The Lost Art of Aftersales

This article was originally published by Management Today in September 2017.

A few months ago, I took a trip to PC World with my Mum to help her buy a new computer. Her old one had finally made its way to the big PC Heaven in the sky after years of service, most of which was spent sending crash reports to Microsoft.

This fairly straightforward shopping trip made me realise how companies are forgetting one of the basics – that the customer experience carries on long after the money has changed hands.


We were in the store for around an hour, which was a fraction of the time spent the following week deleting their deluge of emails, trying to sell me other products that a 70-year-old lady with an interest in the Archers might like. Such as another computer, apparently.

I accidentally stayed at a Novotel recently, too.  Since then, they’ve sent me at least one email a week (mistakenly believing I’m my colleague who actually booked the trip), perhaps genuinely believing that I can’t have a restful weekend without ticking ‘find out latest Accor hotel offers’ off my to-do list. I’m all for receiving interesting newsletters, but you selling products isn’t really news (although you failing to sell products because you royally annoy your potential customers may be).

Screen Shot 2017-09-25 at 08.55.46

It’s as if PC World and Novotel have mapped their ‘in-person’ customer journey from start to finish, and then happily handed the customer over to the marketing team without a second thought, forgetting that a customer experience – and the perception of a company – starts a long time before and ends a long time afterwards.

And it’s not just newsletters. It’s barely possible to be a customer now without instantly being asked to give feedback to the company on your experience:

Phone up a call centre:

‘Please press 1 to complete our survey, or press 2 to get on with your life’.

Buy something online:

‘How would you rate the experience of navigating through our clumsy attempts to apply behavioural economics theory to our checkout?’

Or even visit my (brilliant) local Indian restaurant:

‘Have a free starter. Now, I need a favour. Have you heard of TripAdvisor?’

Not only do these constant and needy requests for feedback actually create a worse experience, but often they’re wholly unnecessary. For example, last week I phoned up a major phone company and spoke to their sales team about buying a new iPhone. As soon as the call finished, three texts arrived asking me to rate the service. The fact that I didn’t end up buying the phone should be a much better indicator of my satisfaction than a score out of 5.


As usual, it’s the smaller, more independent companies that get it right.

Last year, I bought a new bike from The Scooter Cafe in Maidenhead. A brilliant personal service, no log-in, password, or date of birth required.  In the 12 months that followed, I didn’t receive a single marketing email, until my service was due, at which point a completely timely and relevant email appeared.

Or last week, when I finally got around to writing my will. A superb in-home appointment which ended with us being given a box of chocolates as a thank you for doing our business with him, and a polite request to fill in a feedback form to be sent directly to the overseeing professional standards body.


How differently would companies behave if our satisfaction surveys were always sent directly to their regulators, rather than simply used to form part of a weekly PowerPoint deck accompanied by red and green arrows?

Not only are we all receiving a sub-standard experience, but we’re wasting time and energy on dealing with these interruptions and fending off this intrusive and uninvited marketing. A better approach is to remember that nobody cares about your business as much as you do – good advice to keep in mind for companies adopting the over-zealous lets-be-friends-and-email-each-other-every-week approach.


I really hope you enjoyed this article. If you did, I’d love you to subscribe to my blog at to get new thoughts sent to you on an infrequent basis, and find me on twitter @johnJsills.

17 Thoughts

  1. Quality article as always, John, and rather timely since we have just implemented a new customer review system across some of our brands.

    It’s a difficult balance to strike. On the one hand, as you quite rightly state, the incessant requests for feedback become too much. On the flip side though we know that consumers tend to buy brands that they trust, and having a star rating does end up driving more sales as consumers like to think they have made a smart choice, and having a positive customer reviews reinforces their decision.

    I think it also comes down to doing things at the right time, which you also alluded to (such as your bike shop example) and understanding the customer. Rapha keep on sending me emails to review products I’ve purchased. They send them roughly at the right time – a few weeks after I’ve bought it so that I have had time to use the jersey / shorts etc. What they have failed to notice though is that I have never written a single review, and if I haven’t written one by now do they really think I’m going to suddenly start producing them?

