How To Be Human In An Online Marketing World

being human when online marketing failsAs anyone reading this knows, I am a huge proponent of the opportunities available through online marketing.  It’s our modus operandi, the way we work here at the Profitable Firm, and a reflection of where we are personally and how people buy.

I never cease to be amazed by how the system works.  Emails go out.  Social media posts are made.  Forms are filled in.  Follow up is taken care of.  Purchases are made online.  And it all just ticks over while we’re working on other things, or talking to clients, or even relaxing on the beach somewhere.  (Okay, maybe I haven’t done enough of that lately.)

But something happened recently that reminded me how important it is to never forget that we are human, that systems don’t work perfectly, and that it is always in a combination of the online and the personal that will help you move forward in a rapidly changing, constantly-on, ultra-connected-and-yet-disconnected world.

We are running an 8-week online training course on LinkedIn for accountants.  (Not too late to sign up by the way – the first one ran last night but it’s recorded, so you miss nothing! End side note.)  We sent out an email to the accountants who hear from us, proclaiming how wonderful it would be and how they should sign up.  Two people went online, liked the sound of the course, and tried to purchase it online.

It didn’t work.

They both got an error, and an email saying their purchase hadn’t gone through.

We got the notifications in about the errors, and after a quick glance realised that something had gone wrong on our end.  Our system, which was supposed to flow through smoothly and take payment and let people log in and do everything well, didn’t.

This is where being human kicks in.  We picked up the phone to each person, told them we knew about the error and were very sorry for the trouble, and offered to sort it out for them manually so they didn’t have to have any more bother.  The first would-be-online-purchaser said that was great, sounds good, appreciate the call, would love to get that ordered and thank you for taking care of it.  The second said, no thanks, I’d rather you fix it so I can go through the whole online process myself.   Absolutely, we said to each one, and got cracking on sorting the issue out.

And it struck me that this was a brilliant example of how online marketing – as wonderful as it is, and believe me we love it – is not, and will never be, perfect.  Because things will go wrong at times, and they do go wrong.  The question is: what will your reaction be?

Here are a few tips for you when the online systems fail you, in a small way or a big way:

Don’t panic.  It’s tempting to think that the whole world has fallen apart when your brilliant system doesn’t do what it’s supposed to. The truth is, most people are very conscious that wonderful online systems fall apart at times. In our case, we had multiple errors that (seemingly randomly) decided to kick in at the same time.  Our online payment system had a glitch and an update that hadn’t updated; and our customer login system also had an update that failed to flow through to the rest of our CRM system.  If your systems aren’t working, there is always a reason, and they can always be fixed – somehow.  Whether you can fix it quickly, or the help desk/support team needs to do it, or you need to hire someone, it will get sorted out.

Respond immediately.  Before you start trying to fix the system issue, make sure the person attempting to use it knows that you’re aware of it.  Managing expectations is key – in this case, we were working backwards since the expectation was that the system would work brilliantly and they would be able to order online with no glitches.  But once the hiccup kicks in, how do you manage the expectations of what happens next?  We chose to phone each person directly, on their mobile or direct number, apologise profusely, and assure them that we knew and were sorting it out.  No matter what means you use (phone, email, text, tweet, facebook message), make it fast.

Use the personal touch.  Do whatever you can to make sure they know you are a real company, a real human being, and you understand how it feels when things go wrong.  I had an experience last week with TalkTalk, the phone company, about my home broadband and I can safely say it was the worst “help” conversation I’d ever had in my life.  The people manning the help centre sounded like robots.  They repeated the same phrases over and over.  They asked me to do the same things I’d tried, sometimes three or four times in a row.  And then had the audacity to say, “Are you satisfied with the service you have received?”, and when I said, “No, I think I have never been more dissatisfied”, laughed and said “Okay.”  I genuinely was not sure if this was a person I was talking to, and would not have been surprised if they lived on Mars somewhere.

Apologise.  Real, genuine apology does not just say, “I’m sorry”.  (TalkTalk, in my example above, apologised several times, but I think it was just the next phrase on their readout.)  It says, “I’m sorry; this is why this happened; and this is what we’re going to do about it.”  When you apologise for a system going wrong, tell them why it went wrong if you know, and what you’re actively doing to fix it.  If you don’t know, promise to find out, and then keep your word by explaining later.  In our case, we explained later what we’d discovered about the updates and errors with our payment system and our login system (two separate systems!), and that they had randomly decided to kick in at the same time.  (Classic.)  Then we explained that we had our developers on the case, and would notify them when it was fixed.

Sort the issue out manually if you can.   If the online payment system isn’t working, take payment another way.  If the email signup glitches, take the email address and sort it out yourself once the glitch is fixed.  Whatever you need to do to make your customer (or prospective customer)’s life easier – and prevent them from having to go through the whole process again – do it.  If, as in our case, someone wants to make sure that we have fixed it and will go through the process themselves, that’s okay too!

Fix the online issue as quickly as possible.  I say ‘as quickly as possible’ because I know about fixing online system issues.  Sometimes it’s literally a two second fix.  Other times you need developers and expertise and system integration, and it can take a day or a few days or even a week.  In our case, we got our developers on the case and they were working on it all evening and up till midnight, so that we could have it sorted for the next morning.  Do what you need to do to make sure the issue doesn’t pop up for others!  And, if the fix is going to take longer than a day, keep your customer notified.  Maybe even offer them something for their trouble.  “We’re sorry, it looks like the fix is going to take a few days – really appreciate your patience, and here’s a free gift.”

Learn.  This is absolutely the most important step.  One of my colleagues at a former workplace used to say, “There’s no failure, only feedback.”  If only two people book on your all-day seminar and you were hoping for forty, consider why this was the case.  If your online payment system glitches, find out if it’s a one-off issue, or if you need to look at another system.  Whatever happens, once you’ve sorted it out, look back and find out what you’ve learned.  In my case, I’ve been reminded how important it is to connect with people personally – that email and social media and websites are all wonderful, but at the end of the day people do business with people, and if you make sure that you are one and they know it, an online system glitch doesn’t have to prevent you from enjoying its benefits.

Now that we’ve sorted out the issue, it’s lovely to see things working smoothly again.  Far from being frustrated with our system, we appreciate it even more when it is working well.  And we greatly appreciate the humanity and helpfulness and personality of our team, our developers, our website guys, and our clients!  Without them, our systems would just be robots!