How To Close The Loop Without Being Creepy

As Andrew McInnes pointed out in his report "Ten Major Voice Of The Customer Trends," more companies are closing the loop with their customers. During Forrester's 2009 Voice Of The Customer Awards, entrants with closed-loop processes were the exception. In 2010, they were the rule, with many top finalists integrating closed-loop processes into their sales and marketing efforts. For this year’s awards (by the way, nominations are now open), we expect to see a new crop of innovative closed-loop applications.

But just like any well-intentioned action, closing the loop isn’t always the right thing to do.

A few months ago, a friend of mine got married. I was really excited to see that her gift registry site included severable charitable donation options, and I quickly decided on a $100 donation to the Massachusetts SPCA. On the gift registry site, I needed to enter a “quantity” of $1 donations to get to my desired total donation which is a bit weird in and of itself but the real problem I had was that the quantity field would only accept two digits! So instead of making a nice round $100 donation, I ended up donating $99.

Because I didn’t want to look like a complete weirdo to my friend and her new hubby, I added this explanation to the gift message I sent them through the donation site: “Hmmm. The field where I could enter the quantity of our donation would only allow for two digits, so that's why you're getting a wacky $99 donation.  :)  I just can't take a break from usability . . . ”

A few weeks later, I got an email from the site’s founder with the subject: “Thank you for pointing out the usability issue.” The email read, “At the end of November, you purchased a gift with us for [friend] and [hubby]’s wedding. In your message to them, you mentioned that you were only able to buy 99 units of an unlimited gift. We are so sorry for the inconvenience and appreciate you pointing out this bug. We have since fixed the issue thanks to you.”

My first reaction, was, “Wow, cool! That’s super nice.” But then I remembered that I didn’t point out this bug. The company learned about the bug by reading my personal wedding wishes for my friend . . . And I started to get creeped out. Yes, technically speaking, the company had a right to read my message, as outlined in its privacy policy. And, of course, Facebook and Google are mining everything I read and write so they can show me more targeted ads. But this post honestly isn’t about privacy it’s about handling the voice of the customer (VoC) feedback you have access to in a way that makes people feel comfortable.

If you have a website that solicits product ideas or if a customer directly sends you an email, then by all means close the loop. But if you’re collecting customer feedback via (seemingly) personal communications or without the customer’s explicit knowledge, then it’s probably best to leave the loop open.

What do you think? Was this situation creepy or was it just me?


What about on Twitter?

If someone mentions something personal about their experience with your company on Twitter, do you consider that personal? What about if you are ABC bike company, and someone tweets, "The seat on my new bike fell off today, I am mad." Do you feel there would be a consumer tolerance for your comapny to reach out and say "Hi, Did you buy an ABC bike? If so we'd love to help you get the situation resolved?" without any knowledge of what kind of bike they bought.

I agree, things like your example of indirect feedback, while valuable, shouldn't have been followed up. Makes me wonder how many "Congrats, I am so happy for you guys!" messages they had to read before getting that one piece of useable info.

I think Twitter is fair game.

If you're posting on Twitter (or have simply followed any celebrity Twitter drama), you're likely to be aware of just how public tweets are. There are also a ton of public brand/tweeter interactions -- on Twitter and in mass media. (Have you seen the Wheat Thins commercials?) So I think the stage is well set for ABC bike company to reach out like you suggested without appearing creepy.

And yes, I was also thinking about the payoff for this particular company to manually read through all of the personal messages that come through...

Careful Kerry!

A few weeks from now, I bet you're in line to get a "thanks for pointing out our creepiness issue" email, once whatever social media engine they are using crawls across this post!

I agree with you that Twitter is a different beast. I've had companies reach out to me after comments I made about them in my public feed, and each time have been surprised and delighted by the unexpected offer of assistance or understanding. There's a certain expectation that whatever I write on Twitter can be read by anyone who looks for it, so I post accordingly.

I'd be very curious to see the breakdown by age on reactions to your wedding donation story. I wonder if younger people, having grown up recording their every move on social media sites and trusting Google with their entire inbox, will feel less of the creepy factor.

Great post!

Millennials, please weigh in!

I agree, Elena -- I'd be curious to find out if younger people don't find this as creepy as we, er, older folks do.

And if I do get a "thanks for pointing out our creepiness issue" email in a few weeks, you can be sure that I'll post about it here! ;-)

It is more than creepy,

It is more than creepy, Kerry. It is unethical!

Where's the line?

hi Richard! It's nice to hear from you! I hope you’re well.

In trying to draw the line between creepy and unethical, I’m wondering:
- Is it the nature of the message that matters? (I know better, but still expect a personal message to be private.)
- Is there a difference between a piece of software scanning my email and an actual person reading my message to my friend?
- Are there other factors?

I don't think it was creepy.

I don't think it was creepy. They're processing the transactions and looking at messages as part of the business, and they replied direct to you probably because they wanted to thank you. I mean from their point of view it was quite a major issue.

Mind you I actually find Twitter replies quite creepy.

ps FWIW I'm old :-)



hi Ali,
Thanks for sharing your opinion! I was sure that not everyone would fall into the "creepy" camp. Anyone else side with Ali?

I'm curious as to why you find Twitter replies creepy. Care to share?

Could it be that someone else

Could it be that someone else mentioned the issue, and then the company simply looked at all the $99 donations and emailed back to everyone that it was fixed? Perhaps they don't read every submission, only those which met the criteria. (And perhaps they do, just in case they get a "flaming bag of dog poo" type of comment on a purchase...) Err, yes, I realize the irony of that considering it's the SPCA. But if not, yeah, SET CREEPY=CREEPY+1


Yes, that's definitely a very reasonable suggestion for how this might have transpired. The email from the founder suggests otherwise, but who knows.

And thanks for throwing in some programming variables! ;-)

Great piece and you're right,

Great piece and you're right, that's kind of creepy! Closing the loop by acknowledging input is important. It's even more important, however, to not come across like Big Brother. As this piece suggests ( it's better to encourage input.

So many ways to do this!

hi Julie-Ann,

Yeah, I agree -- companies should be encouraging input and there are lots of ways to do this. For example, this site could have had a feedback link on the donation confirmation page.

Thanks for your comment!