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How Not to Engage With Your Customers

This is a story of what your company should not do when you're attempting to "engage" with customers. It's an all-too-familiar example of the kind of bean-counter mentality where you measure eyeballs and pageviews and unique visitors and you know nothing about your customer and you clearly don't care to, and you wonder why your customers don't come back.

AudiForums site logo

This morning I got an email from Internet Brands, the LA company that owns, you guessed it, a lot of internet brands. One of the lesser-known "brands" they own is AudiForums.com, a web forum for Audi owners and would-be Audi owners.

Here's the email.

Email from Internet Brands' AudiForums site

Note the fact that the email is from "ib.upgrades@gmail.com", not from the audiforums.com domain. Dumb move number one.

"We haven't seen you around lately," it says, amid, I might add, broken HTML that showed up in the actual email. OK, I thought, that's interesting. They're trying to draw me back to the site. This is the first email I've ever gotten from these people, other than the confirmation email I got when I joined the forum back when I was thinking about buying an Audi car.

But get this: the reason I joined the forum was because of my surprise at finding out that there was no specific discussion area for the model of Audi that I was specifically interested in:

AudiForums discussions on each model except the Q5

Despite a lot of hunting all over the site, I could find no specific forum on the Q5 model. Every other model is represented in the list above, but no Q5, one of their most popular models! So, I signed up for the forum so I could post a question in their "Welcome New Users" discussion asking where the heck is the Q5 discussion:

Specific post on AudiForums asking about Q5

I posted that on 9/23/2010. I got the email from Internet Brands at 10/24/2010 at 00:00:29, meaning, 29 seconds after the strike of midnight. Now, it doesn't take too many neurons firing together to realize that the most likely explanation is that a month had passed since I'd posted the inquiry on AudiForums, and that Internet Brands has a server with a bot running on it, checking the database, scanning for users who have not posted any more messages within 30 days, and that the script runs at midnight every night, and 29 seconds into running the script, it got around to sending an email to me.

Fine. But here's dumb move number two. Nobody had replied to my message. My message was asking why there was no Q5 forum within AudiForums. Not a single person replied. Not even a moderator or staff member from AudiForums or Internet Brands. Instead, a bot contacts me saying "we haven't seen you around lately." Well, gee, I wonder why.

But there's more. I thought, gee, well, maybe I could contact someone at AudiForums directly. So I went and found a "contact us" link and clicked it and found this page:

audiforums.com contact page

No names. No contacts. Just a form. With a captcha on it. Because, after all, you might be a bot.

Dumb move number three.

In the big scheme of things these particular issues with this one particular super-niche site are mere trifles and posting at length, with screen shots, would be a waste of time. But I bet you, like I, have seen this kind of thing all over the place in your daily Internet usage. Dumb moves by dumb companies that pay lip service to the idea of engaging with customers when in fact they don't really have customers at all, and most of their so-called customers would not even view themselves as customers of that service, and may not even remember visiting the site or signing up with it. If this is the way your company runs, then you will fail. You probably don't care; you're in it for the money, for the flip, who gives a shit about these stupid users. But your customers do care, and they remember crap like this (when their spam filters fail, like mine should have done -- ib.upgrades@gmail.com? wtf?). And you will fail. And you deserve to fail.

p.s. By the way, if you're into Audis, skip AudiForums.com altogether and head over to AudiWorld.com. That's where all the Audi people are hanging out. But please don't tell Internet Brands; those doofus MBAs are likely to acquire it and kill the community.

Thinking of posting a comment to this blog entry? That's nice. But please note: As of January 19. 2014, I no longer review comments. So they will never appear. So don't bother. If you want to comment on something you read here, go to twitter and write your comment there and just include "@brianstorms" in the tweet. I am no longer moderating the comments here; I just assume everything is spam and Intense Debate seems to have abandoned support for its product.

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