I love trains. Whenever it makes sense, I prefer to take a train rather than a plane—I find them more comfortable, more relaxing, and it’s easier to read or use my computer than with a plane flight. So, I love trains. (Did I mention that?) Except last night, when I was thanked for my patience about 15 times. But I wasn’t patient.
I was actually quite impatient. The Amtrak train taking me from Boston to New York broke down multiple times before Amtrak broke down and sent a “rescue” engine. A four-hour trip became almost seven hours. I missed the last bus back to New Jersey by 15 minutes and had to pay $120 to take a cab home.
So, honestly, I wasn’t being patient. I wasn’t screaming and yelling at the crew. I did not appear agitated. But I wasn’t patient.
I was resigned. I was tired. But over and over through this saga, the crew kept thanking me for my patience. I know this is a nicety, but it started to get on my nerves. After hours of sitting on an empty track, I wanted someone to say something besides “thanks for your patience.”
I wanted them to say, “This is a horrible experience and we are doing everything we can to fix it. I hope that there’s no one on this train taking their first ride on Amtrak, because we are far more reliable than this. To make it up to you, we’re giving all passengers a coupon for $50 off their next fare.” Instead, I got a free snack pack containing trail mix, crackers and “cheese food.” And I was endlessly thanked for my patience.
What does this have to do with Internet marketing? A lot. If you talk to your customers like you are using a loudspeaker and generically thank them for their patience, or their business, or any other platitude that we’ve been trained to have roll trippingly off our tongues, that’s not real. That is not the way to build a relationship. That is not the way to show you understand—really understand—what the experience is like for each individual customer.
I’d like less generic marketing messages and more real gratitude. Or empathy. If “our customers drive everything we do” (you know you have a sign like that hanging in the lobby), can’t we at least treat them as individuals with feelings and needs? I’m not blaming Amtrak for what happened last night—anyone can have a bad night. Machines fail.
But I thought the way they communicated was symptomatic of the herd mentality of customer relations. Just give everyone the same message delivered over and over again just as the policy book says. I’d have liked it better if someone had said, “I hope you never have a worse train ride than this one.” Or “We want to make this up to you.” Or just walked through the car asking customers exactly how they were being inconvenienced instead of just apologizing for some blanket inconvenience.
Is your company able to treat your customers as individuals? Do you personalize your Web site? Do you know what each small market segment really wants? Do you pay attention to what your customers say on the Web and to what they do? Do you change what you do in response? If not, you’ll find that your customers will need to be a lot more patient with you and you’ll be thanking them for it more than your competitors do.
Before I go today, I want to ask for feedback from you. I’ve apparently been running the lamest contest of all time, because I have just one entrant. The prize is good—a free two-day pass for July 19th and 20th to the Internet Strategy Forum Executive Summit worth $300. I got lots of A-list bloggers to link to the contest, so I think people saw it. But something is stopping everyone. Let me know what it is so I can do better next time—I’ll try to get the next one right. Uh, thank you for your patience.