My name is Elizabeth and I’m a Porcupine. Well, only a part-time Porcupine; the rest of the time I try to be a more benign member of the woodland family. If you haven’t read Rich Gallagher’s book, What to Say to A Porcupine, you should go get it now and send it to your poor, demoralized Customer Abuse Department.
They, it seems, don’t like to talk to me when I’m a Porcupine. That’s because I’m demanding, angry and rude when I’m a Porcupine. When I’m a Bunny, I suppose, I’m just delighted to be treated badly by your company.
This excellent book offers plenty of tips to deal with Porcupines after you’ve doubled their budget, mucked up their billing, missed a delivery date or in some other way just hosed them. What it doesn’t recommend, and really should, is the final thing you do when you finally get off the phone with one: tag them in your CRM system. Once a Porcupine, always a Porcupine, I say.
Marketers should not go anywhere near Porcupines, even the part-time ones who would rather be Bunnies.
I found a few Porcupines in my CRM system years and years ago, and I can vouch for their pride-deflating quills. It was my company’s first-ever newsletter for customers. Not only did it make magnificent use of that new-fangled email medium, but it was dirt cheap and it showed off our fancy new website that was not so cheap. I rocked this thing!
At least until the trickle of unsubscribers became a raging flood and the hate mail had me using a different route to work for weeks. Turns out, in my enthusiastic list-building, I had grabbed not just happy customer files but also a bag full of porcupines, who were burning our products in the streets and required medication just to utter our corporate brand name. Imagine how happy these unstable, pointy creatures were to get my chirpy little missive about driving more value from their investment in our product.
But that was then. Before fancy campaign management, CRM systems and filters to weed out the crazy, the cranky and the poisonous. You can’t blame a girl for trying.
Sadly, I don’t think much has changed. I think our scripted, suspicious, spectacularly unimaginative approach to our customer has left us still spewing the wrong things at the wrong creatures.
Sometimes, I’m one of those creatures. Two years ago, I was poisoned by a meal at a Radisson hotel. At first, as I lay on the blessedly cold bathroom floor, I was afraid I might die. Hours later, still on the floor, I was afraid I might not. In the lucid moments I was growing quills and a bad attitude.
Eventually, I recovered, checked out, yelled at the desk clerk, went home and sent nasty emails to a bunch of people who never responded. Until about a year ago when one of them had the bright idea to put me on a mailing list with the owls and the bunnies and the badgers. Now I’m inundated with offers to try this property and that package and, nauseatingly, an array of food services.
Last year, I found bug larvae in a bottle of Mill Street beer. After ignoring me for two days (at which point I sent the Canada Food Inspection Agency after them) they sent a tepid email and, you guessed it, coupons for more Mill Street beer. Did they think that since I had become a Porcupine I would crave insects? Or were they just trying to finish me off? There are a lot of dead Porcupines on the roads these days. I’m just saying.
We all have examples of companies offering crappy products to replace the crappy products that caused you to become a little cranky in the first place. But my point is, Porcupines are mostly made, not born – especially in B2B. If you’re unlucky enough to turn a customer into a Porcupine and then dumb enough to keep them a Porcupine, you should make sure you have a way to flag them in your system so they don’t grow new quills every time you send them some junk mail.
And when the Porcupine calls (and we will), make sure your reps have read the book. As for me, I have a sudden urge to hide in the brush and startle stupid dogs.