    Finally, from a company point of view there is the requirement to continue to get insight. You and I are both big advocates of user-based design that is driven by genuine insights, and customer feedback / reviews can be a really valuable source. Maybe people are allowing their desire for additional sales and ‘deepening the customer relationship’ fog the original reason for doing such surveys – to uncover the pain points / things causing friction and to gain insights?

    1. Spot on John. People have become obsessed with finding the ‘voice of the customer’, and are giving a preference to quantity over quality. Fewer, more in depth, and considered views will prove far more valuable to user-based design that 500 star ratings.

      I take the point about people choosing based on ratings, although wonder if we’re reaching an interesting stage with those. e.g. if a company has 20,000 5* ratings, how long could they now get away with being rubbish for until they rating drops to below 4*s? A Year? Maybe more? Past performance doesn’t indicate future returns and all that…

      1. There are incentives from review companies such as Google and Yelp to leave more reviews. So your quantity over quality comment is very true there. We’ve had people leave star ratings that have never used us. How does that help anyone? Yell ran a competition with their staff for the most reviews left. They ended up with with lots of useless, short reviews. Funnily enough they aren’t anyone’s go to site for reviews as far as I am aware.

      2. @johnalamb – that’s an interesting one. My hunch is that people will also start appraising which review network is providing the scores as they learn that some can be trusted more than others.

        We chose our supplier because we cannot play the system and only publish positive reviews. Similarly we cannot get a review unless triggered by a purchase. Maybe we’re being overly holier-than-thou, but we felt it was important for our brand to only be associated with a review platform that could be trusted by customers.

        That said, there’s nothing stopping us using other services such as Yelp to artificially inflate our score on their platforms to ensure that we cover all bases!

        @johnjsills – a very valid point about the long tail of seeing a star rating drop, and its a problem with most platforms. As a consumer I’d like to understand over what period those reviews have been collected – I’m amazed Google haven’t started tracking changes in scores (they have set the schema code so it should be fairly simple) and telling customers about any changes. Or maybe that’s a new business opportunity!

      3. Also, how about the other way around. Plusnet have 2,397 ratings on Trustpilot at the moment. Their average score is… one star. How on earth are they going to turn that around?

      4. @johnalamb – we have the same problem: on Trustpilot we have 1.7 stars (albeit with a much lower number of reviews). We don’t want to pay Trustpilot a monthly fee to respond to reviews, or ask for reviews using their platform. The only strategy is to have a top-notch SEO strategy that ensures those sites appear further down the listings – well it’s the only strategy if you want to keep costs down….

      5. You almost wonder if these sites deliberately ‘hold’ a score down for a company until they decide to pay them to respond to reviews.

        Interestingly, I stayed at an amazing B&B this week, and they didn’t mention TripAdvisor once. But the first thing I did on the way home was give them a great review, not because they asked, but because I naturally felt the desire to…

  2. The problem is that some of these tactics actually work. All those PPI calls and personal injury calls must work otherwise they would have died out years ago. Same with marketing to people who have bought from you before. If your scooter supplier had sent you a pre-winter targeted email about winter clothes or accessories you may have bought – and enjoyed looking at the items for sale? It’s getting the mix right. Some of the examples above are getting it wrong but maybe not so wrong that they aren’t getting sales from it…

    1. Exactly right. Its become so cheap to send out these emails / automated calls that it’s seemingly low risk. And the success of these are measured in sales, not in lost future customers, so they probably nearly always look effective. However if those companies took a longer term view, they might find that in gaining that 1 extra sale, they’ve lost 10 future customers.

  3. @john m-s that’s interesting, especially the SEO strategy. I’m guessing they do their own to win customers. I note that Plusnet have replied politely to lots of them. Sadly all cut and paste responses.

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