5 Things Your Customers Aren't Telling You

I’m working on a 20-minute presentation to be delivered before a bunch of marketing dudes and dudettes and I’ve been tasked with delivering my attempt at insights about The Consumerist and marketing in general. I’ve come up with a general framework of “The 5 Things Your Customers Aren’t Telling You” and wanted to throw them out to see what you all think and see whether they’re a good representation of our overarching themes and beliefs. Here’s what I’ve got so far:

You don’t need marketing, you need better products.
Even if you give Kool-Aid man a boombox and oversized pants, it’s still sugar water inside his big glass head. You can only live up to your brand’s true identity. A homespun phrase sums up this philosophy: “You can’t polish a turd.”

Your customers aren’t listening to you.
They’re talking to each other, and your disgruntled employees, online. Communication channels are so broad and splintered that flooding the marketplace with repetitive messages is increasingly ineffective.

Privacy is more important than you might think.
What people mind most is not the giving out their personal information, it’s being surprised by that information being used to invade or degrade their privacy. Opt-in is king.

Ignore customer feedback and complaints at your peril.
Consumers are increasingly willing to use hardball tactics to get what they deserve out of your business relationship.

Have you ever tried telling the truth?
Not all products are meant for all people, so let’s stop pretending that they are. You deliver certain benefits at a certain price. And when you mess up, own up to it. Customers respect a business that truly acknowledge its shortcomings and makes honest efforts to fix them.

(Photo: Getty)


Edit Your Comment

  1. CaptainSemantics says:

    This is probably something that would be more of a sub-section of a main thought, but how about something along the lines of “Your customers actually DO care how you treat your employees.” Costco is a perfect example.

  2. TonyTriple says:

    What? The truth? I’ll have you know sir, that lying is the cornerstone of our great economy!

  3. Xerloq says:

    I agree, generally, with points on and two. Marketing, however, still serves a purpose – people gotta find out what to talk about somehow! We all can’t rely on Oprah.

    Number three is good especially considering purchases made with cash. I don’t care if you record my name if I hand you a plastic card with my name on it.

    Amen on number four.

    Five seems counterintuitive to the marketing suits. They don’t realize that coming out and explaining things to people helps their image if they screw up. Remember the Tylenol/cyanide issue a few years back?

    I’d add only one thing. Don’t take things seriously. Show me you’re seriously doing something.

  4. CaptainSemantics says:

    @CaptainSemantics: And this is where I realize that you’re talking to marketing folk. Maybe I should have realized that before I opened my big mouth.

  5. WraithSama says:


    I whole-heartedly agree with your final point. When I read an article or hear about how a company screwed up, I get annoyed at reading the non-answers the company provides in response and no details about what they’re doing to fix it.

  6. mackjaz says:

    This is another subsection issue, maybe under customer feedback… please stop with the bullshit speeches you force your employees to spew when they pick up the phone. “Thank you for calling the Sandwich Palace, home of the 13 inch pastramipalooza, and be sure to ask me how to get your 5 pickle bucks. How may I assist you?

    I used to hate saying “Welcome to Burger King.” How bout letting your employees be human beings and say, oh, “Good Morning” or some such.

  7. SaraAB87 says:

    I stand by point #2 at least. How about a phone system that says something like “thank you for calling gamestop, how can I help you today” instead of “thank you for calling gamestop, would you like to preorder final fantasy crisis core, god of war, what systems do you own, oh would you like to preorder game x” because thats exactly what a call to a gamestop store sounds like. Many other businesses are doing this too and the customer seems almost forgotten and buried in the corporate bull they have to spout every time someone calls. Quit with the corporate bull, we don’t want to hear it, and its not going to make us preorder a game or buy a product or service we never were interested in the first place. In fact, the only thing its going to do is make us customers have a bad attitude about having to wait longer to talk to an actual person, or get through the register line. We as consumers already have heard it so many times before that we just let it pass in one ear and out the other, we are numb to it.. Focus on what the customer wants, not what corporate wants.

    This also goes for “taking it very seriously”, if your taking it seriously, SHOW me that you are taking it seriously, and don’t just spout something to make it look like you are taking it seriously. A better solution to these words would be “we are taking it very seriously by making x and y changes” or “we are taking this issue very seriously and we are doing this and that to make sure it does not happen again.”

  8. Shannon says:

    “You can’t polish a turd.” PRICELESS! Here I am sitting at my desk at work… I almost pissed my pants reading that.

  9. humphrmi says:

    I’m not sure how to word this, but something needs to be added to Point #4. Reading that, a lot of company’s would say but I don’t ignore my customer’s feedback and complaints! The problem isn’t about ignorance, it’s the cycle of making the CS function more efficient, without auditing the end-result.

    For instance, you offshore your CS function to India. Fine, great. Honestly, I can live with that. But then you wrap up that CS function in a neat little box, say “sorted!”, and forget about it. WRONG!

    If you are going to expect to gain long-term benefits and efficiencies from offshoring, you must follow-up and ensure that your customers are not getting screwed. Maybe that means you have to take a few trips to India over the next six months, and check things out. Maybe you need to ask your customers how it’s going. You’re going to spend money on that, and it will seem counter-intuitive to the “efficiency” goals you’re trying to achieve. Deal with it. You will lose much more money if you ignore your new efficient CS and let them destroy your company by destroying your customer experience.

    Lastly, when you’ve tried to improve costs but see a definite and negative impact on your customer experience, be prepared to pull the plug, quickly. Do not wait for it to get better. It won’t.

  10. DrGirlfriend says:

    @CaptainSemantics: I’d say that it’s still a valid point you made. If a company has a reputation for being a good employer, that could be included in the marketing strategy. It’s a feel-good data point that might sway someone who is otherwise uncommitted to any particula store or retailer.

