A Reminder About Reminders (Jim Karrh On Marketing)

I didn’t expect a knock on our door, and I certainly didn’t expect the replacement washing machine to show up without warning.

The Karrh household had reason to believe the washer would be delivered soon, mind you, but the retailer had said the unit would first come to it from the manufacturer. Once the washer made it to the retailer, it would be scheduled for delivery to our house. Of course, we would get a call in advance.

But there was our spiffy replacement washer, among a group of eight or nine major appliances (what the researchers call “consumer durables”) right there on the back of the retailer’s delivery truck. We hadn’t heard boo from the retailer.

It worked out. Still, it was just luck that someone was at our house to accept delivery. Because one can’t just leave a washing machine at the front door, I couldn’t help but wonder about the costs (obvious and hidden) of missed deliveries. Wouldn’t reminder calls or emails be much more efficient?

Reminders can serve as a manageable bridge between good intentions and follow-through behavior. These days it is so easy to get distracted — hey, shiny object! — or get hit with business fires that need to be extinguished. I need reminders myself.

Many effective marketers have been able to automate reminder activities with their customers. But even a more manual process can be a high-return activity. During my corporate marketing days several years ago, our business included a home and office delivery operation. Most deliveries happened according to the calendar, based on fixed routes and delivery dates. The head of that unit decided to test a “pre-call” program using our call center, through which customers would get a reminder call about their scheduled delivery one or two working days in advance. The result was a positive double whammy on costs (we were more efficient with deliveries when customers expected us) as well as revenue (we had an opportunity to let customers know about seasonal promotions and new products).

The economic benefits to the business of a reminder program hold true across many contexts. For example, according to Oracle, webinar attendance rates bump up by about 15 percentage points when there is a concerted effort to remind registrants (typically one week and then two days in advance of the webinar).

Reminders affect important consumer behaviors aside from purchases. An analysis of 11 different studies, led by Dr. Sarah Fenerty and published in the journal Patient Preference and Adherence, found that on average clinical patients given explicit reminders to take their prescription medication did so at a rate 12 percentage points higher than patients not given reminders (66 percent vs. 54 percent).

A reminder can even work through the rear-view mirror in addition to the windshield. Following a purchase, some marketers create a touch point that not only thanks the buyer but also reminds her why the purchase was a good idea. This tactic helps avoid any potential cognitive dissonance on the buyer’s part (where people misattribute their own behavior). This is particularly relevant for fundraising or volunteer efforts.

There is a final set of ancillary benefits you might tap through a reminder program. With the right reminder cadence and message, your customers will feel a greater sense of control over the purchase or service experience (avoiding my “Hey, what’s going on?” type of experience with the washing machine). Customers who have a greater sense of control tend to report higher levels of satisfaction and willingness to refer others.

Consider this a friendly reminder.

Jim Karrh of Little Rock is a marketing consultant, researcher, speaker and author. See JimKarrh.com or email him at Jim@JimKarrh.com.