It’s become one of my biggest pet peeves: I place an online order, and immediately after (or sometimes even before) getting an e-mail confirmation, I get a separate e-mail from the company telling me I’m now in their “VIP club” or a member of their community.
All I wanted was to buy something. I didn’t sign up to be part of a cult.
The eagerness with which brands use e-mail, retargeting and similar tactics to cosy up to customers almost inevitably comes off as desperate. It also feels incredibly engineered — by now we all know they use many of the same automation tools. If personalization ever truly becomes commonplace, the creepy factor may only escalate.
You might think of this as the customer experience (CX) equivalent of “love bombing,” a term I came across this week in an article published by the New York Times. It was coined by Chitra Raghavan, a professor of psychology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Here’s what she says it looks like in practice:
“One partner, typically male but not exclusively, showers the other person with attention, affection, compliments, flattery, and essentially creates this context where she feels like she’s met her soul mate and it’s effortless. The reality is, the person who is doing the love bombing is creating or manipulating the environment to look like he’s the perfect or she’s the perfect mate.”
Raghavan says love bombing also tends to involve attempts to isolate the “beloved” from friends and family, as well as over-the-top gifts. I immediately thought of brands that do everything possible to make sure only their ads follow us, no matter where else we go online, and the now-standard promotions and discounts if you agree to become part of their customer database.
The key aspect of love bombing, the article said, is that it happens early in the relationship. Raghavan suggested that, rather than an indication you’ve found “the one,” that love bombing could mean you’re dating a narcissist. The same holds true for brands who want to inundate customers with messages and interactions. The goal is loyalty — but in many cases there hasn’t been enough time for that loyalty to be earned. Customers know this attention is not really about them, but serving the interests of the brand.
Of course, this is a difficult area for brands to get the balance right, and many of them no doubt feel a greater sense of urgency to show their “love” in order to get back on track from a revenue perspective. Companies may also be at greater risk of love bombing customers because so many interactions are now happening through digital channels, where tone, nuance and context aren’t always clear.
Much like a romantic relationship, however, it’s worth remembering that a customer journey is also the company’s journey.
There are stages — maybe after the third purchase? — where it might be more appropriate to invite greater engagement and to provide exclusive offers. Perhaps when the customer shows greater signs of loyalty that their behaviours could be positively reinforced, to the point where it becomes true brand love.
Customers know brands want them to give them their love. Let’s make 2022 the year we diffuse the bombs that attempt to rush the process along.
Shane Schick tells stories that help people innovate, and to manage the change innovation brings. He is the former Editor-in-Chief of Marketing magazine and has also been Vice-President, Content & Community (Editor-in-Chief), at IT World Canada, a technology columnist with the Globe and Mail and Yahoo Canada and is the founding editor of ITBusiness.ca. Shane has been recognized for journalistic excellence by the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance and the Canadian Online Publishing Awards.