  11. G-Dog says:

    Good luck with this. I have a feeling you’re going to get a very cold reaction from these people.

    I like your points though. I’m reminded of when Sony was doing focus groups on the PSP. The people kept telling Sony the hand held needed games, but the marketing guys just kept bringing up the music and video capabilities of the device. They totally ignored the input they asked for.

  12. forgottenpassword says:

    actual sincerity ,when apologising for something you screwed up, would be nice.

  13. SVreader says:

    @mackjaz: Yes, yes, yes. I have no problem with a brief “Thank you for calling ____” or “Welcome to ______,” but customers hate the required speeches, employees hate the required speeches, and somehow managers keep thinking they’re great.

  14. mike1731 says:

    I would really stress the importance of using customer complaint calls / emails as opportunities to get folks to become true believers in your product. I have had so many inconsistent results to complaints and concerns, those companies and products that stand behind their product with a minimum of fuss really stand out in my view. Conversely, companies that hide behind 800 numbers, voice mail, poorly trained representatives (Dell comes to mind) will never see another dollar of mine, either personal, or through my business dealings if I can help it.

  15. CaptRavis says:

    @mackjaz: Amen, cut the “tag-on” , If it is anylonger than “Burger Czar were the burgers are!”. I don’t want to hear it, and you are wasting my time.

  16. Sudonum says:

    Ahhhhhhh but you CAN polish a turd. I’ve was doing it in the Hotel Renovation business for years. Same with house flipping.

  17. GenXCub says:

    In before “don’t force people to show receipts on the way out”

  18. jlayman920 says:

    1. I am less concerned with whether your customer service reps are native english speakers or not AS LONG AS THEY SOLVE MY PROBLEM WHEN I CALL. And don’t make your non-American reps tell us their name is Joe/Frank/Cindy/Becky. We know it’s not. That’s immediately starting the call off with a lie which makes me distrust your rep and your company right off the bat.

    2. Be more concerned with fixing my problem or answering my questions and less concerned with getting me off the phone in a mandated amount of time.

    3. Allow your reps to talk to me like a person. Don’t judge them on the amount of pleases or thank yous or how many times they used my name in the call. It all sounds fake, robotic and downright insincere. Don’t be rude or stand-offish, just talk to me like we are having a normal conversation.

  19. homerjay says:

    A lot of people are bringing up things that aren’t as much marketing related as they are operations. The marketing goons don’t care about receipt checking. They also don’t have as much control (read- they don’t care) over points 3 and 4.
    The rest of your points are spot on.

  20. GenXCub says:

    Please use industry people for your focus groups instead of people off the street… I’m using a backup product called “qinetix” (pronounced kinetics), and its newest version has been renamed to “simpana”

    so you went from a goofy name to something that sounds like a Feminine Hygeine product. For when my servers are not so fresh feeling in their cooters, apparently.

  21. Zephyr7 says:

    “You don’t need marketing, you need better products.”
    You need both. Marketing has a purpose, but it’s not enough for continued success and loyalty. The Motorola Razr was marketed in a big way and lots of people now own one. But a majority said they wouldn’t buy a Motorola phone again because it’s hard to operate.

    “5 things your customers aren’t telling you”
    Quite literally, something your customers won’t tell you (even if you do bother to inquire) is how easy to use your product is. People’s recollection and subjective experience of ease-of-use is simply very unreliable. The only way to find out is to give them tasks to perform with your product (idea) and observe how they do. In other words: conduct some usability tests. Flashiness may increase initial sales, but ease-of-use increases loyalty.

  22. legweak says:

    There are a couple of things that really matter:

    1. The product/service must be of high quality.
    2. The price for said product/service must not be more than what is considered fair.
    3. Willful honesty is always the best policy; in other words, don’t lie to us, ever.

    When a company can’t comply with any of the three things above, they lose my business. I don’t care if the price is free, if the company lies to me, I won’t get it.

    I think lots of people still feel this way.

  23. Major-General says:


    @DrGirlfriend: But Costco is the only example ever brought up. And frankly, the perception is more important than the reality. Some companies, no matter what, can do no right, others convince people they do no wrong.

    The problem is knowing which is which, and understanding that just because company W is hated for something, doesn’t mean that companies S, T, or G don’t do it also.

  24. #6. We like to buy, but we hate “being sold to.”

  25. flameboy says:

    Being somewhat involved in the marketing field myself, I can tell you that #1 is going to fall on deaf ears. And not wrongly so.

    I have come to learn that you actually CAN polish a turd. You actually can make money (LOTS of money) by going this route. Many marketing experts will even tell you that in many situations marketing can be more important than the product itself! This is a fact that cannot be ignored.

    I realize many customers do not want to hear this. However, from a business money-making standpoint, downplaying marketing while hoping that an amazing product will “sell itself” is very poor advice.

    Try rewording #1 to take this fact into consideration:

    For the long-term success of a product, it is important to remember not to forgo product enhancement and development in favor of increased marketing. Without a solid product, eventually sales will decline. There must be a proper balance struck between the two.

    Also, realize that consumerist readers are not the typical consumers. Many people on this site are very intelligent and do not fall into the majority money-making demographic that many industries target.

  26. katylostherart says:

    so wait you’re admitting your customers are possibly intelligent now?


    good for you for figuring that one out finally.

  27. igj says:

    I have to agree with several people that made this point: marketing folks don’t have much control over whether a company ignores customer feedback; this means that, practically, they simply don’t care about this issue. If you were talking VPs of Customer Service, that’d be a different issue.

