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Don’t give prospects any unpleasant surprises

I recently read about a service which allows businesses who subscribe to it the chance to send emails to some of their website visitors even when the visitors haven’t provided their email address. The third-party does this by selling itself to consumers as a way to get special offers – you give them your email address, then when you visit subscribing websites, they see that as an indication you want an offer from that site and fire over an email to you.

The problem here is that customers will probably sign up to the service without realising its full implications, and not receive an email until they’ve long forgotten about it. So when they visit a website and receive an email within minutes trying to sell them stuff they’ve just been looking at, their reaction is “What the…?”

Giving prospects spooky surprises is never a good idea. Twenty years ago when I first saw a demonstration of a supplier tracking regular customers on its website, in real time, the potential for scoring own goals was obvious. If you’re ‘watching’ a customer on the site (and it’s easy to do if your site automatically signs them in), the temptation to send them a live message is strong. But customers hated that then, and would hate it now. The company concerned decided the best approach, when a customer came on the website but didn’t buy anything, was to ‘coincidentally’ email (or mail) them with an appropriate offer after an appropriate period. At least the relationship was already an established one though, and didn’t seem as disconcerting as my first example.

Over time, you may well be offered services which claim to identify prospects from website visitors, social media interactions and the like, and provide more information about them. While I’m sure most of these won’t be breaching any privacy laws, their desirability in terms of customer response might be questionable. Most of us don’t like to think about how much data we’re giving away online, and hate to be reminded of it.