Consumers want straight talk

Mar 21, 2014

New research shows that consumers are tired of communications from retailers and other entities that don’t provide clear and honest information, and that this frustration leads to a loss of trust and sales.

The Call for Clarity Survey, released by the strategic communications firm Siegelvision, found that consumers are taking their unhappiness with them online. Forty-eight percent report having made a complaint online to a company. Sixteen percent have written a bad review and 10 percent have complained publicly on a social media site.

While retailers are not nearly as reviled as, say, insurance companies and cell phone service providers, they too come under some criticism for legalese on items such as extended product warranties.

Rewards programs are a major source of confusion. While 82 percent of consumers participate in these programs, 16 percent do not redeem rewards because the rules and procedures are too confusing.

Another area of concern directly affects e-commerce operations. According to the survey, retailers are losing sales due to the "proliferation of passwords." Forty-five percent of respondents to the survey said they have six or more passwords. Forty-seven percent have not made a purchase on an e-commerce site because they could not remember their password.

"Consumers are finally demanding more clarity in all communications because there are severe economic consequences if they don’t," said Alan Siegel, the CEO of Siegelvision, in a statement.

Where do you see the greatest opportunities for improvement when it comes to retailer to consumer communications? Does the general frustration that consumers feel with other businesses such as insurance and phone companies spill over into their interactions with retailers?

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17 Comments on "Consumers want straight talk"

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Frank Riso

It is simple, just be honest in your sales to consumers and they will be honest with you and help increase sales. Playing games with your customers will only send them away to your competition and when they are that frustrated, they tell many of their friends.

Bob Phibbs

Sorry, I’m confused. Because 47% didn’t remember their password, that means that the brand is not clear?

Fine print is been around for centuries. Short of putting it in Boulder type and saying, “No you can’t get your favorite things with this cheap coupon,” not sure what needs to be done.

David Biernbaum

I would encourage retailers, restaurants, branded marketers, and service companies, to immediately stop making programs, promotions, and pricing so clouded and confusing. Get the lawyers and accountants off the marketing team, and make a decision today to simplify your message, advertising, and how you do business and communicate with consumers. The political atmosphere in our country, along with other factors, including social media, and a very skeptical, sometimes cynical, 24/7 news coverage on television, has resulted in a very low public tolerance of any form of confusion or deception, even if when not intentional.

Please pardon the cliche, but keep it simple, stupid.

Richard J. George, Ph.D.

In my opinion, there are three opportunities: make it easy to communicate; transparent; and timely. Consumers want to be heard and treated with respect. Take a look at your system for customer feedback. Is it limited to Google, Twitter or Facebook as the primary vehicle to learn of customer problems or complaints? Most Internet food retailing sites have a “contact us” link (often not easy to locate). Why not make it prominent, easy to navigate with terms like “got a problem or complaint?”

Once you receive a complaint or customer comment, respond in a timely fashion. Finally, follow up shortly thereafter and see if the situation was resolved.

Frustration with other businesses heightens consumer sensitivity to all business transactions, including retail.

Gib Bassett

Retailers that bolted on e-commerce operations might step back and look at better understanding their shoppers beyond their transactional history activity. It’s too easy to get carried away with taking the same actions conducted in a physical store and moving them online without considering the interplay between these channels and how online differs from the in-store experience.

The fact confusing rewards systems and password problems are cited shows a lack of shopper insight. Retailers should take a cue from CPG brand management that seeks to figure out how an “experience” adds value to the consumer and drive interactions based on this understanding.

Ryan Mathews

Amazing, isn’t it, that we seem to need a survey to encourage us to tell the truth?

I’d start with a “straight talk” philosophy at all levels of the organization and — most especially — all customer facing levels.

As to the second question, frustration is frustration. Ever had a bad day? When things are going badly the next bad thing — even if it’s relatively minor — may be the one that sets you off. So, yes, cumulative frustration with business can have an adverse impact on retailers.

Chris Petersen, PhD.

Services and products are a lot more complex than they were even ten years ago. So communications and support have also grown more complex in some areas.

But when you can find much better answers on or in Amazon comments than on the companies’ web sites, that brand has a major problem with its consumer relationships, messaging and overall brand image.

Twitter. If the essentials can’t be communicated in 140 characters, then retailers should try going retro and give the consumer the courtesy of a phone call.

Ian Percy

We needed research to learn that people don’t like dishonest and convoluted communications from service providers? And that if it persists frustration results in distrust people shopping elsewhere?

Now we’re wondering if that distrust and discontent would also happen if retailers communicate dishonestly. Ah…the wonders of scientific research. What will be revealed next?

My first suggestion to stop the slide to the dark side is to ban the phrase “Up to…” as in “Up to 80% off.” Second is to ban all “policies” signed by “The Management.” And third, if you’ve done the obligatory and usually pointless exercise of declaring “Mission, Vision and Values,” do not list “Honesty” as one of your values – as though you discussed other options. If you have to declare and advertise that you’re honest…you probably aren’t.