    So, maybe refocus that point towards your actual audience.

  28. Caveat says:

    As a subset of truth, I would forever cut the line “Your call is important to us” while keep the customer waiting because you don’t want to adequately staff the support center, and also cut the apologies if what has happened is due to standard company policy. Nothing is worse than some poor Indian in Bangalore trying to apologize for overpaid marketing fat cats in the USofA.

    On your list I would add, “Don’t ever assume you or your company are smarter than the customer.” I have a high IQ and high education, and I can spot the phonies with a few sentences. Sometimes it is amusing, mostly it is frustrating to have my time wasted.

  29. zwill says:

    You shouldn’t waste your time with point #1. Most businesses in America do not produce products, they produce marketing campaigns. Their horizontally-integrated business models focus entirely on marketing and branding rather than production. Point #1 is a direct challenge to that purpose and will immediately make the dialog confrontational.

  30. mac-phisto says:

    not bad – i agree with everything but #1. you bring up an excellent point, but let’s look at the reverse to that equation: you can have the best product in the world, but if no one knows it exists, what do you have? the worst possible thing someone could say about your business is that it’s “the best kept secret in …” if you really do have a quality product, you need to pump it. ideally, your customers should serve as your spokespeople, but they should never be able to find someone who’s not your customer.

  31. I have to argue with ‘You Can’t Polish A Turd’.
    The Video Gaming Industry proves again and again to be an exception to that rule.

    Of course, so does Microsoft and Apple.

  32. spamhead says:

    I was going to remark that, if you tell a roomful of marketing guys that you can’t polish a turd, a full 90% of them are going to be thinking to themselves “dude hasn’t seen how shiny *my* turds are”. Then flameboy came in and demonstrated the point.

  33. grouse says:

    I think the point about marketing is a good one. It’s not that you shouldn’t engage in marketing or advertising to let people know that they should buy your product. It’s that you shouldn’t try to fool them into thinking your product is something it isn’t.

  34. Me - now with more humidity says:

    igj: you’re wrong. at successful companies, marketing is in charge of hearing and responding to customer feedback.

    sodunum: i have to get more sleep. I read that as “nurse flipping.” LOL

  35. bowloforanges says:

    maybe under #4 something could be said about how consumers are getting more and more frustrated with telephone customer service–impossible to get a human, hard to understand, outsourced customer service jobs, customer service reps that have no idea how to help you or who seem agitated that you exist. This frustration is really affecting their customer service and, in turn, their business, and it’s time they start realizing it or better yet DOING SOMETHING ABOUT IT.

    Good luck!

  36. Robobot says:

    @CaptainSemantics: No, no, no, you did have a good point. I don’t get many complaints at my job, but most of them have something to do with the way employees are treated. I’m not exaggerating! (It’s a bit of a unique situation.)

    I think it’s a turn off for customers to see stressed, overworked employees. When I go out to eat, for example, I want to relax. I can not relax in an understaffed eatery full of visibly shaken employees. After seeing that a few times, I don’t go back to the restaurant ever again.

  37. Your customers aren’t listening to you. They’re talking to each other, and your disgruntled employees, online.

    Well obviously this needs to stop. Permanently.

  38. SaraAB87 says:

    @YourTechSupport: Oh definitely, I cannot count the number of times a game promises this and that and does not deliver on either and then it becomes a very lame product since it does not live up to its expectations. A video game can also sell extremely well if its marketed to the correct audience even if it IS a turd and has no gameplay (ET for the atari 2600 anyone?). People will buy anything thats based on a popular license. I can even argue that very few video games live up to their expectations or at least live up to the expectations I perceive them to have as they get released (which is why I always wait for objective reviews to come out and I read many, or wait for price drops so that I don’t pay too much for a potentially disappointing experience). If anything I have come to expect disappointment out of the video game industry as there are very few cases in my eyes of a video game actually living up to its expectations.

    Don’t even get me started on the disappointment of game consoles, I have become extremely cynical of consoles because most do not do everything they say they will do right out of the box, or features aren’t ready in time but are “promised” and most of the time those promised features never actually come.

  39. spinachdip says:

    @YourTechSupport: I’m not sure either Microsoft or Apple relies on turd polishing. Granted, they’re both marketing savvy-companies with huge ad budgets, but it’s not emperor’s new clothes either. Microsoft has its economy of scale thing, and Apple makes products that people really, really like.

  40. spinachdip says:

    @Major-General: Well, if you’re looking for more examples, how about Trader Joe’s?

    I don’t think consumers care about the well being of employees, per se. But employees who are treated well treat customers better, and some consumers are smart enough to see the connection.

  41. WraithSama says:


    Honestly, I don’t mind foreign call center employees using Anglo-sounding names when they answer the phones.

    I’d rather be given the name “Joe” from a man who is clearly not than have to try to bother remembering a name I can’t even pronounce. A guy I work with started going by the name “Ollie” because no one could pronounce his name. Both his first name and last name are no less than 16 letters each.

  42. bohemian says:

    As a former marketing minion and frustrated consumer here’s my advice.

    Quit freaking trying to market to me at the cash register! Please stop forcing your employees to pitch thing to me at the register. Examples that come to mind are credit cards, marketing programs, more credit cards, giving out my phone number, oh and more credit cards. The same goes for forced pitches when people answer the phone or attempt to take a food order. For the love of god knock it off. As a consumer these sales attempts insult and really annoy me. I feel bad for being forced to witness the humiliating stupid human tricks you force your employees to do in front of me. I also hate having my time wasted and my transaction held hostage while I am forced to witness a live commercial.
    I have money and I want to give it to you, stop making it so hard. This tactic makes buying things a NEGATIVE experience.

