Consumer at large and president of Plethora Internet
If we're going to have a relationship, we're going to be in touch. Possibly a lot. That means you have to contact me, and I have to contact you. Unfortunately, this isn't easy to do well. Here are a few things to keep in mind when keeping in touch with me.
You must make it as easy as possible for me to reach you -- and must not be pushy about reaching me. Don't bombard me with "announcements," "special offers," and other noise.
Don't bother me
Don't contact me until I contact you. This is going to be a speak-when-spoken-to relationship. If I need to reach you, I can (see Being contacted). I have, lying around waiting to do my bidding, millions of dollars worth of hardware running carefully tuned search engines. I have friends who tell me about products that work for them. I read reviews. In short, either I already know about you, or I don't care.
If, for some reason, you really do have to contact me (say, the car you sold me will explode), go ahead - but keep the contact totally relevant and to the point. Don't use the recall notice to talk to me about new dealerships. Don't use your virus warning to sell me on your consulting services.
Play by the rules
Use appropriate venues. For instance, if you are using Usenet, post one announcement to an appropriate newsgroup, preferably a commercial or announcement group. If you keep posting, I'll assume your product isn't good enough, and people aren't interested in it. If you post to an inappropriate group, I'll assume you think your time is more valuable than mine, and that's no basis for a relationship.
Read my lips: No junk e-mail
You may want to send e-mail. If I didn't ask for it, don't send it to me. No, I don't want to know. If I want to know, I'll spend my time looking it up on my own terms. Sending me announcements I have not asked for is theft; you are stealing my computing resources and my time. It's no better than junk faxes, which, as you are doubtless aware, are a violation of federal law in the U.S.
No tired stories
Don't say this is a "one-time mailing." I get too many copies of a lot of "one-time" mailings. Also, steer clear of the "database error." If you've done your database correctly, errors like this won't happen. If you have database problems, my assumption will be that they were intentional.
You'll find more and more occasions which absolutely require you to break the promises "just one more time." Somehow, once you've decided that it's okay to break the rules once, you'll find occasions which absolutely require you to break your promises come up more and more frequently. Don't start.
There is no such thing as "implicit" permission to send me ads at my expense. Do not assume I want to be on a mailing list based on anything other than my explicit request that I be added to the list. Don't use clever little checkboxes that I can mark to indicate that I don't want your e-mail; assume that I want to be left alone.
Don't ask me to opt out
Some people ask customers to provide the addresses at which they do not wish to be contacted. But I have dozens of valid e-mail addresses -- billions, if you include the software-handled e-mail addresses that will forward to me. The software that delivers mail to me may recognize patterns (like "seebs+tag") as being equivalent to my main address. You can't build a list of every address that reaches me, so don't ask me for a list of addresses I don't want your junk sent to; ask me for a list of addresses I do want it sent to.
Similarly, don't start mailing me and then ask me to unsubscribe if I don't like it. Avoid the term "opt out," because it associates you with sleazy people who do things like start mailing people without their permission, and then ask them to unsubscribe if they don't like it.
Listen to me
If I tell you to stop, STOP. Do not send me "just one more announcement." Do not leave me on the list based on my "evident past interest." Leave me alone. I'll let you know if I ever want to hear from you again.
If you're afraid that I'll "mistakenly" not ask to be on your list, try using two checkboxes -- one opt-in, one opt-out, neither of which should be checked by default. You don't have to worry that I'll "miss the opportunity" to join your list. You also don't have to worry that I will miss the little checkbox, get e-mail I don't expect, and complain about the Spam.
Offer me choices
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, offer me some choices. Don't just have a single grand mailing list. Let me ask for the mail I want, and only the mail I want. Allow me to ask for mailings only about new patches for a single specific product; I may not want any more. For instance, if you're a software company, distinguish between patch announcements, new version announcements, special offers, and news about other products. I may want one or more of these; I may want none. What I want most of all is to be able to get the information I do want, without being buried in Spam I don't want. Getting that service will affect my decision to buy that upgrade you want to sell me.
Don't make me fill out a form
A "feedback form should not be my only option for reaching you. If you provide it in addition to real contact information, great. But don't provide it as if it were a good alternative. You see, I have chosen my mail program, after years of experimentation. I'm happy with it. I want to use it for all my correspondence. I will send you feedback, which may help you improve your product, via e-mail; I will not waste time filling out forms, especially since forms are likely to give me some weird database errors. At least with e-mail, if the message bounces, I still have my copy, so I can try again. With your Web form, I just lost whatever time I put into drafting that message. You waste my time, I take my money elsewhere.
Accept support questions
You should always accept questions by e-mail. A
address that just reaches an autoresponder saying there is no e-mail support
is a slap in the face. If you aren't taking questions by e-mail, you aren't
ready to be on the Internet at all; go away until you're in the current decade.
In most cases, e-mail support is cheaper and more convenient than phone support,
for both parties. Snail mail is totally unacceptable for resolving the vast
majority of problems.
I sent e-mail for a reason
If I sent you e-mail, it's not an accident. Please don't waste my time with a response asking for an exchange of phone numbers. I sent you e-mail because e-mail was more convenient for me. If I wanted to use the phone, I would have used the phone. If I called you on the phone, don't tell me I have to send e-mail. I may be calling you because the e-mail I sent didn't get a response. I may hate typing. I don't know why you keep asking to switch from e-mail to the telephone. Stop! If I want a change of venue, I'll ask for one.
Postmaster must always work
Your postmaster address must work. This is not negotiable; if anything is wrong with any part of your network, I will send mail to
If it bounces, you will be revealed as someone unable to maintain even the simplest
and oldest of the Internet services. The postmaster address is in the RFCs,
and it will always be necessary to have it.
Your Web page should have contact information. Lots of it. At a bare minimum, I should be able to reach, by e-mail or phone, a sales person, a technical support person, and/or a manager. List the hours when your phone lines are open. I don't want to call just to find out that you're closed. If I want to contact you, the web page will be the first place I look; make it easy for me to find the person I need to contact. Make sure you have a contact point for your Web page itself, in case I'm having trouble, and of course, make sure that
gets to the right person.
You must make it as easy as possible for me to reach you. Always, always, make it easy for me to reach a real person; no system, however brilliant, can anticipate all of my needs. If you do this, you won't have to spend a lot of effort trying to reach me -- and you'll be able to give me the space I want.
Let me talk to someone in charge
Finally, make absolutely sure that I can call your company and talk to a decision maker if I need to. If I am unhappy, and the people I call can't do anything to address my concerns, I will still be able to tolerate this as long as they can get me to someone who can address my concerns. However, if there is no one I can talk to who can make any real decisions, I will make the only decision that matters: I will never pay you a single penny, ever again.
Customer loyalty is based on good relationships. That is, relationships the customer likes. As a customer, the main thing I want is for the relationship to be on my terms. I don't want you deciding for me when and where we'll talk. If you bug me, I won't want to talk to you. If I come to you, and you're responsive and helpful, then we have a good relationship.
And finally, the moment you have all been waiting for:
This week's action item: If you have a company mailing list, select five people from it at random. Send them an e-mail asking whether they know how they got on your mailing list, and whether they have any feedback about it. Try to predict how many of them will have any clue what you're talking about.