"Dear customer, you are not allowed to contact us by phone."

I am constantly amazed at the profit killing decisions some companies make by not remaining hyper sensitive to their customers’ buying behavior.

For example, one company was spending many millions of dollars in direct response. The organization was concerned about an unexplainable drop in the acquisition numbers over the last several months and asked for my perspective on the cause. The core medium was direct mail.

After reviewing their marketing materials, I noticed that the company had omitted the toll free number from all of their acquisition direct mail at about the same time acquisition costs started to go sour. Their call centers were getting overwhelmed, so they decided their customers should now respond only over the Internet, by fax or by reply mail. To my growing dismay, they had never tested the impact on response of omitting the phone number from their acquisition pieces before making this decision.

I asked them, “How many of your new, direct mail customers respond by phone when compared to the Internet, fax and reply mail before you dropped the phone contact number?” They got back to me after several days to provide the numbers. It so happened that they were getting over 70% of their orders over by phone from their direct mail respondents! They had offered Internet, fax and reply mail along with phone contact as an option in the past.

Through their response behavior, customers were telling the company that they wanted to respond by phone.

What a mistake to try to force customers to respond the way the company wants rather than adjust the company to fit the way customers want to respond!

Are Internet based companies trying too hard to force people to ask questions and buy products their way by omitting any reference or access to a phone number? Do you think this irritates customers? Have you noticed some critical customer behavior steps marketers overlook? Would you have expected such a small change as omitting a phone contact number would negatively impact sales?

Posted on August 31, 2007 and filed under Customer Service.