    People are not as stupid as you think they are. Well quite a few of the population are not. The blatant lies about products and services in many cases are really transparent. Someone trying to BS me about what I am buying is a non-starter. This goes double for anything that has a contract or long term commitment.

    The first point about make something decent. Please?
    I can’t count how many times I went to the mall with a fist full of cash and intentions of buying certain things only to leave without buying a thing. Quality is lacking, sizing inconsistent and offerings suck.

  43. jarchie219 says:

    Ask them for a show of hands:

    Do you frequently use the product(s) you market? Ever?

    Have you visited the production line where your product is made; In the last year? Ever?

    Would you worry if your children worked there?

  44. Dacker says:

    Don’t think consumers are stupid when you shrink the size of packages and perhaps increase the price.

    When was the last time you saw a traditional quart of spaghetti sauce? Now it is 30, no-28, no-26 ounces.

    Why has the core of a roll of toilet paper become larger? And why is “standard” roll so small and the “double” roll what we used to get?

    The weight of a box of cereal is shrinking yet the volume of the box remains the same. I read somewhere the cost of the wheat/corn/oats in a box of cerial is less than $.25 and that marketing is the single largest expense.

    On another track, do you really think I give a rat’s ass about some compensated celebrity endorsement? Pu-lease! Michael Jordan’s compensation for “Air Jordans” is probably higher than the unit manufacturing cost of the stupid, overpriced footwear.

    Don’t get me going on bottled water or the ‘prestige’ of an AMEX card.

  45. MPHinPgh says:

    @CaptainSemantics: I see you’ve already embraced rule #5…

  46. PlayerX says:

    “You don’t need marketing, you need better products.”

    This is a part truth, imo. While a company may produce the best possible version of something, or a pretty good version with amazing innovation in usability/inclusion design, say, the benefits may not be immediately apparent to the layperson.

    We often forget that not everyone shares our fascination with things, and that most people probably don’t read so much about the things they buy. Most people probably base their choices on perceived popular opinion, or just on whatever is thrown at them the most often through advertisement.

    In such a case, advertising is extremely useful to highlight why a product could be a good solution to a particular person’s need.

    “Ignore customer feedback and complaints at your peril.”

    I may be a bit off-topic with this next bit, but that statement reminded me of the TED talk Malcolm Gladwell gave about why we have as many different varieties of things as we do; tomato sauce in particular.

    The basic gist is that people don’t know what they want. If you ask them what they want, they’ll probably regurgitate a line from a commercial, and without realizing it, betray their secret wants they may not even be aware of. It turns out there aren’t any perfect tomato sauces; only tomato sauces. To each his own.

    What does this mean?

    Basically, it’s up to companies to shut up about making the BEST of something. Not everyone loves a BMW. Not everyone loves Maxwell House. There are different kinds of cars and coffee because there are people out there who’d prefer to drive a Pontiac Hemorrhoid over a 325i, or people who prefer Maxwell House to good coffee.


  47. flameboy says:

    “… As a consumer these sales attempts insult and really annoy me.”
    They annoy me too, but you have to examine the possibility that these methods might WORK. If telling the cashier to push a company credit card increases revenue then then its hard to argue against it, unless it pisses off people more than it helps.

    You’re arguing that it is more annoying than helpful, but you have no real basis for that argument other than your personal feelings.

    “People are not as stupid as you think they are.”
    Sadly, I think people (in general) are more stupid than you think they are. An “intelligent” advertisement should describe the product and its qualities and benefits in a clear, concise, and reasonable way. If you look at commercials, you will see most of them don’t even attempt to target the logical consumer. Rather, they use propaganda techniques to brainwash viewers. Why? It’s because most people don’t think.

    People don’t analyze what they see and hear like they should, thats why the marketing industry works the way it does.

    Saying “less marketing, better products” contradicts what many years of advertising and marketing has proven to be true: people will buy anything.

  48. upokyin says:

    If you were to ask people on the street to quickly name an artificially-flavored, fruity, powdered drink, how many would say “Flavor Ade”? Do you think Kool-Aid is better known because it tastes that much better?

    If you start your talk by tell the audience that marketing doesn’t matter, you will lose them. Because that assertion is patently untrue.

  49. tkerugger says:

    “…then flameboy came in and demonstrated the point.”

    Well played.

  50. Don’t ANNOY your customers. Death by a thousand papercuts, I swear.

    Dignity, dignity, dignity. Treat your customers, your employees, your community as people with dignity that goes beyond your ability to measure metrics and see an immediate profit.

  51. tkr5 says:

    The original points seemed a little too narrow (they didn’t really apply to me, and they seemed to directly contradict what some data shows). Here’s my attempt to rephrase, and also emphasize what they *should* do. It was a fun mental exercise.
    #1: We are willing pay for quality, but we expect to get what we pay for.
    #2: We have no reason to listen to you. We have other, better, and more interesting sources of information about your product.
    #3: We entrust you with our personal information. If you invade or degrade our privacy you betray us.
    #4: If we go to the trouble to buy your product, we expect to be listened to.
    #5: If you tell the truth and try to make things right, we’ll probably forgive you. If you avoid or hide the truth, we’ll never forget.

  52. spinachdip says:

    @flameboy: An “intelligent” advertisement should describe the product and its qualities and benefits in a clear, concise, and reasonable way.