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.

Clarity is an issue. For example, at a McDonald’s there was a sign saying that an item was a low price with the purchase of McCafe. After ordering a breakfast meal with coffee in a container that said McCafe, I was told I did not order coffee so had to pay full price for the item. There was also a sign for a low price for another during certain hours. When I asked whether I was in the time frame, I was told that offer was only good inside the store not at the drive-thru even though the sign was planted in the ground at the drive-thru. This was supposed to be a fairly straightforward promotion and it was presented in a clear fashion. Forms and instructions are even worse.

Why is it that confidence in what companies tell consumers is not believed by consumers? How can they trust what is not clear?

Ed Rosenbaum

Certainly there is confusion on the retail side. But nothing like in the cellular phone or insurance industry.

One major retailer continues to put out savings/sales coupons. But it is never good on the items you might want to purchase. How is that for clarity?

This has made me think. I need to check to see if my insurance policy contains a clause about payable only if death is on an even or odd date….

Mel Kleiman

The frustration has already spilled over. My greatest pet peeve is when Target keeps calling me a guest. I am not a guest, I am a customer. They do not treat me as a guest, they treat me as a customer.

Retailers need to remember that the most important part of communications is not the words you use but the action you take. We judge people and companies by what they do, not by what they say.

Tony Orlando

For the most part, consumers are sick and tired of add-ons to deals, which is another way of deceiving them. Who wouldn’t want extra profits added to their bottom line by adding 10 fees and taxes to the bill like the monopolies do (utilities, cell-phone bills, airlines, trash pick-up, online shipping fees)?

The price I sell something for has nothing added, and I think consumers want to know exactly what something costs before they decide what they are buying, and from whom they want to buy it.

Pretty simple to me, but that is not always the case, so the monopolies will continue to play their games while the rest of us keep it simple. Wish it was different, but it is not.

Irene Etzkorn
Irene Etzkorn
3 years 5 months ago

Confusion results in short term gain to a company if a customer pays more than he anticipated at the moment of the transaction. However,it leads to longer term defection. Consumers don’t want to feel nickel and dimed. It is particularly ironic when this happens with rewards programs which are by definition supposed to engender goodwill and solidify the company/customer bond.
Abandoned ecommerce transactions due to password fatigue are more of technological phenomenon than a poor business decision and will need to be corrected through new, more easily accessed safeguards.

Retailers often don’t sell as complex products and services as insurance and phones, but they complicate consumers’ lives when they offer endless choices with seemingly indistinguishable differences. Soap, cosmetics, restaurant menus – all overly complicated despite selling basic, simple products.

Ralph Jacobson

Simplicity is the key. Simple websites. Simple returns policies. Simple messaging to the shoppers regarding everything from promotions to data security. As much as we all say that one-click purchasing is the goal, very few merchants actually come close to achieving that.

Bottom line, take a fresh look at your websites. Be a shopper. How clear and concise is the experience? Sometimes, the truth may hurt.

Doug Garnett

I’m not certain what I think of this research – I always suspect studies where the study title is identical to the result they found….

That said, far too often, marketers hesitate to speak directly. And where we definitely need to be smart and savvy, consumers are very sensitive to double speak, hedging language, mis-direction, etc.

What’s always surprised me is that too many of us marketers don’t accept that consumers KNOW we’re trying to sell to them. So we can quite often just directly say things and the consumer is fine with it — but our bosses may not be.

And that means I thoroughly agree with the study presumption that consumers really wish we’d all get a lot clearer about what we’re saying…just not entirely sure if we should say that it’s “backed by research.”

Tom Smith
3 years 5 months ago

Be relevant, be reliable, be responsive, be real, or be gone.

Provide information of value to educate and inform customers and prospects, earn their trust, build awareness, increase traffic and leads.

Answer FAQs in advance. Be forthcoming with information and lookout for the consumers’ best interest and you’ll be rewarded with loyal customers that market for you by sharing their positive experiences with your products or services with their family, friends, colleagues via word of mouth and social media.

Fail to do this and you will be called out for failing to be forthcoming and trustworthy.

Bill Hanifin

For years, I have summed up the need for clarity in communications from consumers by advising that brands need to eliminate the “loyalty asterisk.”

I coined the phrase in reference to the confusing program rules and fine print often seen in loyalty program execution and, from the statistics cited (16 percent do not redeem rewards because the rules and procedures are too confusing), can see that loyalty program operators could be doing a much better job.

The concept of the Loyalty Asterisk applies across the marketing mix. The online coupon shown in the article here is an example of how to deflate customer enthusiasm for offers. Why put loads of time and scare corporate resource into offer creation and deployment when the result must be couched with legal-ese?

While I fully recognize the need to protect the brand and to comply with industry regulations, there has to be a better way to design and deploy offers. In my experience, the solution can be found in applying just a little more hard work and analysis to find a way to present the a valuable offer with less “mice print.” There has to be a way or maybe another offer should be selected for execution.


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