March 2, 2019

My Mom is a spunky 94 and she loves to talk.

I know that she would think I was a much better son if I called her more often too.

When I tell her that email is the “new thing” and if she participated she’d hear from me more often, she isn’t buying…if it’s not a phone communication or an in-person visit, it doesn’t count in her world.

Although if she was on email she’d hear from me more often, that’s for sure.

At least every Sunday like you! 🙂

But I am glad she is mostly “offline” since she would be angry with me if she read this—she hates telling anyone how old she is—but as you can see, 94 is the new 74 in my family!:

No matter how angry she gets with me regarding “not calling enough,” my Mom, whether she knows it or not, is in synch with me as it pertains to multi-channel marketing.

While she might not embrace Instagram or Facebook, she loves snail mail.

Case in point: I regularly send her the prettiest postage stamps I can find since she seems to think the electric company and cable TV provider will be kinder to her if she sends in her payments with a beautifully stamped envelope.

She’s got my back on the power of direct mail, that’s for sure.

But her favorite offline medium is the telephone…one that is often forgotten as a powerful tool in the direct response marketer’s toolkit…but not by my Mom.

I find this ironic since most of us are attached to our smart phones all day long but we rarely see it as a “phone” (as opposed to being a vehicle to post vacation pictures, food photos and participate in political rants).

Using the phone for marketing purposes seems to elude many of the smartest marketers I know.

Maybe my Mom is on to something and we should pay more attention.

Besides laying on the guilt re: how infrequently I call her with “inbound” telemarketing, her “outbound” operation is quite extensive.

When she gets a can of tomatoes that seem to be less than the freshest they can be, rather than simply return the can to Shop-Rite, her first plan of action is to call the CEO of Del Monte.

And every time I see her, she always has a story about how she got “satisfaction” calling anyone who will listen, at any company or store who has stepped out of line (in her opinion), responding to her tales of woe.

She’s relentless and won’t stop until she gets what she needs.

Does that sound like any of your customers?

Or more importantly, do you have any idea how your customers really feel about you?

When she tells me about her “adventures in telemarketing,” all  I can think about is the person she gets on the phone with  for an hour about the new step stool she bought that’s missing a screw…and how that person better satisfy her…or else.

And even at 94, she sees herself as someone worth staying a customer for life with every company she deals with—and she becomes that with those who take the best care of her issues.

The fact is, I have been on the other end of those calls when working at Boardroom for the first 30+ years of my career…I’m still serving my clients and mastermind members in the same way today…and dealing with consumers like my Mom in my early days was the best marketing education I have ever gotten.

I talked about the “return on returns” in the past–and my Mom has inspired me to talk about this critical topic once again…that is, customer service and fulfillment are marketing functions and we should never lose sight of that.

Note that I affectionately called my Mom’s practice “telemarketing” rather than “complaining.”

In fact, I dedicated an entire chapter to this topic in my new book, Overdeliver. 

It’s based on the premise that it may take a lifetime to win (and keep) a customer but you can lose that customer in a heartbeat (with one misstep).

How this played out for me in the past:

You all know the phrase, No one lying on their death bed wishes they spent more time at the office” 

And despite loving my work, I guess that’s true for me too.

Of course those of you who hate your job, and are at the office right now, are probably running for the door.

But being dedicated to your work, your craft, and the stuff that may not be so obvious to the success in all you do, might involve staying late at the office once in a while.

And until one evening in the 1980’s when I was at the office way too late, I didn’t realize that being there when no one else was there would lead to some insights that have stayed with me my entire career.

The best thing about being in the office at 7:00 or 8:00 in the evening (in the 1980’s) is that if the phone rings, you have to answer it.

I’m talking about the days when we didn’t even have a nighttime or automated attendant–and there was no caller ID either.


The phone would not stop ringing unless you picked it up…someone on the other end wanted something…and at that time in the evening, my experience was that what they wanted was “satisfaction” (which often included yelling at a real person).

My company, Boardroom Inc., had millions of customers (mostly subscribers to our newsletters and buyers of our books)…and at any one point in time, about a million of them were “active” with the company…currently subscribing to a newsletter–or they had bought a book fairly recently.

I didn’t know it the first time I did it but answering the phone after hours and speaking to dissatisfied customers is actually the best way for me to meet some of those millions…and it is also the best ”customer research” you can do in the trenches.

It may also be the most valuable thing you can do as a marketer.

I know that one phone call is not representative of the entire customer base…but if you do it enough times and get similar complaints, you then realize that you are smack in the middle of doing critical qualitative research (like a focus group, one-on-one).

Of course the next step might be to go deeper into those complaints you hear most often and then do some quantitative research (surveys, questionnaires etc.).


Regardless, all of the information you gather will help you with selling better up front…and retain better on the back end as well.

I said it above and will emphasize this again here:

Customer service and fulfillment of products and services are MARKETING functions. 


No matter what the problem—from missing an issue of the newsletter to annoyance that their book had not arrived yet, or to their concern that their dog ate page 17 and 18 of the special bonus that contained the most important secret regarding treatment of their Type 2 diabetes…all complaints are relevant to how you deal with your customers now…and in the future. Nothing is too small.

