Marketers make the worst shoppers. And, personable and practical customer service makes up for just about anything.

I will admit this: as a marketer, I make a terrible shopper.


I’m constantly evaluating everything. “Hmm, don’t really like that wording.”  “Why are they using spring green when it’s autumn?”  “That discount code doesn’t work.”  “Why do they offer a loyalty card when you can’t apply it to purchases made online?” – and on it goes.

On the positive side, this does makes me a constantly better marketer. Everything I see I’m evaluating in terms of how our clients can market themselves better. When I see a sign that makes me laugh, or think, I stop to take a picture of it, and consider how one of my accountancy firm clients could use that in their next campaign.  When I’m treated really poorly, but then the company makes up for it a few minutes later, I’m reminded of the power of customer service. 

This happened to me on Monday.  It was a classic Monday – started out great. I was doing brilliantly, quite happy, everything was going smoothly…and then I finished my first cup of coffee and attempted to start the day.

First, I ordered a pair of welly boots from Joules. It’s one of my favourite shops, and I’ve purchased their wellies in the past, so I know my size and shopping is always very easy.  And it was.  Too easy.  I clicked through, one step to the next, and suddenly I was staring at a confirmation screen realising I’d ordered my new wellies to go to my old address.

“No problem,” I thought, “I’ll just go into the order and edit it online.”

And from this point on the marketer brain kicked in, and I was nothing but frustrated for the next hour.  I tried a variety of options and finally had to completely cancel the first order and order again.  And then my promotional code didn’t work.

By the time I spoke to someone from Joules, I was very frustrated.

But here’s what they did absolutely right:

  • A real human being answered the phone, with no waiting.
  • The person I spoke to was pleasant, polite, friendly, and helpful.
  • She had the authority to make the changes needed.
  • She made the changes – instantly, while I was on the phone.
  • Whatever discount code she used was better than my original one, so after all my trouble I ended up saving even more.
  • I felt like she cared, was glad to help, and would have done whatever was needed to sort out my problem.

The same thing happened with John Lewis, and IKEA.  I had trouble with products from both of those stores, and those who served me in their customer service department could not have been more pleasant or helpful.  (Amazingly, in two of the three cases, technically, the issue was mine.  I ordered the wellies to the wrong house. I made a mistake in measuring, and the washing machine only fit halfway.)

Compare this to my later experience at B&Q.  Having recently moved house, I’ve visited B&Q more times than I care to count at this point.

I ended up having just as much trouble there as I had at Joules – but the difference was significant.

Here’s the important point: I was not treated rudely. No one was unkind, or overly unhelpful.

They just didn’t seem to care.

You get an impression of people when you go into a shop, or a store, or an office. Your mind sends you messages about their attitudes towards the company they work for, its clients or customers, its products.

And my impression of the people at my local B&Q is that they are bored with their jobs, aren’t treated particularly well by the company, and see me as a customer, not a person.

Yes, they made some marketing mistakes.  Their loyalty card is difficult to use, you can’t put past purchases on it, and you can’t use it at the self-checkout.  (My favourite line of the day, from the woman I asked about this: “Oh, you just need to shout someone over.”  “But isn’t the point of the self-checkout that I do it….myself?” She didn’t seem to understand, so I gave up.)

But I wouldn’t have minded any of that if they had simply sorted my problem. 

The marketing principle is this: I wanted to show some loyalty to B&Q, and they made it extremely difficult to do.

So, my desire to show them loyalty has decreased massively. What’s the point of having a loyalty card if you can hardly ever use it?  At least at Tescos, if you make a big purchase and realise you forgot your Clubcard, you can nip over to the Service desk and they will (cheerfully) add it on for you.

So, here are the marketing tips resulting from my shopper-marketer brain kicking in:

Think of marketing more like a budget than a final set of accounts.

Marketing is extremely flexible, and there’s no ‘right answer’.  It’s okay to make mistakes in marketing.  You can always shift things around.

Your people are absolutely critical to your marketing success

We can design the coolest logo for you, and prepare an impressive website. But if your people don’t back up what’s proclaimed in your marketing, you’ll fail.

Frustration results from disappointed expectations.

Much of our annoyance as customers or clients comes from disappointed expectations. I thought that B&Q would let me put past purchases on their card. I thought their self-checkouts would allow me to scan the card. I thought they would want to put it right. None of those came to pass.  This increased my frustration tenfold.

Expectations often arise from experiences with previous accountants.

One reason you need to be particularly careful with your marketing is that most of your new clients are ready to be amazed. They have had a negative experience with their previous accountant, and their expectations are fairly low.  If you promise big things, you have to deliver on them. Make it your business to understand their previous experience, and then go far beyond that.

Being pleasant covers a multitude of marketing mistakes

Without exception, if I am treated kindly, pleasantly, and warmly, a massive amount of my frustration disappears.

Being pleasant is not enough. You must also sort the problem.

If your marketing has resulted in disappointment for any reason – your client can’t register for an event, the email had the wrong date, the paperwork wasn’t ready on time – you must sort the problem, and quickly.

The truth must match the reality.

Marketing is not a fresh coat of paint over a collapsing wall. It must match what you deliver. Don’t design an incredible new website and logo if your offices are outdated and your people are bored with their jobs.  Don’t promote Xero if some of your team love SAGE, and grumble about this cloud accounting thing.

Treat people like people.

The accountancy firms we work with do this extremely well.  I’ve seen you at it. You remember that your clients are not just ‘a business’, or ‘a client’.  You care about mortgages, loan amounts, employee wages, cash in bank, anniversaries, personal goals achieved.

And in the end that’s all we do when it comes to marketing: we simply showcase who you actually are.  If who you are is pleasant, helpful, problem-sorting, and treating people like people, your marketing will go far.