    If I’m reading your comment very literally, I wouldn’t call that intelligent at all. In fact, that would be horrible use of the medium. I mean, if you want to just communicate the benefits of a product, buying ad space would be a horrible waste of money. Media by way of PR is a demonstrably more efficient way to get that kind of information across.

    what too many people, even people in advertising don’t seem to get, is that advertising is about branding, i.e. relationship between the product/company and the consumer. An ad that “describes the product and its qualitites and benefits in a clear, concise, and reasonable way” would essentially be akin to walking up to a pretty girl in a bar and telling her, “Hello, my name is Joe, and I am a 25-year-old banker. A long-term relationship would provide you with financial security and a faithful partner, and I have brought my sexual partner to climax 85.4% of the time. In conclusion, it would be to your benefit to come home with me tonight.” My guess is small talk, jokes and sweet nothings would be more effective – what you describe as “propaganda”, and that applies to advertising too.

    The thing is, purchases are not based 100% on logic (and there’s nothing wrong with that). The great deal of the value in what we buy, whether it’s a car, a house, or a v-neck sweater, has to do with how we *feel* about the product, and that is where advertising is most effective.

    @G-Dog: Having sat in on focus groups, I hate, hate, hate them with a passion. Because the companies either don’t pay attention, or pay too much attention. As Henry Ford once said, if he had asked his customers what they wanted, they would’ve said “a faster horse”. Focus groups are good for finding broad demographic breakdowns or to confirm or disprove assumptions, but not for making decisions about specific product features.

  53. djanes1 says:

    Hidden fees: Few things make me feel as bitter at the point of sale
    as the marked price being jacked up by dubious “Fuel surcharge” and
    “mand. gov. fee” type things. Cell phone industry I’m looking at you.
    Feel free to pass along the inflating cost of overhead to the consumer,
    but please just raise the price. At least expedia, travelocity, etc.
    include these ~$50 amounts for comparison purposes.

  54. flameboy says:

    You make a good point, especially with your analogy.

    I would argue, however, that in most situations a fact-based logical presentation is far more beneficial than superficial “feelings” that can be manipulated at a whim.

    I believe Joe, the 25 year old banker’s, approach *should* be the correct way of advertising a product. After all, what good is all the sweet talk if the girl finds out hes really a 39 yr old ex-convict with an impotence problem?

    That doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with SHOWING the fact-based arguments. A popular method is to show the “leading brand” doing more poorly in a test. I have no problem with this.

    Have you ever seen that ad where a kid is playing video games stands up and showers praise on his mother for making him some pizza bites? This is purely an emotional attack targeting vulnerable mothers who yearn for appreciation. The actual food product isn’t even discussed!

    Another example is the iPod. Did they explain how the product is built better, has longer battery life, is easy to use, supports different formats? No. They just made it “cool” and the population did the rest.

    Of course the actual product had to step up to the plate as well.
    There has to be a balance.

  55. NewView says:

    These bullet points are fine but overall I think you need to start with the assumption that the marketing folks you are addressing are Old Media types who really don’t yet understand the full paradigm shift that is dealing with customers who are able to wield the internet as a research tool and as a feedback weapon.

    1.Provide poor service or a poor product at your peril because today’s web savvy consumer can blog about their crappy experience or report it to the Consumerist for xxx,xxx eyes to see it. Word of mouth has never been as explosive and as fast as it is now, and the once alone and isolated unhappy customer now has a worldwide megaphone that is one quick Google search away from trashing your company/product.

    2.Good Customer Service IS MARKETING. That same word of mouth (and positive Amazon reviews etc) is much more important than the commercials you are running on tv or the ads you put in print because these same web savvy customers are likely to tivo past ads and get their news online (with adblocker plus running) anyway.

    3.Bad web design is bad marketing. Make consumers jump through too many hoops or click through too many pages to buy your product and they will often bail out of the transaction. Same goes for sending them too much marketing spam email or selling their email address.

    4.Censorship is bad. Rather than deleting negative feedback on your corporate website or bulletin board, it looks much better to directly and professionally address the complaint and offer to rectify it. You will never be able to delete all the negative comments from the internet anyway…better get used to having your reps leave positive footprints right behind the negative ones if you want to leave a good impression. Again, that’s the real marketing in the Net Age, not advertising.

  56. nybiker says:


    I’m with you on that. I avoid items that are shilled by “celebrities”. That means no tiger stuff. No nascar stuff. no oprah stuff. my sneakers are new balance, not the air stuff. I’m trying to think of others, but since I fast forward through the tv commercials I don’t get to see everything.

    Oh, naming rights just don’t work. At least not for me. I’m going to buy a nokia phone or eat at outback because you paid for the naming rights to a college football bowl game? Personally, I also avoid (as best I can) companies that play the world’s oldest game. Good thing I already have my college degree or I’d be tempted to attend that bastion of ivy at university of phoenix (yeah, the for-profit online school that paid for the naming rights for the Arizona Cardinals football stadium and the sight of this year’s Super Bowl).

  57. SaraAB87 says:

    I also don’t buy goods based on a celebrity endorsement. I buy a product because I like the product, not because I like the person or organization behind the product.

    I don’t intentionally buy stuff thats endorsed by a celebrity but its possible that I might accidently do that. My body is hard to fit for clothing and shoes so when I find something that fits, I am buying it regardless of the brand name or who is behind the product, I am buying it simply because it fits. If I have been through 50 pairs of shoes in a shoe store and the one that fits just so happens to be endorsed by Michael Jackson or whoever I am buying it because it fits!

  58. Buran says:

    @WraithSama: Why do we need a name? An employee number would be a lot less ambiguous and no lying required.

  59. FrankReality says:

    The vast majority of customers that will cease doing business with your company will do it without a fuss and without telling you why… they just walk out the door, never to return… ever…

  60. CaptainSemantics says:

    @MPHinPgh: lol, I’ve been embracing that rule for years. I’m man enough to admit when I’m wrong…

    It’s also easier to say, “I messed up, give me a minute to fix it,” than to stall and come up with some half-assed excuse.

