• February 1, 2014
  • By Marshall Lager, founder and managing principal, Third Idea Consulting; contributor, CRM magazine

Pull the Plug on Customer Care

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You'll be glad to know that I am not trying to tie this month's column to Valentine's Day, Groundhog Day, or any of the other holidays or celebrations that fall during the month of February. Some years, it's just not worth the effort. However, I will be writing about myself (more or less) as a stand-in for the everyman in customer experience. Sorry, readers—sometimes you just can't win.

It's good to show customers that they matter to you when they're not transacting with you. However, even too much of this may not be a good thing. When there are too many touches that accomplish nothing, what starts as a courtesy can become harassment.

Regular readers of this column may recall that I am not the healthiest guy in the world, due to a combination of bad genes and a level of activity that would bore a barnacle. As such, I have a number of prescription medications that I take daily. My health insurance provider has decided that people who take certain of these drugs pose a clear and present danger to world peace if they forget to take them. So they call me to remind me to refill the prescription.

I have been taking this medication for most of my adult life, longer than the insurance company has been in business. I am not going to forget to refill my meds. On very rare occasions, I forget to take it for one day—because I forgot to take all of my meds that day. Regardless, remind me they will. I dread the twice-monthly (as I take two medications in the same class) robocall from "Mary Beth," telling me to perform a basic task and congratulating me "for taking charge of my health." Like I've done for two decades.

I understand that prevention is cheaper than remediation, and that an insurer that intrudes like this is less open to litigation than one that leaves its customers flapping in the breeze. But this treatment feels like paternalism, with the insurer taking the role of the overinvolved parent and me as the resentful child who rebels at being smothered. If I wanted this, I have a real live mother who could do it for me, thank you very much—and she has insurance issues of her own.

I could almost stand it if it was a quick little call, but no, they have to make it interactive. I have to verify my identity—twice—before the reminder starts. I can't bypass it, because hanging up (or claiming I'm not me) just puts me in the queue to be called back. There is no opt-out info; I have to cut my own path to the company in order to tell them where to stick their outbound dialer.

I have tried to tell my insurer that this is not cool. The customer service reps (who are always very good and professional) tell me that I’m not set up for these abominable reminders. But the calls still come.

And then they send me actual paper mail to remind me about the same damn thing. I can only assume the company wants me to take advantage of my mental health coverage by driving me 'round the bend and getting me committed.

Before the white van arrives to fit me for my new white coat with extra-long sleeves, I beg of all my readers who have influence over their companies' outbound customer communications: Make sure you include an off switch. Close the holes that enable well-meaning harassment, and I will not have suffered in vain.

Marshall Lager is the managing principal of CRM advisory business Third Idea Consulting, and is well-medicated and resting comfortably. Cut through his haze at marshall@3rd-idea.com or www.twitter.com/Lager.

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