Listening and interacting with your customers will give you insights beyond any spreadsheet or report on the makeup of your database.

You’ve probably heard about the CEO’s who get this concept…the ones who spend time every week (or maybe once a month) listening in on customer service calls to get a real sense what the end user is feeling and needing and also complaining about the most.

I also know some insightful entrepreneurs who hire “secret shoppers” (i.e. people on the payroll but outside the company to go through every aspect of their sales and marketing operation) to find out where there might be a broken link or a hole in the operation that no one would ever see without this kind of anonymous yet monitored buying.

One brilliant entrepreneur I know had his secret shopper answer one question–and one question only–at every step of the process as they experienced the organization’s sales funnel:

“How does that make me feel?” 


His secret shopper bought everything, returned a lot of stuff, complained at every turn and basically made as much trouble as possible for customer service reps…and then the secret shopper reported on how they are dealt with at every step of the process.

And most importantly, how they felt. 

It’s a great exercise for any organization.

Back to my late nights at the office:

When I picked up the phone it was usually an angry customer (or my wife asking me when I was coming home). We will focus on the former, not the latter.

I risked so much abuse, throughout my career, by intentionally staying late to answer the phone as the “last line of defense”…but it was always worth it for what I learned.

I’ve got the scars and the knowledge to show for it.

I learned the valuable lesson, first hand, that paying closer attention to the bad news you hate hearing (at least at the time) may be the key to making positive changes to your business.

When I picked up the phone and heard that angry customer, I was ready to play the game that every direct marketer must master:

“Give the customer more than they would ever expect” 


Saving a cancellation was only a minor victory…and it was irrelevant financially since in most cases, I was “saving” a $39 order.

The ultimate goal: Make them a customer for life after they called to complain, cancel or curse (or all of the above).

Making that happen taught me valuable lessons about marketing that I could never read in any book.

I even came up with ideas for new products, bonuses and premiums as I loaded the complainers up with hundreds of dollars’ worth of products.

I also always learned stuff I didn’t know about our products and our customers during these interactions.

The ideal situation was always when the person on the other end began:

“I am very unhappy and I want to return the product.”

That’s when I knew I was just getting started…and it was time to get a return on the return.

So whether it’s you, your secret shopper or a friend who happens to be a customer and tells you the truth about how they feel about your company, the key is to put yourself in situations so you can hear information about your business “on the ground”—react to it—and to just keep saying YES until the customer is satisfied and you learn what holes need to be plugged.

And if your evening automated attendant doesn’t allow you to talk to real people…or if your home office number is never used by customers (i.e. all customer service is outsourced)…make it a practice to spend some time listening in to what your customers are telling the folks you have entrusted to be on your front lines.

All of this ties into one of the most important direct marketing rules of thumb.

It is always easier to keep a customer than to get a new one. 


This is what links new customer acquisition to customer retention and/or renewals.

If you think everything is all just about great “front end marketing” (i.e. “getting the sale), think again.

To repeat for the third time: “Customer service and fulfillment of your product or service is a marketing function.” 

The selling part is sexier but the retention part is how you stay in business for the long haul.

Gordon Grossman, the man who built The Reader’s Digest in the 1960’s and 1970’s, once told me:

“Marketers sell subscriptions; editors sell renewals” 


While he was talking about magazine subscriptions here, the lesson is universal:

If you don’t truly “deliver” the product or service you sold in the initial promotion, you can re-sell until you are blue in the face and you won’t get the renewal (or repeat order). 


Let’s now add in customer service and fulfillment to the equation:

Even if you deliver what you said you would deliver content-wise or product-wise, I still defy you to completely satisfy a customer who didn’t get the bonus you promised or to delight them after they received your amazing product 3 weeks later than you said you would deliver it.

It’s all connected.

Bringing new customers into the fold is often more a function of our ability to persuade than to actually deliver; keeping customers for life is always about coming through in the clutch on all of the persuasiveness you used to sell them in the first place.

Of course be ready to answer the phone when they call and need something more.

And if it’s my Mom, please tell her I will be calling her soon.





P.S. I just found out that my new book, Overdeliver, is in the warehouse in hard cover, ready for the April 9th launch.

And I am putting the finishing touches on the resource page of free gifts for all buyers (which I hope will be ready for you to access in a few weeks).

The good news is that the book is consistent with my post today—after all, how could a book called Overdeliver not…well… over deliver?

Note: “Overdeliver” is not a word…I made it up…but it’s too critical a concept for marketers to make it two words…so hopefully Webster’s will make an adjustment once the book is out.

At least marketing dictionaries need to make it a word.

If you pre-order the book here, you will still be able to access the free resources when they are available.

There will be videos of and interviews with some of the greatest direct marketers who have ever lived, some no longer with us and many who still are…and  there are keynote speeches, over 600 pages of swipe files, PDF’s of classic, out-of-print books…and much more.

And I hope you will leave a review on Amazon for the book once you read it…and of course you are encouraged to email me feedback anytime.

No phone calls please…unless you are dissatisfied, of course.

And in those instances, please call after 8:00 p.m. so I know it’s you. 🙂

About the author 

Brian Kurtz

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