  61. dweebster says:

    @SVreader: Safeway has a bad habit of forcing their employees to call you by your name after you check out. They gleam it from your credit card and/or store affinity card. Who the fuck wants everyone around them knowing their name? Stalkers and other lowlifes have it easy enough nowadays. Cash is the typical “opt out.”

    One day when I have the time I’m gonna apply for the card with a phony number. Yes, that’ll be me in the line next to you – Mr. Shitferbraynz.

    Fuck you Safeway, let your employees take my money for milk, film, Cheerios and McCalls magazine in peace and privacy.

  62. TheSpatulaOfLove says:

    No matter how good your product may be, using unscrupulous (popups, spam) or annoying (HEAD ON APPLY DIRECTLY TO YOUR FOREHEAD x 10) advertisements will guarantee I will never purchase your product.

  63. mike says:

    @TonyTriple: It really is…

  64. jbl-az says:

    “Your customers aren’t listening to you. They’re talking to each other, and your disgruntled employees, online.”

    You have this point listed second, but I think it’s the most important one and should be listed first. I would, however, revise it somewhat. It should point out instead that your customers ARE listening to you, but they now have access to sources and can detect the truth almost immediately.

    So in your second point, while I agree with others here that you can polish a turd, I would also say that customers are now much more easily able to detect a turd when they see one. And in your fourth point about feedback, customers will be aware of how the company is likely to deal with their feedback, and if they are ignored, they will already be able to exchange ideas about how to get around the stone walls the company records.

  65. CornwallBlank says:

    I concur with all of your points. Let me add one more: your customers KNOW that you will screw up, sooner or later, no matter how careful you are. When you do, don’t delay, lie, obfuscate, blame or wallpaper: admit it immediately, make it plain you know you screwed up, make it equally plain you WILL fix it, and make it equally plain that you WILL hold the people responsible accountable for it — especially anybody at the Cxx level. And DO NOT issue a press release that says anything like “We take the XXXX seriously” — the proper response to that is a punch in the face.

    I can deal with and get past mistakes: I make my own. But I won’t forgive or forget whitewashing — not only will you lose me as a customer for life, I will make it my mission to do everything possible to destroy your business, by trashing you to everyone I interact with. You will turn me from an enthusiastic promoter to a recurring nightmare in a day if you botch this. So don’t.

  66. sicknick says:

    Stop outsourcing your customer service departments to companies that don’t care about your customers. Or, outsource, but make helping the customers the main goal, not how cheap the contract is to maintain.

    Convergys, a huge company that does customer service for companies (including GM’s OnStar), gets information from their customer (in this case, GM) that has nothing to do with serving GM’s customers. See the problem? Some middle or upper management guy gets a bug in his ass about people calling taking to long, and suddenly the whole call center is given some arbitrary shortened call time average requirement. All this does is make reps hang up on a certain number of people immediately so they get the average call down. Sure, the people those reps do help get fantastic, not rushed service, but it could be everyone calling in gets great service if you’d get your head out of your ass.

  67. backbroken says:

    The problem is that those 5 points apply to maybe 5% of consumers. Whoever you give this list to is going to take one look and say, “None of this is supported by the marketing studies we have done.” And they will be right. Making the kinds of changes required to address these issues just isn’t cost effective.

    Your points are valid if you are referring to the Consumerist crowd. They are not valid if you are referring to the huddled masses yearning to be first to buy the iPhone.

    Heck, some of these don’t even hold true about the Consumerist crowd. Several times a week there is a story posted here about a company pissing all over a poor consumer trying to buy a product, and what happens? In the end the consumer still ends up buying the product.

  68. deadlizard says:

    Advertising lost its grip on consumers when it became a one-way conversation. They talk, we listen. See if that works in the real world. In the old days before executives and customer service hid behind automated services, it was easy to talk back to a business. Specially when it was a mom-and-pop business. Now it’s hard to get marketers and their agencies off their ivory towers and is costing them in the long run. So listen to this guy: spend less in marketing and more in customer service.

  69. JohnMc says:

    Shannon —

    The proper use of the line is thus — “You can polish a turd, but you can’t make it shine.”

  70. JohnMc says:


    Some of what I am going to say is operational not marketing but since many marketing types always tout the ‘total user experience’ —

    * Cut the games with rebates. Offer the deal up front. But if you feel you have to do it. At least do it with a rebate firm that has a solid consumer reputation. A bad experience with a rebater hurts YOUR brand, not the MFR offering the rebate.

    * Please, get rid of the idea that anybody off the street can sell high end tech products. The revolving door of hires turns off the customer.

    * My God get rid of the receipt checkers! 80% of all retail loss as a source is the employee not the customer. So why do you persist in treating the customer like a criminal.

  71. ShariC says:

    While I agree with all the points being made, they seem to apply to customer service, not marketing. For that reason alone, your points may be of limited interest.

    I’m not a marketing person, but I do know that a lot of the most irritating and nonsensical habits are happening because they work. Mentioning a bunch of products when a call is answered reminds the consumer that they are available. Saying, “welcome to (name of fast food shop)” builds a connection between the brand and the consumer. Putting the Kool-aid guy in hip clothes makes kids like him and want their parents to buy the product because he’s colorful and funny-looking. It doesn’t matter that it’s sugar water. It matters that your kid whines for you to buy it. If these things didn’t work, they wouldn’t be used.

