(Un)Special Offers [video]

Special offers can be a great way to increase loyalty among your customers but you need to be careful. Poorly timed or ill-thought offers can actually do more harm than good. Here are a few ‘special’ offers that have failed to in their aim of getting me to buy more.

The poorly timed special offer

Have you ever bought something at full price and then noticed it reduced a couple of days later? Depending on what it is and how much it costs this might not be a massive issue. After all, if you were happy with the product yesterday at the price you paid what’s the big deal? But I’m thinking now of a time when I bought a special-edition boxed hardback book from a small, independent company. In all truth I would’ve been quite happy with the ebook but I like to think of myself who supports small businesses so I preordered the special edition and paid the significantly increased price for the book. The book had been on my shelf for approximately a week when I received an email from the supplier telling me the ‘Great news!’ that they were now able to offer the special edition for 50% off. Maybe this offer was in reflection of the fact that they’d ordered too much stock, maybe they were trying to boost awareness. Whatever the motivation I was left feeling like I wish I’d bought the ebook and saved myself £40. If you must make this sort offer at the very least segment your email list so you only send it to people who haven’t bought the thing in the last week.

The ‘too many strings’ special offer

You know those cashback offers where you buy a thing and then get money back after filling in a massive form and mailing some proof of purchase somewhere? Those suck. We all know that the offer is designed to reel people in while you chuckle about the fact that a high proportion of people will either A) forget to jump through the hoops or B) get put off by having to fill something in. Also, offering the cashback by cheque is just low. It’s 2016. You know full-well that people are also likely to forget to bank the cheque. Everything about this kind of ‘special’ offer shows you only care about sales and aren’t actually interested in your customers. Don’t do it.

The ‘there’ll be another along soon’ special offer

By pushing special offers to prospective clients too frequently you may actually stop them buying. By regularly discounting your products and services you start to undermine your full price items. If this is your strategy and the ‘full price’ is actually an inflated price that you’re not expecting anyone to pay then go for it, I guess. But understand that there may be people who are ready to buy just as your prices jump up again. If someone decides to buy at a certain price and then that price goes up they’re likely to hold back, especially if they know the price is likely to come down again at some point. They may be fully intending to buy from you as soon as the price merry-go-round rotates again but during this window you could lose them to a competitor who’s more consistent.

The ‘forget that we failed at that first thing and buy something new anyway’ special offer

This one is a favourite of telecoms companies. You set up an account for a single product, let’s say super-fast broadband, and then they start calling you and writing to you offering to “review your package”. What they don’t realise is that the one thing I actually want (and pay for) from them is often quite flaky. If you can’t get the core product right offering me something else is not only a waste of your time, it actually reminds me about how disappointed I am in the service I wanted in the first place. When I explain this to the sales person on the phone they invariably show little interest and rather than offer to transfer me to a relevant department who could help they push on with their ‘special offer’. This leaves me irritated and liable to go on a Tweetrant.

I’m sure there are plenty of other ways for companies to irritate me (honestly, it doesn’t take much) but I think that’ll do it for now. I guess it’s only fair for me to give an example of the sort of offer that would work on me. Let’s see…

The ‘ideal customer’ special offer

I personally believe that the best offers are those which exist for a genuine reason. For example, we offer a fixed 22% discount for registered charities. It’s not time-limited, the only condition is that you are a UK registered charity. The reason we offer this is because we love helping charities to do better online. At the same time we recognise the fact that budgets can be tight so we try to sweeten the deal even further.

The ‘package’ special offer

We also offer bundles of services at a hefty discount because we prefer to really get stuck in helping clients in a number of areas at once. Also, the more work we do for one client they less time is lost switching between different things. In reflection of the fact that this is better for us we offer a discount. It’s easy to understand why we do this so it doesn’t come across as manipulative. The point is it’s win-win.

What can you do?

Firstly you should decide whether or not you want or need to create special offers. They simply might not be right for your organisation. If you do decide to put some offers in place just remember to make them easy to understand and take advantage of. And make sure you don’t do anything to upset your existing customers.

Pete Clark

Pete Clark is undeniably grumpy. But that's only because he wants people to have a good time in life and it upsets him when bad customer experience messes that up. You can follow him on Twitter @ClarkCX