Handle with kid gloves

If there's one group of people you should treat with the utmost care and consideration, it's your customers. If there's a second group, it's your qualified prospects. Those tenets are so obvious you're probably sitting there right now sarcastically saying, 'No kidding, Bob.'

If there’s one group of people you should treat with the utmost care and consideration, it’s your customers. If there’s a second group, it’s your qualified prospects. Those tenets are so obvious you’re probably sitting there right now sarcastically saying, ‘No kidding, Bob.’

Yet advertisers continue to assault their most valued customers and prime prospects with offputting messages or insult their intelligence in ways too stupid to fathom.

Example: this week I received mail from Manulife Financial, one of the companies I support each month with my insurance premiums. Their mailings usually consist of material that’s of some importance to me, e.g. a statement of coverage or payment details. So when I read ‘Personal and Confidential’ on the envelope of their latest mailing, I naturally figured it was important and made it a priority to open their mail first. I shouldn’t have.

Their message was about as personal and confidential as this column. It was basically an ad in the form of a letter, sans even a salutation, trying to get me to take out a mortgage with them. I’m tempted to write them a letter with a teaser of my own on the envelope: ‘You have been selected to handle my purchase of $100,000,000 in insurance. Open immediately.’ Of course there wouldn’t be such an order inside, any more than there was a personal and confidential message in the envelope they sent me.

Had they told me on the envelope that they were pushing a product, I wouldn’t have thought any the less of them whether I was interested in their offering or not. But as soon as I discovered they were just out to suck me in with their false ‘personal and confidential’ notification, I began to wonder whether I want these tricksters handling my insurance any longer. After all, if they’re similarly devious in their other dealings, what’s it going to be like if my family or I ever need to cash in on a policy?

I feel the same way about Merkur & Sister/AdWEAR + PromoSTUFF. They’ve been e-mailing me of late with the promise that ‘This message appears to be junk mail. It is not junk mail.’ Believe me, it’s junk mail. Don’t believe me? Here’s the copy from one of their pieces of spam: ‘EASY.HOLIDAY.PROMOS. Don’t wait until Time runs out! Call Us Now for your Holiday Promos.’

Knight & Associates does sometimes buy promo items on behalf of clients, so Merkur and his (or her) sister may have received consideration had they gotten in touch on a professional-to-professional basis. But now that I know them as inconsiderate spammers, they have as much hope of our purchasing their merchandise as Manulife does of my taking out a mortgage with them.

You can insult customers and prospects in ways other than trickery. I received a letter from a reader complaining about the way a company promoting an ROI Calculator had addressed her in an e-mail. She felt insulted right off the e-bat by the salutation which read, ‘Hallam.’ No ‘Dear,’ no ‘Ms.,’ no first name. Just Hallam. And that wasn’t even her last name anymore; she’d been married earlier in the year and had changed it. Adding to her feelings of disdain, the letter stated, ‘I’d love to hear whether you found any value in it [the calculator], or if you have any suggestions for improvement…again, I’d love to hear from you if anything resonates.’ As the aggrieved reader wrote me, ‘Anyone who sends an e-mail where they’re just happy if at least one point resonates isn’t aiming high enough.’

Then there’s the bane of the mail order purchaser – shipping and handling. Anyone’s who’s ordered anything by mail, phone or online expects to have a shipping and handling charge tacked onto the advertised price of the product they’re seeking. But when is it reasonable and when is it highway robbery? That’s the $64 (plus shipping and handling charges) question.

My eight-year-old recently ordered a set of player cards from a baseball team in the U.S. The cards were priced at $4; shipping and handling was $8! ‘Do you realize that shipping and handling costs twice as much as the cards?’ I asked. ‘So what,’ replied my nonplussed begat. ‘You and Mom always pay the taxes and shipping and handling.’

And as fellow rant, rave and rambler Danny Finkleman (Finkleman’s 45s, CBC Radio, 8 p.m., Saturdays) recently asked, ‘Why is there a charge for handling anyway? Shipping? OK, the product has to be shipped. But why handling? If I go into a store and buy a suit, they don’t tell me it’s $400 for the jacket and pants plus $25 handling because the salesman handled the suit when he took it off the rack.’

Handle your qualified prospects and customers with kid gloves, and you’ll develop or maintain a profitable relationship. Trick or take advantage of them, and you’ll only get their goat…and lose them to your competition.

Bob Knight creates direct, integrated and e-campaigns for a variety of agencies and advertisers across Canada and the U.S. If you hire him, he promises you will not have to pay any shipping & handling charges. Bob can be e-mailed at: b_knight@telus.net.