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By Thomas Baekdal - January 2011

Free of Charge For Just $199

Earlier I posted a short article about what software I use. I mentioned that I was using Whitesmoke as a grammar checker.

Shortly after publishing it, I received a call from a very enthusiastic sales person from Whitesmoke. She told me that they wanted to turn me into a VIP customer free-of-charge. I would get every product they make, every update - forever and for free. She talked for a long time about all the benefits I would get - free templates. You name it.

All this sounded good to me. I was thinking maybe they had read the article and wanted to influence me somehow with free gifts (at which they would have failed, because I never mix editorials with advertising).

I said, "Great, but why exactly are giving me all this for free?"

She then said that a computer was automatically selecting 2,000 people, and I was one them. Okay, so it wasn't because I mentioned them in my article, but still - free software is free software, right?

And, then she continued blabbering about Whitesmoke at which point she kind of mentioned, in the middle of a sentence, that I just had to pay a one time fee.

Wait... What? I have to pay? You are not giving me something for free, so this is just another sales call. How much exactly do I have to pay?

She then continued enthusiastically to try to convince me of all the benefits, but I pressed on, and finally she revealed that the price would be $199. Keep in mind that the software I had already purchased only costs $69. I wasn't exactly feeling very VIP at this moment. It was like paying premium for software I will probably never use.

This had nothing to do with them trying to be nice. It was probably just the result of their executives learning that they had a lot of one-time customers. They were really just trying to squeeze more money out of them, by fooling people into thinking they are selected for special VIP treatment.

I obviously turned them down. There is no way that I would give money to anyone who has just tried to fool me. She didn't give up though. Instead she tried to sell me the mac portion for just $79, the very one that I already own. And when I still wasn't interested she offered to deduct the $69 I had already paid, so that I just had to pay $10 more - but only for the Mac app + future updates.

However, at this point I had made my decision. They behaved completely untrustworthy, and as a result I am never going to buy anything from them again.

They called me, tried to convince me that I was special enough to be a VIP, and then told me that I just had to pay $199. It is as close to a scam as you can possibly get, without actually being one.

The Wow Factor

Whitesmoke could have turned this into a much better experience if they hadn't focused so much on their short term sales. They should have focused on creating a real wow factor.

We have all heard about how Zappos is often creating really happy customers by upgrading their order to overnight shipping for no extra costs, or how they go the extra mile to make sure people get the support they need.

Companies that do this have much higher engagement levels. If you are an ice cream shop, and a little girl comes in, give her an extra scoop. If a customer enters your clothing store with their small crying child, give her a teddy bear.

Or let me tell you how my mom turned a bad situation into a wow experience lately. My mom owns a small but successful knitting boutique, and one day a customer came in with some of her own yarn. She wanted to find something that matched with it. She walked around the store, and in the process of taking out her own yarn, she accidentally put one of my mom's products in her bag. She then went on to buy some other products and left.

When this customer got home, she realized to she had essentially just committed an act of shoplifting. She called my mom and apologized for her error, and promised she would return the product the next day.

My mom could have called the police. She could have been angry, and she could have publicly flamed this customer. Instead, when the customer returned the next day, my mom gave her a new knitting recipe as a way to say thank you for being a loyal customer.

She turned a really bad situation into a wow experience. That customer probably feared going back to my mom's store, but now she will be coming back with her friends.

That is true social engagement!

And if you haven't seen it already, here is how to Coca Cola is turning wow factors into happiness.


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Thomas Baekdal

Founder, media analyst, author, and publisher. Follow on Twitter

"Thomas Baekdal is one of Scandinavia's most sought-after experts in the digitization of media companies. He has made ​​himself known for his analysis of how digitization has changed the way we consume media."
Swedish business magazine, Resumé


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