    Also, the success of Wal-mart is enough evidence to show that people value price over quality or how customers are treated. If people cared about either of these things, Wal-mart would be gone. People pay lip service to patronizing companies who are humanistic and full of quality but they use their wallets at the places with the lowest prices no matter how poorly they treat their employees (or their customers for that matter). How many complaints have you seen on the Consumerist have included the fact that someone had a bad experience but they went to the same place again or they end with conditional threats to stop patronizing a business (‘if this continues, I’ll stop shopping there…’).

    Companies don’t listen to customers because most of them don’t really know what they want and their complaints are highly personalized and sometimes irrational. You’ve read some of the absurd complaints on the Consumerist (recently, the bread stick and the candle was a good example). Marketing has no use for such information as for every 5 people who want a breadstick, 95 could care less.

    Personally, I think a presentation to people in marketing ought to be more oriented toward marketing concerns and not customer service and to be based in what may be more useful rather than what you think is important for companies to know, but it’s not my presentation to give.

  72. stageright says:

    Let’s be honest. This talk shouldn’t be titled “The 5 things your customers aren’t telling you”. It should be titled “The 5 things your customers are screaming at you over and over and over that you’re too stupid to hear, too slow to adapt to, and too stuck in your ways to change…”

  73. savvy9999 says:

    Lots of good advice above. Only thing I have to add is a general comment about using the web:

    Do not EVER astroturf any 3rd party website (such as consumerist) for your company or product. EVER. Do not leech upon other forums or avenues to polish your turds, it’s doubling your sin– not only will it show that your company is a bunch lying bastards, but cheap ones too. You will feel the wrath of the web in triplicate if you do so.

    Instead, feel free to create your own site, with a simple discussion board, and a dedicated staff to put out your message and answer questions from consumers however you feel like (hopefully with honesty). Your company and site should have manuals available for download (for free); useful FAQs to help customers help themselves; a feedback form that gets answered within 24 hours. A static page with a phone number to a support line doesn’t cut it any more.

    In essence, for one quarter forget the lousy mailing campaign, and spend the money on a nice web presence for customers, and loyalty will follow.

  74. ianmac47 says:

    I think you should point out that in surveys, people lie or don’t know what they actually want. I love taking those online surveys, but I often lie on them in the hope of changing the results.

  75. UX4themasses says:

    My opinion is that the name of the presentation should be:

    Impacts of Consumer Advocacy in a Web World

    1. If you make bad products, eventually it will come to light LOUDLY and your MARKETING statements will be held accountable.

    2. Your customers are web enabled and will do a GOOGLE search which may take them to a discussion post about your product.

    3. The Media loves to publicize information security breakdown, would you like to be synonymous with that to your potential customers?

    4. Leverage effective customer input and provide proof to the consumer base that there has been a change where applicable.

    5. Be proactive and truthful in your information to the customer because, they will use `Google` to double check.

    For those that use the ‘I hate it but they are the cheapest’ example, I emphasize your idea pointing to the lead toy example. These items weren’t pulled immediately from the shelves and consumers STILL bought them. Even when the NATIONAL Media was blaring horns, people still bought them.

    Keep us updated on how it goes!

  76. @igj: “marketing folks don’t have much control over whether a company ignores customer feedback”

    But that’s marketing too. ANY point of customer contact is marketing, and God knows companies use customer service to upsell. If customer service and operations is UNDOING marketing’s work, then marketing needs to be involved, or at least aware.

  77. @mac-phisto: “you can have the best product in the world, but if no one knows it exists, what do you have?”

    No-Ad Sunblock. Kickass.

  78. @flameboy: “If telling the cashier to push a company credit card increases revenue then then its hard to argue against it, unless it pisses off people more than it helps.”

    This is observational, but thinking about department stores, the ones that have the “would you like to save 10% with our credit card today?” spiel at the register are typically the ones that are struggling. Probably that pitch IS increasing revenue. But it’s probably also driving customers away to specialty stores and other department stores where they DON’T get pitched. They probably don’t say “I hate being pitched, I’m never coming back here” but leave with a sense of annoyance, and are more inclined to go somewhere they have a GOOD purchasing experience the next time. So many, many of these irritating marketing tactics are adopted by companies that are doing poorly, one right after the next, and I have to think that they’re increasing immediate revenue while driving away customers in the longer term by making the shopping experience unpleasant. Winning the battle, losing the war.

    “Your customers aren’t listening to you. They’re talking to each other, and your disgruntled employees, online.”

    I would also make the point that one of the ways the free market has failed in the past is with semi-durable consumer goods, like vacuums. You only buy one every 10 or 15 years, and they don’t cost so much that many consumers bothered with a ton of research, so companies could get away with selling shitty vacuums for YEARS, and the market would never correct for that because there wasn’t enough information available for consumers to adjust purchasing habits because purchases were too infrequent.

    That simply isn’t the case anymore with the internet functioning like a supergiant dispersed Consumer Reports. Purchasers can get all that information in a matter of minutes now, and overpriced, underperforming products (Monster Cables?) may succeed for a while, but they WILL be exposed, no matter how great your marketing is and how much you polish up the turd.

    I think a lot of sectors that have traditionally fallen into this crack between “constant purchase so individual consumer can adjust” (groceries, film, batteries) and “rare purchase but so large consumer does plenty of research” (cars, houses) have yet to realize this. And it seems like a lot of the “worst” products that get complained about on Consumerist and on the broader internet fall into this gap — consumer electronics, home appliances, etc. Those companies need to realize the information imbalance is disappearing, and however accustomed their marketing departments have been to successfully polishing up turds, they’re going to need to adjust.

