The Most Dangerous Thing About Online Customers

“People don’t want to be sold. But they do want to be educated, informed and surprised. They want to be the first to know. They want a competitive advantage.” (Mark Stevens, Entrepreneur magazine)

As a Bank of America customer, I rarely click on the extra promotions I’m served, but back in 2005, when the company launched its Keep the Change program, I was served a steady stream of promotions until I paid attention and acted on the calls to action to do something. Here was a program that offered a benefit for me–an extra way to save money and I wouldn’t have to do a thing–a no-brainer. Now, I’m sure that underneath it all this program also benefits the company in some financial/banking kind of way. But they’ve made it all about the customer and it works.

Regardless of what many people say, few actually know what they want or how to articulate it in a way that is easily consumed by business.

We don’t like lurking car salesmen, we are annoyed by banner ads or anything that smacks of a sell. In fact it seems like every business is curious to know what its customers want or are thinking online, as if that intell will help them sell to us! I would not have been able to tell BoA, “Hey it sure would be nice if you could find a way to save my money for me….”  I would have preferred they leave me alone to do my online banking in peace, without any extraneous messaging or information, just access to my bank account. But ultimately I’ve saved many hundreds of dollars with their Keep the Change program.

Ben Settle, a sales copywriter whose emails I read everyday, just posted on this very topic. He paraphrases Ken McCarthy on the topic of customer feedback, namely customer surveys:

Ask kids what they want, and they’ll tell you cotton candy, would
you feed them that every day?  And if you asked cavemen what they
wanted, they would have told you a bigger club.

…nobody asked for the automobile.

Or the telephone.

Or the personal computer.

That’s the problem with merely asking people what they want.

It provides faulty (even dangerous) info.

And according to Chip and Dan Heath, one of the main keys to “stickiness” is delivering the unexpected (“We need to violate people’s expectations”):

The most basic way to get someone’s attention is this: Break a pattern.

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