the same.

I know that I am susceptible to the same issues in my business and my clients are, too. I know myself. I am really good at the ideas. I am fantastic at starting things. Finishing things? Not so much. Doing the same thing the right way 1000 times in a row. Uh, no.

I don’t think that it’s a problem that people don’t care. I think that we just don’t expect enough of ourselves. We accept failure on a regular basis. I am so accepting of these failures as a customer that I never even complained about any of these events that befell me, until now. I just didn’t expect they’d get fixed. They weren’t a big enough deal. I had better things to do with my time than to complain in hopes things would be fixed. That makes me part of the problem.

Don’t assume that your customers will tell you that they were on hold for 20 minutes. You need to know without them telling you. Don’t be so sure that your customer service is good. Test it. Don’t roll along in your certainty that all your equipment works as designed. If you aren’t checking it, some if it isn’t working.

I think that we all need to rededicate ourselves to the customer experience. Perhaps we write mistakes off because these things seem small, but they add up. Our customers notice the difference between promises and follow-through. If we promise it, we must check it, test it, and experience it ourselves. We must focus on what we provide our customers to be sure that it is all that we marketers crack it up to be. If we don’t, then we’re just peddling some more empty promises.


Image by larry wfu via Flickr

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Mike Moran

Mike Moran is a Converseon, an AI powered consumer intelligence technology and consulting firm. He is also a senior strategist for SoloSegment, a marketing automation software solutions and services firm. Mike also served as a member of the Board of Directors of SEMPO. Mike spent 30 years at IBM, rising to Distinguished Engineer, an executive-level technical position. Mike held various roles in his IBM career, including eight years at IBM’s customer-facing website,, most recently as the Manager of Web Experience, where he led 65 information architects, web designers, webmasters, programmers, and technical architects around the world. Mike's newest book is Outside-In Marketing with world-renowned author James Mathewson. He is co-author of the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (with fellow search marketing expert Bill Hunt), now in its Third Edition. Mike is also the author of the acclaimed internet marketing book, Do It Wrong Quickly: How the Web Changes the Old Marketing Rules, named one of best business books of 2007 by the Miami Herald. Mike founded and writes for Biznology® and writes regularly for other blogs. In addition to Mike’s broad technical background, he holds an Advanced Certificate in Market Management Practice from the Royal UK Charter Institute of Marketing and is a Visiting Lecturer at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. He also teaches at Rutgers Business School. He was a Senior Fellow at the Society for New Communications Research and is now a Senior Fellow of The Conference Board. A Certified Speaking Professional, Mike regularly makes speaking appearances. Mike’s previous appearances include keynote speaking appearances worldwide

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