    Not that there isn’t space in the marketplace for a shitty vacuum cleaner. Someone mentioned the pasta sauces up above, and there are great pasta sauces and okay pasta sauces — but the only okay ones tend to COST LESS. Shitty vacuums, if they want to remain on the market, will have to adjust their prices to reflect their quality, rather than trading on a name brand’s reputation for quality to market a shitty vacuum for twice what it’s worth. And perhaps the worst effect of that is that it seriously damages the brand’s reputation — and I think we’ve seen a LOT of home appliance brands fall prey to this in recent years.

  79. lim says:

    @bohemian: I’m front-line staff, and I know that the thought process goes something like “If we sold even a small percentage of our customers something extra, we’ll make even more money.” That part is understandable, but when companies force employees to sell or potentially loose their jobs the results are not pretty. They are forced and/or desperate.

    Perhaps they can try making those sales part of an incentive program rather than something that becomes a negative on a performance review. The sales staff shouldn’t be punished for recognizing when a customer is in a hurry or knows exactly what they want. Customers come in/call/whatever when they can, and not everyone is housebound with two shattered legs and hasn’t had a conversation with anyone in the last few weeks except the walls. Some have things to do.

    And for crying out loud if it IS mandatory have a few options for the sales staff to choose from so they don’t have to offer xB to someone who was having difficulty with xA or has made it very plain that they can only use Y14. And not everyone needs your “perk” card. Sometimes, no matter how hard you wish and hope and pray, it was a one shot deal and you will never see them again. Deal.

  80. MPHinPgh says:

    @JohnMc: The proper use of the line is thus — “You can polish a turd, but you can’t make it shine.”

    I prefer “Polish a turd, it’s still a turd”, but the concept is a perfect illustration…

  81. Gann says:

    Take the role of a CS employee seriously.
    Remember that no matter how many shiny bullshit speaches you force your cs people to regurgitate at the customers with a glazed look on their faces, it is the interaction between that employee and the customer that determines much of the customer’s experience. Like any service, if you farm tech support out to the lowest bidder, you will most likely get the worst possible service. Slapping a bunch of misguided rules and regulations will only take an already poor situation and make it painfully less personable and harder to come to a reasonable solution to the problem that initiated the call in the first place.

  82. lightmanjk says:

    Hi Ben-

    I love the consumerist, so I’d hate for your audience to walk out saying, “wow, that guy’s head is huge. Does he really think his blog has that much power?” I’m afraid that your first three points are a little weak, and will cause you to lose your audience at the start.

    Let’s face it, marketing and market research is very well funded. Time and time again and the public makes stupid decisions based on good these marketing propositions. Remember the NY Times bestseller PREDICTABLY IRRATIONAL by Dan Ariely which the Consumerist recently posted about. In other words, your audience has tons of good research that basically refutes your first three points.

    Off topic anecdote:
    I just gave Midwest Airlines a shot because they’re the airline with the warm cookies. When I was stuck on a 3 hour flight in a commuter jet I was beating myself up over picking an airline because of a 50 cent cookie.

    Your first two points are strong and I would suggest opening up with those two points. If more businesses were run like small businesses that have passionate, involved leaders / managers, then the Consumerist wouldn’t exist.

    The general rule is that customers are ok with being shit on once… or maybe even twice… as long as the situation is resolved to their liking. It takes a lot for the busy people of today to get fed up to the point of taking action. I could do a search and quote dozens if not hundreds of examples of people’s attitudes doing a 360 because of how an issue was resolved (Zappos), and vice versa because of how an issue was not resolved. (Apple, Jet Blue, Best Buy).

    Overall, the theme is that a $5 mis-step can cause millions in bad PR and a $5 concession can cause the same in good PR. I’m with you on the “just do good business,” idea, the world needs more good businesses.

    Other points:
    Empowered employees on the front line are key to success as they can head off problems early on.

    The web doesn’t necessarily make it easier for the customer to bite back, but it surely empowers them to. I would have never thought of filing a small claims complaint or an executive carpet bomb, but The Consumerist has empowered me to and shown me that it is worth my time in its effectiveness.

    Today if you’re a bad business, forget it. I would never buy, nor allow a friend or family member to buy, an appliance from Sears because of what I’ve read on the Consumerist. Nor would I buy electronics from Best Buy without checking the box. Too bad we don’t have an example yet of The Consumerist bringing down a bad business – although the recent shifts at Sears may be damn close!

    Break a leg Ben!

  83. KJones says:

    I have one amendment:

    Do it right, not fast. Getting it right the first time may take a few minutes longer and cost a few pennies more, but never having to service an unreliable product or never having to address a customer complaint because there aren’t any of either will save you more in the long run. Cutting corners doesn’t save money, it costs more.

  84. An addition to point #5: Please realize that most people know the difference between words that mean something and emptyspeak. And no, I don’t have much of an opinion of the average intelligence around my hometown either, but even Bubba at the gas station isn’t fooled by “Your call is important to us!” after being on hold with India for half an hour. Even the dumbest of us are smart enough to be pissed off when something is advertised as “free” and then we’re asked for money; or when the terms of an agreement we thought we had with you disappears in a puff of slight-of-fine-print. Pretty lies are still lies, AND they’re MORE insulting when we figure them out later.

    Also, totally agree with the wonderful comment above, “Cutting corners doesn’t save money”. I can forgive a business for ACTUALLY looking out for its bottom line, but it drives me CRAZY when they’re screwing me AND themselves and do n’t seem to realize it!!

  85. PatrickIs2Smart says:

    “You can’t polish a turd.” Just saw Drillbit Taylor… when I heard this line, I immediately thought, “CONSUMERIST!”

  86. Ben Popken says:

    @UX4themasses: Compelling rephrase, I will definitely think about your points.