Don't forget about your existing customers

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One of the first lessons that you learn in business is that it costs more to acquire new customers than it does to keep existing ones. Not only does it cost less but it is also easier to keep old customers. So when someone asks the question “Why do so many companies treat potential users so much better than existing users?” it really makes you think.

The brochure is a thing of beauty, while the user manual is a thing of boredom. The brochure gets the big budget while the manual gets the big index. What if we stopped making the docs we give away for free SO much nicer than the ones the user paid for? What if instead of seducing potential users to buy, we seduced existing users to learn?

So why is that instruction manuals suck so much? Well, to start with they are usually made by engineers instead of marketers, or even better usability experts. If marketers made them they would be a lot more snazzy. If usability experts made them they would probably be just right, a mix between functionality and form. The best example I can think of is the instruction manuals that come from Ikea but even those have a too few words and instructions, plus most of the time the
pictures are hard to understand. But seriously, why can’t manuals be much easier to read and understand?
There is a common saying that goes “as hard as programming your VCR”, and that is in a bad way. That used to be common terminology but ever since the TiVo came along and made the whole process easier and changed everything. It is funny though, no one has nailed the instruction manual yet, they still don’t get it. Maybe marketers or usability experts need to give it a try.
But back to the point at hand. Why is is that we spend some much time
and money going after new customers instead of trying to please old ones? If we treat our current customers good they will become loyal, hopefully even evangelists of our products and / or services. If you do good by your current customers it can create a viral effect. Most of the time, companies do a lot of nice things to earn new customers but they don’t do enough to please current, loyal customers.

Cameron Olthuis

Cameron Olthuis

Cameron Olthuis

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  • Morgan Goeller

    This reminds me of when I worked for a rapidly growing ISP, way back in the early 90’s.
    The marketing folks would spend $100 to get a new customer but the billing people would not offer people a $5 credit to keep them as a customer. As long as the net number of customers went up, everything was OK.
    This type of thinking really warped the company, as everyone focused on new membership at the expense of everything else, including the true bottom line. This ended up hurting the company very badly down the road, and the effects are being felt to this day.
    Moral: You have to look at the whole pie, not just your little slice.

  • Mike Harmon

    Interesting take, Cameron. About 10 years ago I worked for Thomson (RCA electronics) and they had just combined their UI group and their instruction manual group — for the same reasons that you’ve outlined.
    It just makes sense.
    For a while, they were doing a great job of integrating the product and manual.
    I think the best example of a serious user manual comes from Line6 (high end guitar amplifiers). Their “Pilot’s Guide” is great at breaking down complex technology in a digestible and (dare I say) entertaining way.
    Excellent way of engaging some who’s dropped some serious coin on an amp — and a great first step to developing customer loyalty.

  • chris

    Please give credit where credit is due. This post is a rip, and includes a quote from Creating Passionate Users. Please add a link and credit

  • Cameron

    Chris, the only link in this article is to the post from Creating Passionate Users, I am not sure how you missed it. We do not rip posts.

  • Corey

    i know this was only part of the metaphor, but for an example of really good instruction manuals, check out any manual that comes with any mackie brand audio device (mixing boards, monitors, whatever). talk about good, covert marketting – their manuals, even their packaging is funny, clever and dead easy to understand. walk into a guitar center or something and see if they’ll let you look at one.

  • steve

    In August of 2005, America Online settled with the office of NY Attorney General Eliot Spitzer over complaints about how arduous AOL made it to cancel service. In addition to a $1.25 million fine, AOL agreed to streamline the cancellation process and submit all calls for third-party review. On June 13, 2006, Vincent Ferrari posted a recording he made of his attempt to leave America Online. It shot to national TV and revealed AOL hadn’t learned the error of its ways. For “John,” the call center employee heard on the tape, to deploy the kind of mental warfare heard on the tape, he had to be well-trained…
    A plain manila envelope arrived on our desk this week. Inside was the eighty-one paged “Enhanced Sales Training for AOL Retention Consultants” manual. Upon opening, the flowchart, “Guide to a World-Class Retention Call,” fell out.
    It’s amazing that the story has come this far, that Vincent could record his attempt to cancel AOL, that recording would shoot to national TV, and now, a mole has sent us incriminating company documents.
    One thing quickly becomes evident after reading the pages of tips and tactics. Callers are viewed not as customers, but prospects. Under the heading, “Think of Cancellation Calls as Sales Leads,” the manual reads…
    If you stop and think about it, every Member that calls in to cancel their account is a hot lead. Most other sales jobs require you to create your own leads, but in the Retention Queue the leads come to you! Be eager to take more calls, get more leads and close more sales. More leads means more selling opportunities for you and cost savings for AOL.
    In a public statement, AOL’s Nicholas Graham claimed that John, “violated our customer service guidelines and practices, and everything that AOL believes to be important in customer care – chief among them being respect for the member, and swiftly honoring their requests.” If this is true, then why is there such a complex system designed to thwart those very requests? Brevity thrives on simplicity.
    To reel you back in, AOL has a six stage system:
    1. Greet and Verify
    2. Discovery
    3. Tailored Value
    4. Right Offer
    5. Resolve Concerns
    6. Motivate to Activate
    In Vincent’s call, John never got past step 2. He got stuck in “Discovery” where he used “digging” to try to get more information about Vincent. John’s goal was to use this intel to build an argument for staying with AOL, and deliver what the manual calls the “tailored value.” A bit of an ill-fitting suit, if there ever was one, since in his inquest, John never found out that Vincent was an IT professional.
    Digging involves asking the lead questions that build a portrait of the prospect’s wants, interests and needs. AOL cheerfully terms these, “WINS.” From page 4-20 of the “Best Practices” section:
    With respect to Vincent’s computer expertise, John’s attempts at digging play like a study in comedy.
    VINCENT: I don’t need it, I don’t want it, I don’t use it.
    JOHN: So when you use this, is that for business or school?
    VINCENT: I don’t want the AOL account, can we please just cancel it?
    JOHN: On June 2nd, I see 72 hours of usage…
    Some sales cannot be made. There is a certain point after which you’re just wasting your time. Past that, you risk enraging the customer. Then there’s the point where the customer tapes the conversation and humiliates you in the national media.
    “This call may be recorded for quality assurance purposes,” goes both ways.
    John had access to a program, “Merlin,” apparently so-called for its ability to turn piss into champagne. If Vincent was more pliable, John could have used it. By clicking various responses a lead makes, the behavior matrix suggests phrases for the salesperson to utter and guide customers back to AOL’s fetid bosom.
    The soul of Merlin is the Member Profile Guide. It boasts four tabs, “Know,” “Listen,” “Feel,” and “How you want them to feel.” Apparently, “Manipulate” was too blunt. Each tab provides different stratagems tailored to the specific customer on the line. For instance, the “Know” tab, “identifies the Member attribute and the ‘role’ we should play for the member.” For example, if a new member has a low amount of usage, Merlin suggests taking on the guise of a “helpful guide.”
    Alternatively, selecting the Feel tab gives users, “an idea of the emotions the member might be feeling and how we might appropriately respond to those feelings…in bullet point form.”
    The manual is full of more creepy delights, including: